Audi A7 Sportback: Swing low, sweet chariot
- Deon Schoeman
- 24 Feb 2011 09:18 (South Africa)
By definition, the four-door coupé cannot – perhaps should not – even exist. Everybody knows a key element of a coupé is the presence of only two doors. And yet, the four-door version is alive and well, it seems. Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce such a beast when it launched the indisputably awkward CLS to a bemused motoring world. But its sales success is prompting other marques to follow suit. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
The good news is that the Audi take on the four-door coupé theme is a handsome machine. Big, yes – certainly larger than the images suggest. But also sleek and low-slung, with an unusual rear treatment that adds real visual interest and emphasis to the car’s rear haunches.
Its smooth, sweeping surfaces and curved roofline so typical of a coupé, manage to disguise its bulk. An aggressive rear shoulder line, the short high deck and the low-slung stance also point to the car’s sporty demeanour.
The A7 Sportback is just short of 5m long, and almost 2m wide, but it stands only 1,42m tall, which contributes to its elegantly sporty appearance. A long wheelbase and wide front and rear tracks promise stability and interior space, while the smoothly sculpted surfaces contribute to the car’s slippery aerodynamics.
Of course, the front-end gets the usual single-frame grille, flanked on either side by slim headlights with integrated daytime running LEDs. In fact, you can also order the A7 Sportback with a full LED headlight package that delivers even brighter illumination more efficiently than the standard Xenon.
Those four doors don’t detract from the aesthetic execution, and in fairness are hardly noticeable until you open them. Of course, the real reason for those rear doors is the small matter of convenience – anyone who has had to step out of a two-door to allow rear occupants to get in or out will know exactly what we mean.
In the case of this Audi, convenience also extends to a large, motorised tailgate that opens and closes at the push of a button. It provides easy access to a cavernous boot with a 535-litre capacity. Plus, those rear seats can be folded down to create even more loading space.
Talking of space, accommodation at the rear is good – as it should be, given the A7 Sportback’s size. Entry and egress is, yes, convenient and, unlike the Merc CLS, there’s not just legroom, but headroom too.
Thus, one could argue that the A7 Sportback links practicality and versatility, as well as pampering luxury, to the visual appeal and dynamic potential of a coupé – which is, we suppose, exactly the thinking behind it.
As one would expect of an Audi competing in the motoring world’s upper echelons, attention to detail is one of the A7 Sportback’s many hallmarks. But it also indicates its athletic intentions with unexpected elements.
Thus, there’s an integrated rear spoiler which unexpectedly appears to aid downforce at higher speeds. Large wheels, shod with low-profile rubber add further impetus to the Audi’s performance presence.
But there’s another, compelling reason why the A7 Sportback is of interest – it also previews the platform and mechanicals of the upcoming A6 sedan, which has just made its global debut, and is due in South Africa later this year.
The interior treatment mimics much of the upmarket design and technology first unveiled with the launch of the flagship A8 last year. Intuitive switchgear, including Audi’s MMI system (Multi-Media Interface), provides a high-tech counterpoint to the fine-grain Milano leather and burr walnut wood inserts.
In fact, there’s lots to keep the tech brigade happy. The large, bright colour LED screen slides up from its repository in the dashboard to provide a menu-driven interface with icons that make access to its vast array of systems both simple and user-friendly.
MMI remains arguably the best of the control systems provided by premium brands, mainly because it is the easiest to use.
For once, Audi has elected to equip the A7 Sportback with a comprehensive array of standard equipment, which means you don’t have to shell out an extra wad of cash to include expected luxuries off an added-cost options list.
Thus, the wood and leather are included, as is a decent sound system with active speakers, Bluetooth phone preparation, ambient lighting, park distance control, a music interface for iPod and iPhone connection, keyless entry, a multifunction steering wheel, tyre pressure monitoring ... the list goes on and on.
Although the standard specification list is comprehensive, individuals can tailor the A7 Sportback by adding extras such as the B&O sound system, Satnav, a heads-up display and climate-controlled seats.
Frankly, the R21, 800 demanded for Satnav is poor value, given that the same basic functionality, plus cheaper and more regular mapping updates, are on offer from Garmin and TomTom at a 10th of the price.
The full-house active and safety package includes all the usual suspects: ABS brakes, dynamic stability control, and front, side, curtain and rear side airbags.
The A7 Sportback uses a hybrid construction of lightweight, high-tech steels and aluminium to keep weight down while retaining strength and stiffness. Its all-independent suspension includes a four-link double wishbone front layout and a trapezoidal-link rear axle design.
The South African model range consists of two A7 Sportback models. There’s a choice of three-litre TDI turbodiesel and three-litre TFSI supercharged petrol engines, but both models benefit from latest-generation quattro all-wheel drive and seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearboxes.
Also shared with the A8 is an extensive array of high-tech driver assistance systems, including standard active countersteer assist, which helps drivers maintain control in critical situations, such as when pressing on through a mountain pass, or braking hard on compromised surfaces.
Options on offer include active lane assist, automatic parking and night vision assist.
As mentioned, one of the two power units on offer in the A7 Sportback is Audi’s three-litre V6 TDI unit, which is credited here with 180kW of maximum power, combined with a full 500Nm of torque. That twist is already on song from just 1,400rpm.
The V6 TDI propels the A7 Sportback from zero to 100km/h in just 6.5 seconds, with top speed governed to 250km/h. At the same time, fuel consumption in the combined cycle comes to just six litres/100 km.
For petrol fans, the supercharged three-litre V6 TFSI has 220kW and 440Nm on tap, which is good enough for a 5.6 second sprint time from zero to 100. It needs 8.2 litres for every 100km travelled in mixed conditions.
Driving a route that included both the sweeps and corners of the majestic Franschoek Pass and the leafy suburbs of Constantia, the A7 Sportback feels planted and composed, with a serenity and sense of purpose that feels more A8 than sporty coupé.
That said, it’s a car that enjoys being exercised and rewards the more committed driver with exceptional poise and grip. Clearly, the quattro all-wheel drive system plays a vital role here, ensuring optimum grip even under duress and contributing to a welcome neutrality that makes placing the car on the apex a precise and predictable affair
I’m not sure that A7 Sportback drivers will want to treat their steed like a TT, though. Instead, it’s the effortlessness of the car, linked to its refinement and an ability to cover vast distances with absolute ease, that will please its owners most.
The TDI is the more sensible purchase here, with a gruffness to the exhaust note that adds some macho appeal and individuality without becoming intrusive. There’s loads of grunt from near-idling speeds, and the seven-speed S-tronic gearbox goes about its business without fuss, making manual changes via the shift paddles almost unnecessary.
By comparison, the TFSI V6 feels sportier and edgier, with more linear power delivery that encourages full use of the rev range. It’s the powerplant for those planning on exploring the A7 Sportback’s sportier dimensions, and here, manual shifts add to the overall experience.
The A7 Sportback emerges as a more convincing package than I, for one, expected. It’s still large, and the combination of bulk and four doors still mitigates against being called a coupé. But there’s a cohesion to the car that intrigues and entices.
For now, it rules the roost in this somewhat oddball niche – but stiff competition is on its way. An all-new, vastly more attractive Mercedes-Benz CLS has already been launched in Europe. And BMW is planning its own contender, based on the new 6-Series. DM
Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro
2,967cc V6, turbodiesel
180kW @ 4,000rpm
500Nm @ 1,400rpm
6.0 l/100km (combined cycle)
Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TFSI quattro
2,995cc V6, supercharged
220kW @ 5,250rpm
440Nm @ 2,900rpm
8.2 l/100km (combined cycle)