Audi’s big rival to the Mercedes-Benz CLS and (now-discontinued) BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe has finally arrived in South Africa. In a segment where appealing design and build quality counts almost as much as sheer brand appeal, how well does the all-new A7 Sportback stack up against its rival(s)? We conducted an extended test of the 55 TFSI over the holiday season...
We like: Still the Audi that offers the edgiest design, supreme ride- and occupant comfort, modern tech.
We don't like: Petrol only, which makes this derivative quite thirsty.
- Price: R1 250 000 (R1 574 220 as tested December 2019)
- Engine: 3.0-litre turbopetrol V6
- Power/Torque: 250 kW/500 Nm
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic (S-tronic)
- Fuel consumption: 7.1 L/100 km (claimed)
- Load capacity: 535 litres
SERIOUS ABOUT BUYING?
Some Audi dealers regularly offer specials: Have look here.
Where does it fit in?
The rear half is what gives the A7 Sportback such an iconic silhouette.
Executive-sedan-based 4-door "coupes" have been doing the rounds since the mid-2000s (the 1st-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS was launched in South Africa in 2005), so there’s nothing new about the concept of a sedan with a sloped roofline and fastback-style tailgate. You could even argue that it probably represents the best of all worlds when it comes to design and practicality.
The A7 Sportback is now in its 2nd generation and the latest model still targets the R1-million-plus buyer, who, in all likelihood is also considering the latest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz CLS (only available in CLS400d 4Matic guise). There isn’t a direct competitor from BMW as the 6 Series has made way for the larger 8 Series, which has moved further up the price ladder. The 8 Series Gran Coupe could still be recognised as a fringe rival though.
As it stands, the A7 Sportback represents the zenith of Audi's sedan range in Mzansi and, while South Africans tend to favour Premium SUVs at this end of the market, there’s something to be said for pitching up at the Met in something a little more stylish and distinctive than what everyone else has arrived in...
How it fares in terms of…
The rear light clusters offer up a LED light show when you lock/unlock the A7 Sportback.
Several detractors have accused Audi of rolling out a slew of cookie-cutter designs, but the A7 Sportback has not been afraid to challenge the status quo stylistically. The design of the 1st-generation model could even have been described as polarising by virtue of its brave (some say droopy) rear end. For this generation, the design is less love/hate, but the A7 Sportback is still easily the most distinguishable model in Audi’s sedan (if not entire) lineup. Seen here in Mythos Black with the black styling package (R10 450), which adds styling accents to the front bumper and grille as well as similarly-coloured gloss trim around the windows. The addenda really give the big Audi a distinctive presence that would make for the perfect "baddie car" in any action movie. The black is a nightmare to keep clean, however, especially in the Cape summer where the wind constantly blows sand and dust onto the freshly washed paintwork.
Lighting is one of Audi’s trademarks and the greeting sequence when you unlock the car certainly "gets the crowds going". The LED strip at the rear lights up like the swooping red front-bumper illumination of KITT from Knight Rider (if you didn't grow up in the Eighties you won't get the reference – if so, do yourself a favour and google it) with the tail lights joining in the display in a final flamboyant light show. It's certainly a party trick that never wears thin...
This is a car that demands attention from onlookers, so be prepared to answer myriad questions, make small talk with petrol attendants and have your Audi appear on social media as people scamper to photograph it with their phones.
As is the case with the Mercedes-Benz CLS, only 1 engine is offered in the local A7 Sportback line-up: in this case, the 55 TFSI: a 3.0-litre turbopetrol V6 with peak outputs of 250 kW and 500 Nm. For a large car like the A7 Sportback, the powerplant delivers more than enough oomph considering it's not a sportscar, but more of a cosseting cruiser. The engine provides perfect background assistance to the refined driving experience. It’s quiet, provides ample power and torque and, in combination with the 7-speed automatic transmission, provides near-seamless propulsion. It seems Audi has gone out of its way to make the drivetrain unobtrusive – one barely ever feels (or hears) its presence.
Quiet and soothing best describes the drivetrain of the A7.
