The Audi A7 Sportback is a five-door coupé that scores on style, refinement and technological sophistication, but is it enough to ruffle the BMW's and Mercedes-Benz's feathers?

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Audi first used the Sportback name on today’s five-door Audi A3, but the name is more appropriate for the Audi A5 and Audi A7, both of which are lower-slung, more rakish five-door coupés.

Mercedes-Benz was the first to offer a racier executive choice with the striking 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLS, but Audi has taken up the idea with most zeal, giving us first the A5 Sportback, a five-door coupé derived from the Audi A4, and then the A7, whose arrival pre-empted the latest generation Audi A6.

The A7 Sportback might look like a car to fill a niche, but the Mercedes-Benz CLS proves there is a sizeable market for coupes with extra doors

The Mercedes-Benz CLS is a saloon and the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé is a conventional two-door coupé given a pair of rear doors both come with a boot that opens like any other saloon on the market. The A7, like the A5, is a low-roofed five-door coupé. Indeed, so close is the A7 to the A5 that you could almost consider it a 105.5 percent recreation of the same car, this percentage being the difference in length between them, although the price hike is rather larger. Audi is certainly driving its new models into tight niches these days.

2016 saw the A7 get a light facelift which predominantly focused on interior upgrades and the inclusion of more technology. Only minor tweaks were made to the exterior with new pronounced air inlets and the rear bumper and diffuser being redesigned. Inside there was the inclusion of ambient LED interior lighting, heated front seats and electric lumbar support included to the A7 as standard, while the smartphone integration was added to the optional Techonology Pack.

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The A7 range starts starts at a tempting-enough price and it’s relatively compact, consisting of a trio of V6 diesels – a 215bhp, 268bhp and a 315bhp bi-turbo version, all offered in either SE Executive, S-line and Black Edition trims. There are also three performance models from Audi Sport all using Inglostadt's favourite twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine - the S7, RS7 and RS7 Performance.

Quattro four-wheel drive is standard on all but the efficiency-focussed 'Ultra' 3.0 TDI.

After being on the market for the best part of seven years, the A7 is entering its twilight years, as its replacement is being geared up for its arrival in 2018. Despite coming after the launch of the new Audi A8, the second generation A7 is being mooted as the car which will show the direction of Audi's future design language. While details remain scarce, we do know that the next big five-door coupé from Inglostadt will come with a full-electric model and be topped by two Audi Sport models - the S7 and the RS7. The latter set to breach the 600bhp mark from its 4.0-litre V8 engine, while the former will be downsized to a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 which is set to punch out more than 450bhp.

But in the meantime, the burning question we have will endeavour to answer is: does the Audi A7 have any substance to go with its style?


Audi A7 alloy wheels

The Audi A7 shares its innards and mechanical format with the Audi A6 and, indeed, the last generation Audi A4 and Audi A8, all these models using Audi’s MLB platform and component set.

So the transmission of its longitudinally arranged power unit is configured to mitigate the potentially unfavourable weight distribution of mounting the engine forward of the front axle line. The result? Only 54 percent of the Audi A7’s heft bears on the front wheels – not bad for a car whose layout is fundamentally front-wheel drive.

The A7 is more closely related to the A4, A5, A6 and A8 than you'd expect

But heft is the word. Despite quite a portion of its body being aluminium, including all the closing panels and the front suspension towers, this car comes in just 60kg short of two tonnes. That’s about par for the class, but 200kg to 300kg more than the old Audi A6 and a little disappointing given the lightweight metals in its structure.

The familiar Audi grille features high-gloss slats and a single, slim chrome frame. Wide, shallow, sharp-edged headlights feature LED daytime running lights.

Audi calls the main waistline crease a tornado line; this sculptural flourish is intended to make the body appear “stretched, slim and taut, like the body of an athlete”. Doors are frameless, emphasising the Audi A7’s coupé character, although the rear panes don’t fully disappear. The glass drops fractionally to ease door closure.

Audi’s A7 and Audi A5 hatchbacks do without rear wash/wipe, presumably because it would spoil their lines. That said, the heavily raked rear screen stays fairly clean. The A7’s drag coefficient is a competitive 0.28.

Long blocks of LED tail-lights add interest to the rear end, as do the twin exhausts and the extending spoiler. A neat, motorised rear spoiler deploys from the trailing edge of the tailgate at speed, or you can activate it using a dashboard button.

S-line models, as usual, take a sportier bent with 19-inch wheels versus the SE’s 18-inch rims, plus a body kit and a more youthful approach to interior trim.

As we mentioned earlier, the Audi A7 range is predominantly powered by 3.0-litre V6 oilburners and a 4.0-litre V8 in three outputs, each is driven through an automatic gearbox with all driven through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, while the BiTDI and RS7 models are paired with an eight-speed torque converter unit.


