Car reviews - Audi - A7 - Sportback 3.0 TFSI quattro
Design, desirability, quality, cabin presentation, effortless performance, high-tech features, hatch practicality, four-seater cabin comfort, idle-stop efficiency, intuitive MMI interface
Room for improvement
Expensive desirable options, steering dull, firm ride in Dynamic mode
19 Aug 2011
IMAGINE a long, swoopy coupe. Perhaps more BMW 6 Series than Jaguar XK, with a lowered roofline reminiscent of the Rover P5 Coupe of 1962. But there’s also a great big gaping hatch out back. Oh, and four doors.
Younger readers would immediately think ‘Porsche Panamera’ while those with longer memories might nominate the 1976 Rover SD1, but of course we’re talking about the Audi A7 Sportback.
It isn’t actually the first such Audi either – indeed and not even the first in this segment from the Ingolstadt firm.
For five years from 1977 a thematically similar C2 100 Avant was available, complete with a liftback to make it look like an overgrown early Passat. It morphed into the oddball C3 100 Avant imported sporadically to Australia in the 1980s, before Audi abandoned the concept altogether for the more wagonoid C4 100 Avant from 1990.
Ahh… history. As Mercedes’ shareholders found out to their utter glee with the runaway-success CLS of 2004, it’s the gift that keeps on giving Germany so-called “fascinating” ideas.
Looking back is imperative in more ways than one when viewing the A7 Sportback. Sleek, low-slung, and almost menacing in our 3.0 TFSI quattro test car’s charcoal hue and optional 20-inch alloys, there is a classical element to the coupe-like silhouette, and one that is heightened by this car’s imposing length and size.
Stylistically, this Audi is almost as striking as Aston’s stunning Rapide, if not as beautiful.
Underneath it’s almost pure C7 A6 – yep, successor to all those old-timer Audi 100s since 1968. Except that the cheapest of these is almost half the price compared to our 3.0 TFSI quattro’s $147,800 (plus on-roads) pricetag.
Question then: Is exquisite design enough to justify the price difference?
Our response to begin with is: Will you find a better comparably priced cabin?
Certainly for the four lucky occupants of the A7 Sportback, this is a lush and luxurious place to be.
Even in our example’s dreary grey-on-grey, complete with wood panelling that looks more at home in an Agatha Christie setting, the presentation here is quite exceptional.
As we’ve noted in previous Audis, it’s your senses that are lured in – everything you feel, see, smell and hear is immersed in quality. If it’s not the warming cloth roof it is the cold metal of the knobs that control the audio, climate and exterior mirror functions.
Inspired by the brilliant A8 flagship, the instruments are bookended by 3D-effect analogue dials with a clarity and design that borders on the obsessive. White LEDs of delicate graphics contrast for a massive array of navigation, audio, trip-computer, telephone and cruise control info options. And the accompanying MMI media interface on an acrobatic flip-up screen is second-to-none.
Because this is a coupe of sorts, the driver feels more ensconced than in your usual Audi sedan, supported within a super comfy seat, ahead of a lovely steering wheel with a finish that feels silken to the touch. The cockpit-style centre console and fastback roofline (which does make entry and egress a chore for larger folk) further enhances the hemmed-in feeling.
Of particular note is the finger-scroll interface for the GPS and phone, which works particularly well Down Under if you’re left-handed. The voice-activated system is one of the most natural we’ve experienced, and the audio sound quality is first class.
With only two positions, the rear seat is splendidly rarefied too, as long as you can negotiate the getting in part. Your tester is 178cm tall but even then ducking is necessary and headroom tight. But at least posteriors are positioned down low, with feet safely tucked beneath the front seat and knees not knocking against them.
The high centre tunnel and scalloped out cushions heighten the cocooned feeling, but you would not call the A7 claustrophobic thanks to bi-level pillar and console-sited air-vents (with accompanying digital climate controls).
Overhead grab handles, a centre armrest with over-engineered cupholders, ample glass areas and a quartet of coat hooks are further welcoming features.
And then there’s that massive rear hatch. Most of Ikea’s flat-pack catalogue would probably fit in here. So can an average pair of adults should they need to snuggle up and sleep in the Sportback for a night.
With a sizeable 535 litres of luggage space, extending to 1390 litres with the split/folding backrests down, empty-nesters ought to reconsider those mass-as-well-as-massive luxury SUVs. This luxo liner’s got it all, including an electric tailgate that operates at a touch of a button.
For the record, a space-saver spare lives beneath that flat, long and wide (though shallow) carpeted floor of sheer opulence. The prerequisite cargo hooks, floor nets and parcel shelf are present – but no 12-volt socket to complete this luxury mobile sleeper on wheels.
And we’re wondering whether Audi has forgotten about reliability. On one occasion the GPS system totally froze up and failed and on another the A7’s speedo tumbled down from 250km/h to 15km/h, and only corrected itself after a few frantic minutes and a restart.
