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First drive: 2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.

First drive: 2018 Audi A7 Sportback
Stunning looks and interior, but can Audi's new A7 Sportback convince on the dynamic front?

 



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2018 Audi A7 Sportback

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The second-generation Audi A7 Sportback offers chiselled good looks, an absolutely superb cabin, a blend of practicality and desirability and a choice of powerful drivetrains. It's better in every respect than its already capable predecessor.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi A7 Sportback 55 TFSI S line
Pricing: range from £55,140; 55 TFSI S line as tested from £58,040
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 161g/km (VED £500 first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Power: 340hp at 5,000-6,400rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,370-4,500rpm

What's this?

An all-new Audi A7 Sportback, the second model in the super-technological age that the German company is entering - the first being the fourth generation of A8 luxury limo. To that end, the A7 benefits from much of the A8's impressive roster of equipment, be that optional or standard-fit - and nowhere is this more apparent than with the dramatic three-screen interior.

The masterful 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit remains a part of this, although its fonts and some graphics have been sharpened even further (meaning it looks utterly phenomenal), but it's in the dashboard where the big change has taken place. Two displays, a 10.1-inch upper item and an 8.6-inch lower companion, form the 'MMI touch response operating concept' - which was called Virtual Dashboard when we first saw it in late 2016. Whatever you want to name it, the system is fantastic. Each screen operates with a haptic feedback touch, which feels like pressing real buttons, and there's an audible click for each press you make. There's a touch of unfamiliarity about the lower climate control screen, which makes you briefly lament the passing of the physical MMI rotary controller as you periodically have to look down at it to see which controls you're randomly jabbing at, but we reckon a few weeks of ownership will make all of this switch-free utopia feel like second nature.

Elsewhere, it's classic Audi interior standards - namely, way out in front, showing others the way. The two-tier dashboard is an impressive and distinctive feature, while the quality of all the materials used is not in question in the slightest. A great driving position, plenty of room in the rear seats and a big boot under that sloping rear hatch mean the A7 Sportback achieves its goal of practicality blended with a dash of style. And, speaking of which, the exterior looks fabulous, much nicer than the old car - the mean and moody front end, that bold swage line through the lower portion of the doors, Audi's new trademark of a full-width light strip at the back; all of this stuff works to make the A7 a properly handsome machine, especially in a glittering colour like Ara Blue.

There's also a funky lightshow when you open the Sportback up on the key fob, which is becoming a new battleground for all the German brands - enough of the horsepower war, who can put on the best 'welcoming' illumination spectacle when the car is at rest? The A7 is no exception, offering three levels of lighting that start with full LED lamps with dynamic 'direction sweep' indicators all round. Step up one level and you get more advanced HD Matrix LED headlights, while the top grade adds Audi laser light to that package. However, either one of these two upgraded illumination set-ups has the Sportback doing all kinds of side-to-side head- and taillight-sweeps upon remote opening and locking, so much so that - what with its ability to almost think for itself, thanks to semi-autonomous on-board driving tech - it's hard not to link the Audi to the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. Yikes!

No matter; looking stunningly grand inside and out, half the job in this image-conscious market sector is already done for the Audi. Two drivetrains and two trim levels will be offered in the UK at first, which are the 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 TFSI petrol engine with a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission, followed soon after by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 TDI diesel with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic. Both can be specified in either Sport or S line trim, with prices for a TFSI Sport starting at £55,140 (the TDI's prices haven't been confirmed, as yet).

As standard, all cars get at least 19-inch alloys, all-round parking sensors and a reversing camera, a ten-speaker/180-watt Audi Sound system, cruise control, Audi Pre-Sense Front and Lane Departure Warning, the three digital screens inside, heated leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, satnav, Qi wireless smartphone charging and a powered tailgate. Options include a head-up display, night vision, Dynamic Four-Wheel Steering, adaptive dampers, full air suspension, the ability for the car to park itself in garages and tight spaces without anyone being in it, all manner of semi-autonomous driver assist safety systems and power-door closure. And that list is by no means complete; a whole wealth of toys is offered on the Sportback. There are also two Bang & Olufsen sound systems to choose from - a 16-speaker Premium Sound System with a 730-watt, 16-channel amp and a subwoofer, or the 19-speaker 3D Advanced Sound System that packs a colossal 1,920-watt, 23-channel amp.

Oh, and yes - the A7 is, after the A8, the second Audi to be saddled with the nonsensical numbering system that the company has decided to go with for power outputs. Based on each car's kilowatt rating and increasing in increments of five, you'll need a printed table from Audi in front of you to decipher what the heck differentiates a 30 TDI from a 45 TFSI. Therefore, allow us to tell you that the diesel is badged 50 TDI, as it has 286hp and 620Nm, while the petrol wears 55 TFSI nomenclature, thanks to 340hp and 500Nm.

How does it drive?

The test cars at launch all had optional 20-inch alloys, four-wheel steering (which brings with it variable assistance in the steering rack) and top-spec adaptive air suspension. Now, on that basis, given the A7's 2.9-metre wheelbase and a kerb weight of at least 1,815kg, you might be expecting the Sportback's forte to be ride comfort that's out of this world.