Audi A7 interior

Consider the Audi A7 as a five-door coupé and you won’t be disappointed by its cabin space. This is a long, low car, and it feels that way when you get in. The tall must stoop to enter, especially in the rear.

You also sit a lot lower than in conventional saloons of this size. The fastback roofline will scuff the scalps of those over 6ft tall in the rear. Up front it’s more spacious, although this is a cocooning cabin rather than one offering veldts of space.

There’s a neat fold-out blind on the rear parcel shelf to protect backbenchers from the sun

However, it’s the interior’s sculpture, craftsmanship and trimmings that will make more impact. The subtly swooping dashboard and door inserts, the precision machining of the aluminium centre console controls and the showy arrival of the infotainment screen from a slot in the dash all create an alluring first impression.

And one that lasts, because this cabin is the finely constructed, rattle-free environment we’ve come to expect from Audi. The dash is quite busy but not over-elaborate, the same applying to the angled, multi-layer instruments and driver information screen.

Despite the emphasis on style, there’s decent storage for odds and ends in the cabin. The boot is long, if a little shallow, but you can fold the asymmetrically split rear seats to create a sizeable load deck. These seats are decently comfortable, but the front seats are positively sumptuous. In optional Comfort form they come with air-bladder adjustment of the side bolster and lumbar support (not essential), while ventilation and massage functions are further options.

There are three main trim levels to choose from - SE Executive, S-line and Black Edition. Opt for the entry-level A7 trim and you'll find 19in alloys, LED headlights and rear lights, a powered tailgate, parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, and a retractable rear spoiler. Inside there is Audi's MMI infotainment system including a 6.5in retractable screen, sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB interface. There is also a leather upholstery, four-zone climate control and heated front seats all included as standard.

Upgrade to the S-line trim gets the addition of 20in alloys, sports suspension, matrix LED headlights, a sporty bodykit, sports seats and touches of Alcantara, while the range-topping Black Edition gets a black styling pack, 21in alloy wheels, a Bose sound system and bigger alloys.

Fancy an S7 and you'll have two choices. The standard car gets 20in alloy wheels, adaptive air suspension, a sports differential and Audi's cylinder-on-demand and active noise cancellation technology. Inside there is super sports seats, electrically adjustable front seats, a Valcona leather upholstery and lots of carbon and aluminium interior trims. The Black Edition model gets 21in alloy wheels, gloss black exterior trim, tinted rear windows and a Bose sound system.

Topping the current Audi A7 range is the RS7 models, which get 20in alloys, an RS-specfic adaptive suspension and braking system set-up, an aggressively styled bodykit, a dual-exhaust system, a slide and tilt sunroof, a Valcona leather upholstery and adjustable steering column and front seats. Dominating the dashboard is Audi's MMI infotainment system with a retractable 8.0in infotainment system, sat nav, DAB radio, DVD player, Bluetooth connectivity, a 10GB hard drive, a14-speaker Bose speaker system and a head-up display.

Topping the range is the RS7 Performance, which not only teases a few more bhp from the 4.0-litre V8, but also includes 21in alloy wheels, a titanium exterior style pack, a leather and Alcantara upholstery, and a sports exhaust.


3.0-litre TDI Audi A7 engine

The redesigned 3.0 TDI in the Audi A7 certainly provides the effortlessly authoritative thrust implied by the car’s looks, the 268bhp version delivering its 427lb ft torque peak from just 1250rpm. Couple that to an effective seven-speed transmission and all-wheel drive and you have a satisfyingly fast, secure car.

It’s not quite as brisk as Audi claims, though, our review car needing 6.1sec to strike 60mph, which is slightly adrift of the 5.7sec Audi claims for the blast to 62mph. Either way, this is still rapid, and with seven gears at the dual-clutch transmission’s disposal, the A7 is an effective overtaker, too, needing just 4.0sec to bound from 50 to 70mph. In fact we put this theory to the test against the equally brisk Alpina D3 Touring.

The brakes fade quickly on the track, but it’s unlikely to be a problem on the road

The lower-powered diesel is still reasonably swift, Audi claiming a 0-62mph time of 7.4sec

On a much pickier level, this mid-range version of the 3.0 TDI is not quite as sweet a spinner as the 350 d motor in the Mercedes CLS, although that’s only apparent if you work it hard in manual paddle-shift mode. Most of the time it’s an impressively subdued companion.

And a satisfyingly economical one. We turned in 31.4mpg on test, which isn’t bad for a car of this weight and performance potential. More than 40mpg is entirely possible if it’s driven less energetically. If economy is uppermost in your mind, though, we'd recommend the 215bhp diesel instead.

