Is the handsome new Audi A7 Sportback a match for the Mercedes-Benz CLS on typically bad British roads?
A coupé with five doors sounds a bit like a bungalow with three floors – a bit odd. However, it was legitimised as a concept by Mercedes-Benz’s CLS, which shocked us all on its launch in 2004. Now, everybody’s claiming coupé status for anything with a vaguely sloping roof, even if it’s an SUV.
That Mercedes has just been refreshed for 2018, so clearly the big multi-door coupé is now very much ‘a thing’. That being the case, it’s no surprise to see Audi attempting to chip away at some of M-B’s market with this second-generation Audi A7 Sportback.
This A7 is pretty much a clean-sheet model, rather than a rehash. We had a go in one recently in South Africa, but now it’s time for the ultimate real-world test on our suitably unreal British roads.
First though, some explanation is in order regarding Audi’s interesting new naming policy, because it’s not that clear. ‘50 TDI’ means that this A7 has a 282bhp/457lb ft 3.0-litre V6 diesel (no, we don’t get it either), powering all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The equally mysterious ‘55 TFSI’ refers you to a 335bhp V6 petrol engined version that will also be available from launch, although Audi reckons most buyers will go for the diesel.
Audi A7 Sportback 50 TDI Sport
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, diesel, 48V mild hybrid system
Torque: 457lb ft
Gearbox: 8-spd tiptronic automatic
Kerb weight: 1880kg
Top speed: 155mph
CO2, tax band: 147g/km, 31%
As with the new Mercedes CLS, the A7 gets mild-hybrid tech consisting of a 48-volt primary electrical system that permits the Audi’s V6 to switch off when the car is coasting between 34mph and 99mph. The engine restarts when you touch the throttle. Along with new camera-assisted stop/start technology that notices when the car in front is on the move, the electrical hardware is supposed to cut fuel consumption by 0.7 litres per 100 kilometres, or in theory around 62 miles from a tankful.
It works pretty well in practice. The throttle pedal gives you a haptic hint as to when you should be easing off, triggering engine shutoff a fraction of a second later. The only giveaway that anything has happened is on the A7-standard fit 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit LCD screen, whose tachometer will signal the cut-out. The restart by the Belt Alternator Starter is similarly unobtrusive.
It’s a shame that all this syrupy seamlessness didn’t extend to the operation of our Sport-spec test car’s optional (and over-jiggly at low speeds) sport suspension. Too much unfiltered vibration gets through to your rear end. Speed improves matters, but speed is in short supply in towns, and actually even on the open road the compression of the suspension by undulations is too sudden. It would have been nice to have tried out a conventionally steel-sprung A7, but none were provided for comparison. We’d strongly advise ticking the box for the adaptive air suspension, although you will have to swallow hard at the £2000 cost.
In contrast to the ride, the cabin is comfy and elegantly modern in its minimalism. New dual touchscreens dominate in a subtle way, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. There isn’t that much actual switchgear. What there is is beautifully resolved, as is usual with products bearing the four-ring badge. There’s no shortage of adjustment in either the seats or the steering column, and although the centre-rear seat is really only acceptable for a child – adults will struggle with the central transmission tunnel and the promixity of the roof to their heads – the back compartment is pleasantly accommodating.
Few will be disturbed by the sophisticated rumble of the 3.0-litre diesel engine, whether it’s under pressure or running at a relaxed gait, and nor will there be many complaints about its ability to deal with overtakes in a summary fashion. For that you can thank the 457lb ft of torque that purrs in from only 2250rpm.
The A7 does look the part, but you wouldn’t wake up in the morning with a desperate urge to take it for a gallop anywhere. It is fast, but not eye-openingly fast. Its handling is keen, but not especially involving. And you shouldn’t have to spend £2000 on top of the car’s £54,940 price to get a reasonable ride.
There’s no getting away from the plush comfort of the cabin, though, or from the abundance of desirable tech, or from the undeniably premium feel of the whole package. Those who know about these things say that the A7 will depreciate more slowly than equivalent versions of the Mercedes CLS or BMW’s 6 Series Gran Turismo. That extra padding in your wallet should take some of the sting out of the knobbly ride.