Audi go back to the future with the new A7 Sportback model

Audi has overhauled its executive class five-door coupé. Darren Cassey heads to Cape Town to get behind the wheel.

WHAT IS IT?

Audi has overhauled its executive class five-door coupé for 2018, bringing with it a refreshed look both inside and out, plenty of technology, and the promise of improved driving dynamics.

With the A7 Sportback, the German carmaker is hoping to bring the flashy design of a coupé, and marry it to the comfort of an executive saloon and the practicality of an estate. It was incredibly successful in achieving this goal with the old model, so the new model has a lot to live up to.

WHAT’S NEW?

Audi says the “rakish silhouette” is just about all that’s carried over from the previous generation A7 Sportback. Engineers have worked to reduce rolling road noise, there are fewer vibrations throughout the body, and acoustic glass helps to keep the cabin quiet. ever quieter.

Coupled with ride-improving air suspension, it makes the A7 an excellent long-distance cruiser. Electrification has also made its way to the new A7 Sportback, with a mild hybrid set-up included on both diesel and petrol variants.

It’s only a small battery and motor and the car won’t drive on electric alone, but it offers slight economy and performance gains.

Other new features include a suite of driver assistance aids, such as a semi-autonomous cruise control system and parking pilot, which lets the driver leave the parking to the car’son-board computers.

WHAT’S UNDER THE BONNET?

There’s a choice of two engines, one petrol and one diesel, both three litres in size. Under Audi’s new naming structure, the diesel is badged as 50 TDI and the more powerful petrol is known as 55 TFSI.

Audi reckons about 80%of sales will be diesel, but in our limited time with the 50 model we found it to be noisier and less refined than you’d expect from an executive cruiser.

Much more A7-like is the 55 TFSI petrol. There are no economy figures for the diesel just yet, but they’ll be considerably better than the official 40mpg the petrol achieves. However, for such a large vehicle that’s not too bad, and with 335bhp its surprisingly spritely, too — 0-60mph takes just over five seconds.

Hard acceleration is accompanied by a satisfying ‘whizz’ from the mild hybrid’s electric motor, which is present in both petrol and diesel variants.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?

The ideal driving scenario for the A7 Sportback is out on the open road, cruise control set to 70mph as the miles roll by. Particularly in petrol guise, it’s quiet and serene, and the ride is generally exquisite.

Opt for the sport suspension and you sacrifice some quality — the ideal option is the adaptive air suspension, which provides the carpet-like ride you expect. That’s not to say the A7 isn’t fun on a back road. Our test route took in winding mountain passes and it performed admirably, helped by the all-wheel steering, which sees the rear wheels turn the opposite way to the front at lower speeds to improve agility, and the same direction at high speeds for better stability. In corners, the improvements over the old model are night and day.

HOW DOES IT LOOK?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to us the previous model looked more athletic than this new version, which replaces the old angular design with a softer approach. The result is a slightly frumpier appearance that lacks some of the purposefulness of the old car. One big advance is the lighting signature, though.

There’s LED technology used at both the front and rear, giving the car a seriously modern look and allowing the designers to create ‘welcome home’ animations that add character.

WHAT’S IT LIKE INSIDE?

One criticism often levelled at Audi is that its interiors feel largely the same whether you’re in an A3 hatchback, A8 saloon, or R8 supercar.

However, the new generation cabin debuted in the A8 and continued here in the A7 feels futuristic and a big step up for the brand.

A larger wheelbase means there’s more cabin space, while a pair of large central touchscreens declutter the dashboard. But with almost all functions taken away from physical buttons it can be a bit of a faff trying to navigate even basic menus such as climate controls and radio.

WHAT’S THE SPEC LIKE?

There are two trim levels at launch — Sport and S line. The former is distinguished by LED front and rear lights, 19-inch alloy wheels and twin-leather upholstered seats, while S line models get HD Matrix LED headlights, 20-inch alloys, sports suspension and an S line-specific body kit.

Features common to both trims include Audi’s digital instrument binnacle called Virtual Cockpit, wireless smartphone charging, and driver aids such as front collision warning and automatic parking. Prices start from €78,150 OTR.

VERDICT

While Audi is keen to point out that the new A7 Sportback is an overhaul of the the old model, many previous owners will be quickly familiarised with the general driving experience — it’s quiet, comfortable and spacious.

However, where theGerman carmaker has really moved the game on is the interior and handling.

The cabin feels futuristic, while the cornering ability is seriously impressive for a car this size.

With the vast majority of buyers expected to opt for diesel, it’s perhaps a shame the 3.0-litre unit doesn’t feel quite as refined as you might hope, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker — and the lower running costs should offset any qualms about the gruff noise.

The petrol feels like the true A7 Sportback experience, though.


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