Car reviews - Audi - A7 - Sportback 3.0 TFSI quattro
19 Aug 2011
AUDI pretty much has a car for everyone now. It has small models like the A1 for up-and-comers who aren’t that rich yet and big vehicles like the A7 Sportback for those who’ve made it.
The A7 is the latest niche-plugging model from the audacious German luxury brand and follows the conceptually similar A5 Sportback - a four-seat/four-door coupe-like hatchback based on the A4 sedan – but the A6-based A7 is a full size larger.
We’ll need to spend more time in the A7 to give it a tougher test than the smooth and relatively open roads used for this week’s press launch in Tasmania, but our first impressions of the imposing new Audi are positive.
Even more so than Audi’s upcoming new A6, which we drove at the global launch in Sicily in February before it arrives here in July, behind the A7 steering wheel you are well aware of its size, but the better tuned chassis gives drivers a better feel for what is going on, allowing them to more accurately place the vehicle on the road.
The standard steel-spring suspension we tested struck a good balance between comfort and sportiness and the ride felt generally very good. A short section of surface ripples caused some pattering on one of the test cars, but it was fitted with optional 20-inch rims and super-low-profile tyres, which may have contributed.
Overall, however, the 350km launch drive loop in Tasmania – the sort of touring for which the A7 is designed - was a comfortable experience, which is something you couldn’t say for some previous Audis, including the soon-to-be-replaced A6.
In the past, Audi tended to make its suspension overly firm in a bid for better body control and that often spoiled the ride, so the A7 marks a step forward on that score.
The current A4 and A5 marked a similar step forward in terms of ride/handling thanks to an all-new chassis with repositioned steering rack, and the A7 improves in this area too with a new electro-mechanical steering set-up.
It is still light enough for luxurious low-speed driving around town, but has more resistance at speed for a meatier feel. The A7 steering probably doesn’t quite give you the same feedback as BMW’s similar new steering system, but it is so close we’ll have to do a back-to-back test to check.
Interior quality is excellent, as you might expect, and the cabin layout is both stylish and practical.
The idea of a four-door coupe may seem strange, but the A7 does look imposing on the road and offers plenty of comfort for all four occupants. The back is a particularly comfortable place to be and headroom is more than adequate, with a considerable gap between this writer’s head and the headlining.
There is also plenty of legroom, along with relatively comfortable seats, individual climate-control and a 12-volt socket for both rear passengers to charge their inevitable gadgets. There will be no fighting over who gets to sit in the front with the A7.
The fact the seatbacks fold down is important too, making the A7 as practical as it is stylish, at least when there are no rear passengers.
The standard boot might be large in terms of volume but the cargo space is quite shallow. There is room for larger items against the back of the seats, leaving room for soft bags closer to the hatch opening, but the ability to pop down one or both rear seats is great, allowing the A7 to cart all manner of long items like flat-pack furniture, skis, snowboards and even fishing rods.
We couldn’t test the optional head-up display as it wasn’t fitted to the test cars, but experience of the system in the upcoming A6 overseas suggests it will be of great real-world value to customers.
Not having to take your eyes off the road to check your speed is handy when it’s crucial not to creep over the limit and we can see a time when head-up displays are spread over a far wider range of vehicles. If only it was standard in these $140K-plus Audis.
Interior refinement is particularly impressive in the A7, where it’s quite tranquil in most conditions. You do notice the diesel engine at idle but it is not overly intrusive.
The idle-stop system, which cuts the engine to save fuel at idle, emphasises engine noise by switching it on and off repeatedly in slow-moving traffic. Still, it is saving fuel and you can always turn off the system.
The A7’s two six-cylinder engines are strong but not stunning. The V6 diesel is a sweet powerplant, providing all the torque you need for a laid-back drive and being well matched to the cruising nature of the car. It won’t amaze your passengers, but it can get moving when pressed.
The supercharged V6 allows for a more exciting drive as it slings the A7 forward at a much faster rate. This engine, spread wide across the larger Audi line-up, is strong all the way through the rev range and doesn’t have to work hard to generate enough power for rapid acceleration.
The only negative is that it’s a particularly dull sounding engine, especially in this car, which could be quite a disappointment for some since Audi expects it to eventually fill a void vacated by its orchestral 4.2-litre V8.
Yes, the force-fed V6 offers enough performance and economy to make any V8 look like a poor substitute, but for some that won’t compensate for the lack of a subtle V8 burble that has long been part of prestige big-car motoring.
The A7’s seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission performs generally well, but we didn’t do much of the low-speed work that tends to show up the minor shortcomings of this type of transmission. It did get caught out a couple of times trying to work out which gear to go for, but was generally competent.
Both driver and passenger seats are comfortable, but considering the sporty nature of the vehicle don’t offer all that much side support - especially in the case of the TFSI, in which the standard Milano leather trim also seemed unsuited. It looks and feels relatively hard, lacking the sumptuous feel of materials expected in cars at this price.
Style is certainly objective and we freely admit we aren’t always up with the latest fashions, but it’s clear the consensus is the A7 Sportback is a particularly good looking car.
Imposing and elegant at the same time, the A7 is much less confronting than the 5 Series GT and better proportioned than the Panamera, neither of which are anywhere as sleek.
We need more time in it on roads we know, but a brief Tasmanian preview of the A7 suggests Audi has managed to build a stylish and relatively exclusive new cruiser that is very comfortable but handles well enough to be rewarding to drive as well.
Like its most direct rivals, Audi’s newest model isn’t cheap and is also perhaps its most niche, but it manages to mix style, practicality and fun in just the right doses.
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