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Is the second-gen A7 the perfect all-rounder for Audi to take the luxury four-door coupé crown from the Mercedes-Benz CLS, or are its talents spread too thinly?

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Within the confines of a boardroom, it must seem a tantalising silver bullet solution.

Take the expansive platform of your existing mid-sized saloon and cloak it in coachwork redolent of a coupé. The creation will be spacious enough for a week’s family holiday but attractive enough to take centre stage in dealerships. In theory, it will also possess tremendous levels of comfort yet also benefit from a low centre of gravity for good handling.

Standard-fit 19in alloys may not look as snazzy as the optional 20in or 21in wheels, but they offer a superior ride. Tick those option boxes advisedly

If the notion of a ‘utility’ prestige model seems obvious, the reality of asking a platform developed for limousine duties to perform as a born gran turismo is not so simple.

At least one element of the ride, handling, refinement and design equation has so far prevented the segment’s usual suspects –  the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé and Audi’s A7 – from fulfilling their true potential. The Porsche Porsche Panamera is the current front runner but even it comes in for criticism, with a hefty price and a firm ride skewed too far toward the sporting end of the spectrum for many.

With that in mind, this week’s road test subject, the second-generation A7 Sportback, has everything to play for.

It arrives after eight years in which the original Audi A7 (2010-2017) worthily challenged but never managed to conquer the trailblazing CLS; and to not only turn the tables but also arrest a sales slump that has affected models segment-wide of late, Audi has evolved its execution of this car, if not the basic recipe, considerably.

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It means occupants are treated to the digital interior architecture from the flagship Audi A8 and more efficient mild-hybrid powertrains have been made possible by a new 48V electrical system. Sharper sheet metal and sophisticated exterior lighting aim to draw in the aesthetes, while a lengthening of the wheelbase seeks to endow the A7 with silhouette-defying interior space.

There is much to impress, but it’s whether Audi has put too much emphasis on style and not enough on the substance of ride and handling that we’ll aim to ascertain here.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Audi A7 Sportback 2018 road test review hero rear

‘Sharp’, ‘rakish’, ‘taut’ and ‘athletic’ are the words that Audi has chosen to describe the new second-generation version of the A7 Sportback. And, truth be told, they’re all rather fitting, really.

Next to the original A7, the new model is a far more muscular and aggressive-looking thing. Audi’s signature hexagonal grille has been enlarged to a point where it dominates the front of the A7 and, in combination with a sleek new headlight design, gives the Audi a face that appears more purposeful than before.

The 292 LEDs housed in the rear light bar play sweeping animations after both locking and unlocking the car. You’ll either love or hate them

Round the back, meanwhile, is a single light strip, first seen on the latest Audi A8, that stretches the entire width of the A7’s rear flank in a Cylon-esque fashion. Although the A7’s apparent resemblance to the villains of the Battlestar Galactica series is likely to be unintentional, it lends the Audi a more domineering on-road presence than before.

The familiar swooping silhouette remains, although the new A7 is now 5mm shorter than the original car, at 4969mm. Meanwhile, the wheelbase has been extended by 12mm to liberate more cabin space.

As for engines, a 335bhp 3.0-litre petrol V6 is available, although our test car made use of a 3.0-litre V6 50 TDI diesel powerplant. The oil-burner develops 282bhp between 3500rpm and 4000rpm, and torque stands at 457lb ft from 2250rpm to 3000rpm. This is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and a self-locking centre differential. The petrol V6 makes use of a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

A new 48V primary electrical system endows the Audi with mild-hybrid capabilities too. Between 34mph and 99mph, the engine can shut down while coasting, and regenerative brakes can send up to 12kW of energy back into the lithium ion battery. Audi claims this system reduces fuel consumption by 0.7 litres per 100km (0.15 gallons per 62 miles).

Suspension is composed of a five-link arrangement with an antiroll bar front and rear. Adaptive dampers and air springs are both available as options, although our Sport-specification test car went without. It was equipped with sports suspension, though, which dropped its ride height by 10mm. It’s worth noting this isn’t available as a standalone option in the UK, with only S-line models getting it as standard.

Our A7 rode on standard 19in alloy wheels, although 20in and 21in wheels are available.

INTERIOR

Audi A7 Sportback 2018 road test review cabin

Audi has always had something of a knack for giving its larger cars interiors that exude material quality and, true to form, that trend continues with the new A7.

It’s by no means a cabin that leaps out and grabs you with a combination of bright colours or uniquely shaped fixtures but instead relies on a far more monochrome palette to convey its upmarket appeal. Cool silvers, brushed metal and gloss black panelling are the primary shades here, while Audi’s new MMI Navigation Plus dual-screen communications hub dominates the centre of the dashboard.