The fuel consumption is so-so, however. The claimed figure is 7.1 L/100 km, but after travelling about 2 000 km in the 55 TFSI, we saw an indicated 10.8 L/100 km. Admittedly there was a lot of city driving; our best effort was 6.9 L/100 km on a "downhill run" in efficiency mode, which makes use of transmission decoupling so that the A7 Sportback can effectively coast without the drag of the 'box slowing it down. It’s certainly an effective way of reducing consumption.
Even with the increased fuel tank, which has a 73-litre capacity, the Audi is likely to require fill-ups after 600-km stints. A turbodiesel would make a lot more sense, because, despite its name, the A7 Sportback doesn’t really have sporty pretensions. It would also solve the consumption problem, but Audi SA does not plan to introduce a turbodiesel derivative in South Africa.
Luxurious driving experience
This test unit was specced with the optional air suspension (R34 600) and, as it’s the only A7 Sportback derivative we have tested, we can’t compare it with a unit that's not equipped with adaptive air suspension. The system does contribute to an exceptionally forgiving and comfortable ride quality, however. Cars of this size tend to ride very well over big bumps and flatten out imperfections at higher speeds, but then jolt significantly at slow speeds as the long chassis flexes more than short-wheelbase cars. The Audi doesn’t suffer from small-bump jolting as much as its peers and, considering its lengthy (2 926-mm) wheelbase, it feels smaller and more wieldy than other large sedans.
Rear passengers get dual-zone climate control and a further 2 USB ports.
The air suspension allows you to raise and lower the ride height, which is useful if you want to traverse a dirt road at low speed. The 25-mm raise isn’t huge, but gives you a little more confidence that the nose won't scrape on every bump.
As for the driving position, you sit quite low in the A7 Sportback, but its size doesn’t overwhelm you and it’s particularly easy to see out of the glasshouse and park the sedan thanks to the fitment of the 4-wheel steering option (R33 050). It’s a car that’s easy to get to terms with, simple and untaxing to drive and comfortable during long stints behind the 'wheel.
The A7 Sportback was the first car to feature Audi’s new MMI touchscreen system and also the dual-screen setup you see here. The bottom screen deals with climate controls, seat heating and becomes a sketchpad so that you can write destinations into the nav. The top screen deals with all other functions such as audio, vehicle settings, and apps. Android Auto and Apple Carplay work seamlessly with the system and there’s a wireless charging pad in the centre console.
Android Auto hooked up to the main infotainment screen, climate controls dealt with on the bottom screen.
As for the quality of the cabin, the touchpoints are high-quality glass, brushed aluminium, suede and leather. The optional S sport seats (R28 350) are particularly comfortable and supportive. Beyond the touchpoints, there’s a fair amount of polished and gloss black plastic, particularly in front of the front passenger and while the plastic fits well, looks good and doesn’t rattle, it would be nice to see some upmarket materials like leather or soft-touch rubber in its place.
Compared with the aforementioned Benz CLS, the A7 Sportback feels more upmarket and classy and less of a shiny trinket. In typical Audi style, it exudes understated luxury.
The A7 feels like Audi's most complete sedan.
The A7 Sportback is arguably the most resolved vehicle in Audi's current lineup, well, certainly as far as its sedans are concerned. The newcomer is the quintessential cruiser – it's sumptuously comfortable to drive – and has a drivetrain that delivers effortless performance without any fuss or effort. The latter is very much a background player to what is meant to be a quiet and soothing experience.
The petrol engine is a bit thirsty, but at this price point, a buyer is unlikely to see that as a deterrent unless they are particularly eco-conscious.
The cabin is spacious, luxurious and bang-up-to-date with modern tech and connectivity. It’s a pleasant space to spend long hours and appears to be well finished and designed. There may be a bit too much plastic for some, but it’s classy and easily the leader in an admittedly tiny segment.
The A7 Sportback’s design will appeal most to buyers; the newcomer remains the most eye-catching and easily-distinguishable model in the brand’s lineup. If I had to choose between this and a CLS? The Audi –all the way.