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Wednesday 8th September 2010


DRIVEN: NEW AUDI A7 SPORTBACK

Coupe-style luxury hatch carves a new niche for Audi



You're getting the best of three worlds with the new A7 Sportback, says Audi, by which it means the sporty dynamics and style of a coupe, the luxury and comfort of an executive saloon, and the practicality of an estate car. (Isn't that five things? Ed.)

It's a glib copy-writer's claim, and one that implies compromise as much as it extols the new car's benefits. So yesterday PH was forced to spend a few hours in sun-drenched Sardinia topping-up... I mean getting to the bottom of what this latest Audi has to offer.


In simple terms it's a repeat formula of the successful A5 Sportback, but writ larger - quite a lot larger in fact at 4.97m overall. The A7 is also built on a brand new platform that will underpin a new A6 range due to be unveiled before the year is out.

It's made of various grades of steel, including hot-pressed parts where the strength-to-lightness ratio is critical, plus around 20 percent aluminium - which accounts for an all-up weight saving of 15 percent over a conventional steel car. The aluminium is mostly used for exterior panels, including doors, bonnet and tailgate, and the A7 tips the scales at 1,695kgs in its most basic guise.


Whether buyers will care about that remains to be seen, but we're pretty sure those aluminium panels have been pressed into a sufficiently attractive shape to ensure the 3,000 unit annual UK target will be met with relative ease. In fact Audi thinks it is such an attractive showroom proposition that nearly 40 percent of sales are forecast to be switchers from its own A5, and A6 saloon and Avant models. The rest it hopes to pinch from rivals in the B and C segments, which seems a more sensible aspiration.

Those rivals most obviously include the Mercedes CLS, which is up for renewal soon, and the BMW 5 Series GT. Jaguar will be giving the new Audi a chilly welcome, too, especially as the XF loses ground with its limited boot space at one end of the newcomer's price range, while the latest XJ is not a million miles ahead in the 'beauty' stakes at the other.


In fact, if you preferred the taut, high-shouldered style of the A7 to our home-grown rivals we wouldn't be that surprised, which says a lot about how good the A7 is to look at in the metal. The story continues inside where the cabin has an upmarket quality and ambience, whether you choose 'traditional' sporty black tones or something like the very contemporary light oak laminate we saw from the options list.

The driving position and seats are excellent, and the dash/fascia is beautifully drawn, with a sculpted wrap-around effect for the driver and passenger. Crucially you get a decent view out past the windscreen pillars, which can't be said of the current Merc CLS, and there's a really well executed retractable 'big screen' nav/media display with an optional Satnav that integrates Google Earth pictures, plus a Head Up Display on the options list.


Both the standard wheel and the sportier S Line version feel great in the hands, and it would be pretty hard to fault the twin-dial instrument pack for clarity or style. There's no doubt about it, getting behind the wheel of a well-spec'ed A7 is a definite 'feel good' experience.

There will be four engines available at launch, and we tried both the range-topping supercharged 3.0 TFSI quattro S tronic (petrol) and the 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic - both of which cost a shade over £46k before you start loading them with options. The former offers 300hp and 440Nm, and the latter 245hp and 500Nm, so both give the A7 a reasonable punch. Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 5.6secs for the petrol and 6.3secs for the diesel, and both are limited to 155mph all out.


While we like the performance and response from both (and the 7-speed DSG 'box), the V6 petrol sounds a little 'thin' while extended, and we did find ourselves hankering for a meaty V8. The diesel has a gruffer tone, but neither engine really scores highly as an aural treat. We'd probably pick the diesel though, for its 47.1mpg combined figure, which is well up on the petrol's 34.5mpg.

Hustling an almost 5m saloon around Sardinia's occasionally tortuous switchbacks is not necessarily the most relevant test of this sort of car, but to be fair the big machine felt genuinely taut and agile - at least once we'd dialled up 'Dynamic' mode on big screen. We had the torque vectoring axle to help keep lines trim on the tighter stuff, and you can certainly feel it at work. Otherwise, it's a standard 40/60 quattro experience, which typically means a little light understeer unless you boot it with the TC off.


Pressing on in the 'Comfort' setting revealed over-relaxed damping for the conditions, but most unsettling was the super-light steering with a strange 'zero weight/zero feel' segment around the straight ahead position. It might be nicer on the autobahn at very high speed, but we didn't find one in Sardinia.

Dynamic mode does deliver a respectable amount of weight through the wheel, but there's little of the 'feel' for the road you'd get in a Jag. Still, it works just fine in a practical sense, which will doubtless be sufficient for most. The ride was good around most of Sardinia's smooth tarmac, but a nuggety section of cobbles had us wondering whether the UK's surfaces might expose further weaknesses - time will tell.

Overall though, the A7 is impressive and appealing. Like the A5 before it, there's a little more about this Audi's design and execution that you can start to feel 'emotionally engaged' with, and you'd be a hard nut not to like it. This being PH, we'd prefer a little more 'grunt' naturally. But doubtless there'll be something in the works...

 







 

Author: Chris-R