Well, it's no such thing. And neither is the car that sharp to drive, either. Which is a disappointing thing to discover, because if you're going to sacrifice ultimate ride comfort, you want some handling thrills as a reward. Conversely, make the car safe in the corners and the pay-off ought to be the fabled, and clichéd, magic-carpet ride. As the A7 is a big old barge, being nearly five metres long, we'd be inclined to say we want it to be comfortable primarily, rather than any sort of sports coupe (despite its Sportback name) in a five-door frock.

Basic suspension in the A7 range is a fully passive springs and dampers set-up, while as a first-stage upgrade, there are adaptive dampers - before you eventually progress to full air suspension at the top of the tree. And, for the vast majority of the time, the ride on the air-sprung A7 Sportback is indeed marvellous. Loping along fairly smooth motorways, there are those graceful, controlled down-up-down movements of the body in the wake of larger compressions that speak of the best damping control going. It's utterly pleasant around town. If the road surfaces are seven-out-of-ten smooth or better, the A7 on air feels exceptionally composed.

However, the problems arise as soon as a load of tests are flung at the suspension in succession. Corrugated road surfaces induce patter. Multiple severe transverse ridges have thumps and clunks permeating their way into the otherwise near-silent cabin. Mid-bend imperfections when the car already has its weight settled on the outer wheels cause the A7 to weirdly crab sideways and become all 'bobbly'. Infrequently, you're acutely aware of the unsprung weight of 20-inch alloys at each corner of the car.

This is very frustrating, because by all accounts the similarly-specified A8 doesn't ride in this fashion at all; it just glides along with little care for what surface rammel is passing beneath its tyres. So we can only assume that some sort of calibration work has gone on with the A7's set-up in an effort to make it feel sportier. But don't be fooled by that. This is an Audi in the classic fashion: it has loads of grip, is capable and assured, right up until the point the front tyres run out of adhesion, at which point it degenerates into tyre-howling, push-on understeer and little you do with throttle or overly-light, feel-free steering will alter that. Keep the Sportback just within itself - as in, don't try and get the tyres chirruping and the discs smoking, but do accelerate smartly and brake fairly heavily into and out of corners - and it puts on a devastating display of Audi quattro pace that means you're going mighty quick along a twisting road. But is it ever thrilling? No, it is not.

If all of this sounds like we don't like the A7 Sportback Mk2, you'd be wrong. It is a lovely car. It's just frustrating that the ride lacks the final degree of polish, as we're absolutely fine with the A7 not being the sharpest thing to drive. Even accepting its flaws, we're also not saying that the Audi has an actively poor ride on the air springs - instead, it simply feels a bit... unresolved at times. And we'll stave off slating the car for that, because the two 'lesser' suspension systems offered might provide better comfort; we've yet to try either, so we'll bag a car in the UK at a later date to see how that works out.

Otherwise, there's much to like with the way the A7 drives. Both drivetrains are powerful and refined, and both are coupled to slick automated transmissions; although we actually prefer the diesel's 'true' torque converter unit to the twin-clutch S tronic of the petrol. Performance is excellent, the 55 TFSI we chose for most testing proving to be deceptively fast, if a little bit muted in the engine noise department. That, though, is because the luxurious cabin is wonderfully isolated from the outside world, with little to report in the way of tyre roar or wind buffeting - even at very high velocity. The four-wheel-steering system works well, with a perceptible feeling of extra agility in low-speed corners when the rear tyres turn up to two degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts. Great visibility and perfectly calibrated controls make the A7 a doddle to place both in town and on narrower extra-urban roads, too, belying the Sportback's physical presence.

Furthermore, the 'clever technology' count continues. All A7s have mild hybrid (MHEV) status, as they use the 48-volt electrical system as seen on the SQ7 and a lithium-ion battery to allow them to switch off their engines at speeds between 34- and 99mph, to coast in a 'freewheeling' mode. There's also prolonged start-stop capability as part of this package. The claims are the MHEV can save anything up to 4mpg, and it's so utterly unobtrusive in the way it works that we didn't even register it in action once. Further fuel-saving on the TFSI variant includes the clever 'quattro ultra' system, which means the Sportback runs mainly in rear-wheel-drive mode, until the front traction is required. Lots of technology, see? Almost like Audi is remembering something about 'Vorsprung durch Technik', isn't it?

Verdict

The second-gen Audi A7 Sportback is an excellent car. Aesthetically, inside and out, it will no doubt win a legion of fans with its sheer cabin quality and striking good looks. The drivetrains are superb. It's laden with cutting-edge tech. And it uses various clever systems to try and save fuel. Prices are reasonable for this sort of grandiose machine, starting at considerably less than £60,000. And it's as practical as you could hope for, from a car with that rakish roofline. Yep, the A7 Sportback sets an impressive benchmark, which impending new versions of the Mercedes CLS and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe will do well to surpass.

Job jobbed, then - or is it? That the A7 Sportback has an inert-at-the-limit chassis is not the biggest crime in the world, even if its maker tries to assure everyone that it's a sports coupe. The bigger problem is the fragile ride on the air suspension. More time with this system back in the UK, or preferably any time at all with the passive/adaptive damper set-ups offered elsewhere in the A7 range, might see us raising our overall mark for the Audi. But, on this first sampling, the suspect comfort levels mean we can't give the Sportback the most effusive of praise. And given the visual appeal of the Audi is extraordinarily strong, that's just a little bit of a shame, don't you think?

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 7 Feb 2018









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2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.2018 Audi A7 Sportback. Image by Audi.








 

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