Car reviews - Audi - A7 - Sportback 55 TFSI
Attractive styling, premium interior, flawless mild-hybrid setup, strong V6 performance, sturdy body control, extensive advanced driver-assist systems
Room for improvement
Rear headroom, numb steering feel, ride quality on optional 21-inch alloy wheels, size impacts handling, low-speed dual-clutch niggles
Audi’s all-new A7 Sportback delivers a rare sequel that is as good as the original
9 Nov 2018
REMEMBER the 1994 movie Speed? We certainly do, as the Keanu Reeves-led thriller became a cult classic upon its release. However, the same really can’t be said about its 1997 sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control, which failed to recapture the magic of the original. Our point? Following up is hard.
This is Audi’s Speed moment: the second-generation A7 Sportback. When the original five-door coupe burst onto the Australian market in 2011, it won awards for its design and won fans the world over. Given the above precedent, Ingolstadt has the right to be nervous.
It’s no surprise then that Audi has tried to innovate again with the design of the new A7 Sportback; delivering an exterior and interior that challenge convention and establish the brand’s new design language. But is it a case of style over substance? We tested its 55 TFSI launch variant to find out.
Few vehicles capture attention like the original A7 Sportback does. From the moment its covers were whipped off and the stage lighting shone on its metal for the first time in public, the world was captivated. Audi hasn’t exactly made it easy for itself to follow up this classic effort, then.
As always, styling is subjective, and beauty is the eye of the beholder, but we can’t help but feel that a little bit of that magic has made its way into this second-generation model. It’s more aggressive than its predecessor but still manages to remain sleek, while that full-width tail-light is a bold move.
In fact, it plays a key role in increasing this visual appeal alongside the 55 TFSI’s HD Matrix LED headlights. Of course, Audi is known for its dynamic indicators, but the A7 Sportback steps up with its lighting display that’s engaged when unlocking and locking the vehicle. You just have to see it.
All of this comes at a cost, however, with the sloping roofline impacting rear headroom to the point that many adults will have to tilt their heads forward. While legroom and toe-room fair much better, the rear pew is probably best for children; it’s a bit tight for larger bodies.
Nonetheless, cargo capacity is a healthy 535L, but it can be expanded to 1390L by stowing the split-fold rear bench. The storage compartment is particularly useful, thanks to the hatchback’s long and wide aperture, but its style-focused angle gradually reduces the area’s height, making it less useful.
As always, Audi’s latest technology has trickled down from its A8 flagship, with the A7 Sportback picking up its new-generation MMI infotainment system, which is displayed on two touchscreens, with a 10.1-inch unit handling multimedia, while an 8.6-inch unit takes care of the climate controls.
This an attractive setup that’s complemented by haptic and acoustic feedback that keeps the feel of a physical button alive. However, given the low positioning of the stacked touchscreens, they can easily take the driver’s attention away from the road – but this isn’t where the digitalisation ends.
Audi’s familiar and well-received 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster makes its debut in the A7 Sportback, while a windshield-projected head-up display provides all the information a driver would need to keep their focus on the task at hand. The standard fitment of this pairing is a win.
Again, the connection between the A8 and the A7 Sportback is clear inside, with their dashboard and centre stacks feeling similar, aside for some minor differences. This means the combination of glass and gloss-black plastic attracts fingerprints at an alarming rate. Keep a microfibre cloth handy.
While smooth, supple Valcona leather upholstery trims all five seats, coarser cowhide trims the dashboard and door shoulders. It cannot be upgraded to the former. This lower-quality material is also applied to the door and front central armrests as part of the optional Premium Plus package.
Audi has rightfully carved out a reputation for its premium interiors, and the A7 Sportback is no different. Signature touches, such as Alcantara door inserts, are found, while even its cheaper plastics feel expensive. As such, the cabin combines high-end luxury with cutting-edge technology.
The technological tour de force also extends to the A7 Sportback’s long list of advanced driver-assist systems that includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep and steering assist, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, among others.