But our week-long love affair with the A7 was cemented by the driving experience.
Although obviously impressive from the get-go, the 3.0 TFSI quattro’s performance and dynamic attributes are not fully obvious at first acquaintance.
Push the button and the V6 warbles in a muted fashion as expected and then keeps on working away, but is not commensurate to the wave of forward thrust it delivers to all four wheels, especially when the shifter is tapped down to Drive Sport. No soaring Italianesque exhaust notes here, sadly, just the industrial hum of an eager supercharger.
But, gee, with 220kW of power from a heady 5250rpm to 6500rpm, and a beefy 440Nm torque top between 2900rpm and 4500rpm, this A7 is hardly arthritic.
In a classic point-and-shoot scenario regardless of the road surface, it just leaps forward with unflinching ease, and then builds up speed in an almost turbine-like manner as you’re whisked past the legal limit in just 5.6 seconds.
In Drive Sport it’s the unfeasibly fast gearchange times that make the difference, with the Audi extending its hold on each ratio before it settles into a very cruisy top (seventh). Everything whizzes by about 15 per cent sooner. We managed to see 220km/h on a private strip in pretty much no time at all.
Clearly the expected S7 (and then RS7, please?) will have the aural drama as well as explosive acceleration to match the 3.0 TFSI’s V8-like slingshot performance.
Meanwhile, idle-stop tech is standard A7 fare, and we’ve yet to experience a better example. It helped us achieve reasonable fuel economy figures (between 11.5 and 14.5L/100km despite some frenetic driving), and really proved itself around town with almost seamless operation.
Speaking of which, the seven-speed S-tronic DSG dual-clutch gearbox is a brilliant companion except on inclines, where rolling back is always a possibility (even with the generally effective Hill Hold function), as are jerky and/or clumsy lunges forward at low speeds.
And then there’s the steering – a contentious issue in Audis since the old 100 days.
Even travelling at 110km/h through long sweeping curves, we are a tad disappointed that the helm seems permanently devoid of feedback. Sure, the car will turn into corners like the wheels are magnetised to the bitumen, and the effort to do so is met with surprising vigour and response, but you never feel connected with the road.
Crank the speed up like you’re Bonnie and Clyde on the run, however, and the tiller’s weight and responses seem to gel to an almost perfect point of measured action and reaction.
So while an Audi’s helm at everyday commuting velocities remains mute, no matter what electronic driving mode you select, turning the wick up reveals utterly composed and accomplished steering that keeps you on the straight and narrow past 200km/h onwards. That’s the autobahn breeding, we suppose.
Aiding it all is the all-wheel-drive quattro set-up, featuring a crown-gear centre differential that Audi reveals is significantly lighter than the torque-sensing Torsen system it replaces. In normal conditions 60 per cent of drive is fed to the back wheels, but up to 70 per cent can be channelled to the A7’s nose and 85 per cent rearwards depending on prevailing conditions.
Basically that means it can be a bit more rear-drive tailly if so desired, and we did manage to get that behind swinging out on gravel in a fun and controllable manner.
Did we say electronic driving mode earlier? Yes, you can alter the state of the car’s steering and suspension set-up from Comfort to Auto to Dynamic, or a combination through an Individual option, all via the MMI system.
In the first tune the steering is too light for keen drivers, but becomes meatier after that.
Comfort brings surprisingly soft suspension, and even though it firms up in the other settings, the ride is not too hard considering (a) this is an Audi and (b) you’re travelling on $2600-extra 20-inch rubber. We wouldn’t ever really call this a cosseting car though.
We were quite happy to bear the odd harsh bump and enjoy the copious body control that Dynamic brings. In this mode the A7 shrinks around you to become a very quick point-to-point device, slotting through traffic gaps with an alacrity that belies the sheer heft and length of this almost Holden Caprice-sized vehicle.
Furthermore, armed with quattro, this car makes mince meat of the lashing rain and strong winds we encountered at freeway speeds, to keep you tracking along safely and securely – with towering braking force to back that all up. What was that old Pirelli ad about power being nothing without control?
One observation though: unlike in the air-suspended A8, the A7 driver cannot separately alter steering feel and suspension settings, so a soft ride and sharp tiller - or vice-versa - isn’t possible.
Still, we handed the car back with a heavy heart and new respect for the four-ringed brand.
Over the course of this review, we went from talking about stirring coupe styling to four-seater cabin comfort with wagon-like practicality, and then from big V8-style performance combined with small V6 economy to sports sedan agility and finally modern German luxury car ride.
Yet despite possessing such multi-faceted capabilities, the A7 Sportback is one of the most singularly personable as well as likeable Audis we have ever tested.
There’s a commendable – almost come-what-may – craziness to its very existence, which can only be a sign of a company in rude health, and that’s okay because the result is almost genius.
Whether history sees it as a misfit like the old C2 100 Avant or a masterpiece in the Rover P5 Coupe sense hardly matters right now. We are just thankful to Audi the A7 exists.
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