As well as an inherently more economical V6, its frugality is helped by a start-stop system coupled to the DSG transmission, although it appears to kill the engine less often than for cars with a manual transmission. The transmission itself generally changes ratios with flawless precision, although the odd tremor can surface. The BiTDI version, is ballistically quick and sounds far better than it ought to, however, if economy is what you have in mind that sticking with a single-turbocharged version is imperative.


Audi A7 rear cornering

The most pleasing aspect of the Audi A7’s chassis is that it serves a genuinely comfortable, pliant ride. Admittedly, the test car came with the optional air suspension, but our experience of steel-sprung A7s confirms that this largely applies to those models too, at least in softer SE Executive trim.

The air springs option allows you to fine-tune the chassis using the multimedia system. You can choose between Comfort (which is quite pillowy but allows a bit of wallow and heave over undulating back roads), Auto (which is fine most of the time) and Dynamic (which adds a little heft to the steering effort, tightens the A7’s body control and manages this without causing the car to crash from crest to crest). So it’s entirely acceptable to leave the car in Dynamic. You can also programme the set-up, selecting between Comfort, Auto and Dynamic settings for the powertrain, suspension, steering, cornering light control and even seatbelt tensioners.

Programmable seatbelt tensioners seems a little excessive for a big cruiser like this

In truth, there’s not a whole lot of difference between Auto and Dynamic, although we prefer the slightly more positive feeling of the steering in this mode. That’s because it always feels a little vague. If there was more of a build-up of resistance in corners, your confidence in the car’s directional stability would increase. And hard acceleration on undulating roads can uncover what feels very like a whiff of torque steer, despite all-wheel drive. But that’s very rare, and the quattro’s extra traction is a real asset.

Sending 60 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels helps the A7’s balance and you’ll rarely complain of understeer. But the feeling of mild disconnection induced by the steering and a chassis whose trajectory is largely unaffected by the accelerator make this more of a tidy mile-eater than a tool for the precise slicing of parabolas.


Audi A7

The Audi A7 is reasonably well priced against rivals such as the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé and Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 d, especially when typical dealer discounts of around 10 percent are factored into the buying equation.

All engines are usefully economical given their outputs, but we'd steer the vast majority of buyers towards the diesels. The economy minded will prefer the lower powered unit, but we'd urge buyers looking for an Audi A7 with the performance to match its looks to at least test drive the more potent 3.0 TDI.

Tread carefully on the options list. Prices can get very scary, very quickly

Given the A7’s performance, size and weight, the 268bhp 3.0 TDI's CO2 emissions are very competitive and result in benefit-in-kind exposure of usefully less than all rivals except the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Strong residual value forecasts help its case, too. Fuel consumption during our own, spirited tests of 31.4mpg is slightly better than the class average, too, although it's somewhat off the claimed figures.

It’s easy to be tempted by the A7’s options list, especially if you’re a gizmo fan. For example, when Navigation Plus is specified, the adaptive headlamps alter their light patterns to suit the nature of the road. An excellent Bose stereo system can be specified, but the Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System, with tweeters that rise from the dashboard, is worth paying the extra for. As is MMI Touch; you can control Audi’s Multi Media Interface with a touch-sensitive panel you ‘write’ characters on to. However, these options do not hold their value well.


4 star Audi A7

This may be a coupé carrying a sport label in its name and it may be fast, but the Audi A7 is not an especially sporting car; rather inert handling and desensitised steering see to that. But it’s highly effective as the rapid, luxurious, hi-tech and stylish cruiser that Audi intended it to be.

Better still, unlike many modern Audis, it has a ride to complement these qualities. We’ve been highly critical of the ride quality on mainstream Audis, but the A7 is hopefully a sign of more forgiving things to come. This car rides well on UK roads, and that’s something we haven’t been able to say about Audis for a long while.

Jobs for the facelift: reduce road noise, sharpen the steering feel and improve rear headroom.

We’ve frequently waxed lyrical about the quality of Audi interiors and the A7, and now the Audi A4 and its siblings have finally caught up, is proof that Audi is taking the lead again. The stylish, swooping dash and delightful aluminium inserts make for a delightful cabin environment that’s beautifully constructed and well kitted out.

Room for four and their luggage, low CO2 emissions, good economy (from the diesels) and the promise of decent residual values add a practical dimension, as does the stability of all-wheel drive. The higher-powered 3.0 TDI is seriously swift, but the best blend of power, refinement and economy comes from the 215bhp diesel.

Handsome styling and an array of intriguing convenience features certainly add to its appeal, even if many of them cost extra.

The A7 might seem like a niche offering, but we're not surprised it is selling in more than niche numbers, which means the impending 2017 model has some tough wheel tracks to follow in.

Audi A7 2010-2017 First drives