The only time you’ll really notice that swooping roofline eating into your head space is from the middle seat on the rear bench. Best for adults to avoid it

It’s an effective approach, for sure – you wouldn’t mistake the A7 for anything other than a premium product – but is it characterful or stimulating? Not particularly. Still, there’s no faulting its usability.

The larger, 10.1in upper screen is used to operate the vast majority of the vehicle’s features – think satellite navigation, radio, media connectivity and vehicle settings – and the lower 8.7in screen is primarily used to adjust the heating and ventilation.

There can be no denying the visual appeal of the system – the graphics are clear and easy to read, and there’s very little in the way of lag – but the need to apply a fair amount of pressure to the screen when touching an icon did serve as a cause of frustration to our testers. Still, haptic and acoustic feedback make the process more informative and are particularly helpful when operating the system on the move.

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit comes as standard, replacing traditional analogue dials with a 12.3in screen. Buttons on the steering wheel can be used to bring up mapping info, make calls and more.

The front seats are plenty comfortable and, thanks to generous bolstering, do a good job of holding you in place while on the move. They’re impressively adjustable, too, as is the steering wheel, which accommodates modifications to its rake and reach.

As for those in the rear, the extension of the A7’s wheelbase means the overall interior length has been increased by 21mm, ultimately resulting in a greater amount of leg room in the second row. Sat behind a taller driver, adults will find their knees aren’t in any great danger of coming into contact with the front seat, and head room isn’t compromised by the coupé-style roofline, either. A large transmission tunnel does render the middle seat largely useless for anyone other than children, mind.

Boot space is similarly commodious, with 535 litres of storage space on offer when the rear bench is in place and 1390 litres with the back seats folded down. The liftback-style tailgate means the boot aperture itself is usefully large, although there is a small sill to navigate.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Audi A7 Sportback 2018 road test review engine

Even were it to rely solely on the combustive forces of its 2967cc diesel V6, driven unhurriedly the A7 50 TDI would cut an unflustered figure in just about any scenario.

At idle and at speed, it is quieter – both in absolute terms and by way of being better isolated from the cabin – than its predecessor, and the difference would be greater if Audi could only address excessive levels of tyre roar triggered by poorer surfaces.

Audi’s new naming strategy doesn’t seem that intuitive, but the ‘50’ means its TDI powerplant develops between 278bhp and 304bhp. Supposedly, it’ll start making more sense in the future

An increase in power from 236bhp to 282bhp also causes the time taken to dispatch that all-important overtaking increment of 30-70mph (through the gears) to tumble usefully, from 6.5sec to 5.3sec.

Less impressive is the 8.2sec needed to cover the same increment with the transmission locked in fourth. This is indicative of the fact that the engine’s peak torque output – although mighty at 457lb ft – fails to materialise until 2250rpm and tails off from only 3000rpm. There is then an unfortunate 500rpm flat spot before peak power is realised but the show’s over at 4000rpm.

So rapid progress is especially dependent on the torque-converter transmission selecting just the right one of its eight ratios, and you miss out on that effortlessly linear sub-2000rpm locomotion typical of BMW’s larger-capacity straight six diesels.

What this car’s BMW rivals lack is a mild-hybrid powertrain, which in this instance is made possible by a 48V electrical system with a lithium ion battery and a belt alternator/ starter. Its primary purpose is to allow engine-off coasting when the chassis’ Drive Select is set to Eco mode, and without actually keeping an eye on the tachometer needle, it can be difficult to detect the precise moment the engine shuts down, so fluid is the process and quiet the engine at a cruise.

Were we to nitpick, we might contend the engine should become dormant with a fraction more haste once the driver’s foot has left the throttle pedal, but there can be no complaints about the almost immediate manner in which this V6 reignites when required.

Against the wildly fluctuating cruising speed experienced on most British motorways, where this mild-hybrid technology works superbly well, the resulting fuel consumption savings are spectacular. Our test car registered a touring economy of 53.1mpg for a touring range of about 735 miles. In terms of cost and convenience, that represents a significant improvement over the 40.3mpg and 570 miles of the first-generation A7 3.0 TDI and brings hatchback levels of efficiency to a luxury offering of comparatively vast footprint.

The benefits will be felt less keenly in congested urban driving, although the brake assist system does now permit the car’s stop/start to initiate at up to 14mph, rather than merely at a standstill.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi A7 Sportback 2018 road test review on the road front

Anybody paying for the privilege of putting a luxury four-door coupé on their driveway should have to make scant concession about ride.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what will be required if you find yourself enchanted by the design, technology and general desirability of the second-generation A7.