Here comes the A8 comparison again … the A7 Sportback is launching in Australia with the 55 TFSI, which is priced from $131,900 before on-road costs. This variant may sound similar as it debuted in the limousine earlier this year. It’s not your run-of-the-mill setup, either.
Electrification continues to spread across the Audi model line-up, with the 55 TFSI featuring a 48V mild-hybrid system that consists of a belt alternator starter (BAS) connected to its crankshaft, and a 10Ah lithium-ion battery pack discretely located under its boot floor.
Audi claims fuel savings of up to 0.7 litres per 100 kilometres, thanks to the setup’s ability to coast with the engine off for up to 40 seconds at speeds between 55 and 160km/h, while idle-stop instead kicks in from 22km/h. This system smoothly delivers real-world results with almost zero lag.
Efficiency is further aided by the 55 TFSI’s quattro ultra all-wheel-drive system, which doesn’t send drive to the rear wheels until extra grip is required. In practice, this setup works well, with the rear end happy to uncharacteristically step out a touch when pushed hard going into tighter corners.
The 55 TFSI draws motivation from a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine that produces 250kW of power from 5000 to 6000rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1370 to 4500rpm, while a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle-shifters is responsible for swapping its gears.
This combination is a dependable one, with Sir Isaac’s best coming on stream early and hanging around for a while. With a claimed zero-to-100km/h sprint time of 5.3 seconds, it’s evident the 55 TFSI is no slouch in a straight line. Bury the accelerator and it happily charges towards the horizon.
The level of performance on offer is enough to satisfy even the keenest of drivers but leaves plenty of room for the inevitable RS7 Sportback to do its thing. Given that the 55 TFSI certainly doesn’t have the raucous exhaust note of a V8, it is an understated affair, even with its extroverted exterior.
While Volkswagen Group’s dual-clutch transmissions have come a long way, the 55 TFSI’s seven-speed unit has some lingering issues. Namely, it can be a little jerky at low speed, particularly when downshifting to second gear. This behaviour is at odds with its quick, smooth and intuitive upshifts.
Every A7 Sportback comes with progressive steering as standard, with its weight increased via four selectable driving modes – Efficiency, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. We personally prefer the extra heft afforded, but the electromechanical system feels far too numb, especially for a ‘sporty’ model.
There is no real indication of what the front wheels are up to, which goes some way in limiting the A7 Sportback’s case for enthusiasts. Nonetheless, it’s definitely responsive to steering inputs if not razor sharp, but a hint of understeer is encountered through slower corners. It’s all a bit hit and miss.
While we also haven’t tested the 55 TFSI’s optional rear-axle steering, our previous experience with it in the A8 showed a dramatic reduction in turning circle and increase in manoeuvrability at lower speeds, while its impact at high speed is negligible. Either way, it’s a good option for keener drivers.
Similarly, we are yet to sample the 55 TFSI’s standard steel-sprung multi-link suspension, instead sampling the Premium Plus package’s air springs. In both cases, adaptive dampers are fitted and controlled via the aforementioned driving modes, with settings ranging from soft to firm.
Ride comfort is strong, with uneven surfaces and speed bumps dealt with well. Just don’t opt for the Premium Plus package’s low-profile 21-inch alloy wheels. Just because they look attractive, doesn’t mean potholes will be so forgiving. These rims catch every single harsh edge.
Measuring in at 4969mm long, 1908mm wide and 1422mm tall with a 2926mm wheelbase, the 1815kg A7 Sportback is unable to hide its size on the road, feeling every bit the large car it is. However, it isn’t prone to bodyroll, exercising a high degree of control when pushed around bends.
The A7 Sportback’s road-holding ability is confidence-inspiring, but it’s not quite the point-and-shoot weapon that some of its smaller siblings are. Granted it’s more gran turismo than sportscar, but the word ‘sport’ is in its name. However, it’s nothing the expected RS7 Sportback can’t correct.
As mentioned, sequels rarely meet the high expectations set by the original, but Audi has given its all with the second-generation A7 Sportback, creating another pleasing five-door liftback. Loaded with more technology than before, it’s sure to put a big smile on the faces of its lucky owners.
Model release date: 9 November 2018
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