09/12/2010 Audi A7 Sportback – Road Test by Tony Dron
New Audis are appearing thick and fast these days, and there’s no sign of the pace easing off. The battle to plug every gap in the market rages on between the top German car makers, with Audi’s new A7 Sportback neatly filling what did seem a rather large slot between the A6 Avant, starting at £26,400, and the A8, which comes in from about £56,000.
That apparent disparity is slightly deceptive, because the huge range of engines, trim and optional extras already gave a much more even spread of real-world pricing. What was missing here was an Audi of this particular size and type, rather than basic price.
When you get to drive the new A7 Sportback, there are no nasty surprises. Anyone familiar with recent Audis will immediately recognise it as part of the family, thanks to its excellent steering quality, the amazing traction for such a powerful car and the predictable handling when pressed hard in corners. The latest generation of quattros all seem to revel in that style of driving and the A7 Sportback is no exception. No car is foolproof, but you’d have to be an idiot to get into trouble with this one.
That said, there’s nothing dull about it. The A7 responds in a lively way to all commands, while our test car’s seven-speed gearbox changed its ratios almost imperceptibly, whether in auto or manual mode. The only surprising feature of the driving experience was that, if anything, the top-of-the-range diesel seemed even smoother than the 3.0 TFSI petrol engine. There was little to choose between them, to be honest, though the 300PS petrol is marginally quicker on acceleration.
When it goes on sale in the UK in early 2011, on-the-road prices for the new A7 range will start at £43,755 for the 3.0 TDI, powered by the 204HP engine. There are four engine options, two petrol and two diesel, all of them competitive in terms of performance and efficiency. Audi claims the best mpg and emissions figures as well as the best acceleration in this class of car.
The least expensive quattro is the 2.8 FSI petrol-engined model, from £45,220, but by far the most popular version of the A7 Sportback is likely to be the 245HP 3.0 TDI quattro, and that starts at £48,000. Even buyers capable of spending that much on a new car are likely to note the relatively low CO2 emissions of the powerful diesel engine, and the fact that it falls into UK tax band G. An annual UK road fund licence for the 3.0 TDI quattro is £155, whereas that for the 3.0 TFSI petrol equivalent is £425. Surely even the very wealthy are likely to notice that little point?
Pile on a long list of desirable extras, as in the impressive 3.0 TDI quattro SE we have just driven during the launch in Spain, and the on-the-road price becomes £63,325. Among the more costly extras in that package were 20in wheels, adaptive air suspension, adaptive cruise control, MMI Navigation Plus and night vision assistant with pedestrian detection but there was a whole lot more – certainly too much to mention here.
Without doubt, the A7 Sportback will steal a few sales from potential A8 buyers but that is not expected to be a significant factor, especially as Audi is confident of gaining the vast majority of its sales either in so-called ‘conquests’ from rival manufacturers, or from existing Audi owners who wish to upgrade from smaller cars.
The production version of the A7 Sportback looks almost unchanged from the concept model shown in late 2009, the styling of which was very well received. Aimed predominantly at young families rising rapidly up the income scale, the A7 will only be available as a four-door car, complete with its fairly cavernous boot beneath the Sportback tail.
When you get down to the basic truth, this is a five-door hatchback. Of course that’s what it is, but apparently in Germany any hint of a hatchback is not regarded as acceptable in the premium sporty sector. Consequently, thanks to the clever styling, the A7 Sportback really does look like a coupé. That’s the thinking behind it, we’re told: and it does indeed look superb.
As expected of Audi, the A7’s construction is relatively light and includes aluminium for its doors, bonnet, tailgate and wings. The main bodyshell contains five different grades of steel, making a structure that is immensely strong, yet safe in the event of an accident.
At the wheel, the A7 Sportback offers all the well-known attributes of the current Audi range, whether petrol or diesel, including that sense of quiet, smooth and luxurious progress combined with the ability to switch into a very effective and pleasing high-performance mode when required. The latest quattro transmission technology, which the A7 shares with other models, results in exceptional traction and contributes to the well-balanced handling of the entire car.
Predictably enough, it’s packed with clever technical features and gadgets. Notable novelties this time include Audi’s first head-up display and the remarkable Google Maps access.
Text: Tony Dron Photos: Audi ClassicInside - The Classic Driver Newsletter Free Subscription!