For all of the refinement of its cabin and diesel V6, the A7 rides just a touch too firmly and its low-speed ride is too unsettled to be called properly comfortable

Our test car undoubtedly rode more smoothly than it might otherwise have thanks to relatively small, 19in wheels and was impressively quiet at a cruise, but a simple inability to adequately filter the impact of potholes and threadbare road surfaces is disappointing and quickly becomes a source of frustration.

The primary ride is better, although we would still expect greater pliancy and there’s an odd resonance transmitted into the cabin at cruising speeds. Moreover, our experience of models equipped with air suspension suggests these are problems that cannot be solved simply by spending additional money on specification. It is as if Audi has forgotten the UK lacks a network of glass-smooth autobahns.

Along an appropriate stretch of road, the A7 can disguise its dimensions creditably well, changing direction with a dispassionate, sure-footed ease that results in road speed entirely at odds with the lack of drama in the cabin. Dry weather traction seems absolute and, although it didn’t rain during this road test, there’s little reason to suspect Audi’s quattro hardware wouldn’t provide similarly immense security underfoot during more inclement conditions.

On the tortuous Hill Route at Millbrook Proving Ground, the A7 felt just as large all-wheel-drive Audi models almost always do: every inch its size but also resolutely secure. Through medium-speed corners, this chassis will often take a promisingly rear-biased stance, although it’s merely a veneer of dynamism and asking any more of the car results in gentle but persistent understeer.

Indeed, entry into corners is dependable but lethargic, owing to the steering’s blunt response off-centre, and traction is unbreakable when powering out. If the A7 impresses in any particular regard, it is its tight body control, which is such that both lateral and vertical movements are kept well in check.

With such adhesion, the A7 can lean hard on its passive Sports suspension set-up and is resistant to excess roll in doing so. Were the A7 to entertain and provide better competition for the Mercedes CLS as a driver’s car, Audi would first need to address the steering, which is obstinately light and lifeless and during the early stages of its travel is geared too slowly to feel satisfactorily responsive.

Its smooth action and large, thin rim would be better suited to chauffeurs battling city congestion than Autocar readers looking to buy a truly convincing all-rounder.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi A7 Sportback 2018 road test review hero front

The A7 not only undercuts its main rival, the CLS 350d 4Matic AMG Line, on list price but also sneaks in as being less expensive than the ungainly 630d Gran Turismo M Sport.

In terms of depreciation, there’s barely any daylight between the three cars although none is particularly impressive, with the Audi tipped to retain a residual value of 41% after three years and 36,000 miles, the Mercedes 43% and the BMW 42%. The petrol-engined A7 55 TFSI does marginally better than its diesel sibling, at 43%, although its list price is £1100 higher.

It’s neck and neck here, with the Audi offering competitive residual values against rivals from BMW and Mercedes

Fuelling from the green pump will cost you an extra 10mpg in official combined figures, too, the TFSI managing 40.4mpg to the TDI’s 50.4mpg.

The A7 also comes well equipped: electric leather seats, LED headlights, 19in wheels, parking sensors and cruise control are included in Sport trim along with smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android devices and the lowest CO2 emission figures in the range – 147g/km with the 45 TDI and 50 TDI engines.

Upgrading to S line gets you more aggressive exterior styling, 20in wheels, adaptive LED lights and lowered sports suspension. CO2 also rises to 150g/km.

 

VERDICT

Audi A7 Sportback 2018 road test review hero static

With its svelte, cut-crystal exterior lines and a cabin teeming with digital interfaces, the new A7 might seem irresistible for those who require a technological status symbol.

That Audi has carved from a low-slung silhouette such generous space for passengers and luggage lends the car added grand touring appeal, something only enhanced by a diesel-electric mild-hybrid powertrain of commendable refinement, economy and potency.

Easy on the eye and to live with, but let down by stolid dynamics

So why only three and a half stars? The answer is found in this car’s chassis, which, although sure-footed, possesses neither the ability to engage the driver beyond a basic level nor the calibre of ride quality we’d expect from a long-legged four-door coupé.

Handling is extremely competent but nothing more, and there’s a pervasive lack of feel throughout the driving controls. These are characteristics one might accept in an accomplished cruiser but the A7 also labours over rougher surfaces and unexpected contours.

Ultimately, then, this fashionable Audi never quite delivers on its promise.

 

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Audi A7 First drives