A7 will turn you into a ‘dieselhead’

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The Audi A7 Sportback TDI BiTurbo uses a 3-litre turbodiesel that thinks it is a sports car motor.

Car enthusiasts are more often than not described as petrolheads, with further quoted descriptions including those who “are overly reliant on the use of their car, resisting any suggestion to use other means of transport,” or those obsessed with motorsport, or more generally those of you who, like us, simply love all things motoring.

Which got me thinking, maybe the time for the real diesel fan, the “dieselhead” if you will, is fast approaching.

Granted, it doesn’t have the same ring to it, and I’m more than aware of why most have the negative connotations they do towards the darker fuel. Traditionally, diesels have had a more agricultural feel, with trucks and tractors running old-school oil-burners to get heavier work done. Older diesel cars weren’t far off either, with exhausts belching plumes of thick and black ozone-killing smoke, and the clatter from those engines so loud you could barely hear yourself think.

But over the years this has changed significantly, with recent developments all adding up in the war against what the Amercians term “gasoline”.

The first diesel-hybrid car launched in SA is one such salvo (it’s a no-brainer really over a petrol-hybrid), followed last month by another salvo in the form of the sudden introduction of ultra-low sulphur diesel. Rated as 10ppm (from best-available 50ppm before) it should pave the way for some of the super-duper turbodiesel engines which carmakers have been holding back on due to our dodgy diesel quality.

A TRUE UBER-DIESEL

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As a family-man package this car is just about flawless.

Then there’s the subject of this road test, Audi’s A7 Sportback 3-litre TDI BiTurbo. It’s the last word in that name that should grab your attention, as it’s the first sign of the 230kW and immense 650Nm being pumped to all four wheels via this Sportback’s quattro set-up. It’s really the S7 of the diesel world, and with cars like this coming out of Ingolstadt you have to wonder if perhaps a new, sportier nomenclature shouldn’t be introduced by Audi to give these uber-diesels the street-cred they deserve.

Street-cred I hear you scoff?

How does a 5.6 second 0-100km/h sprint time sound? We managed that (Audi claims 5.3), and 13.9 for the quarter-mile on our VBox at altitude – which, to add some perspective, is just three tenths off the Audi S3 super-hatch’s 0-100km/h time from a few weeks back, and is just about spot-on against cars like BMW’s M3 and M135i. Not to mention that this luxury five-seater barge will serve a can of whip-ass on every other sub-R600k hot hatch out there.

You tend to look past all this razzmatazz when cruising around though, especially with the rev counter hovering serenely at around the 1 400rpm mark at 120km/h in eighth, and the engine purring like it’s barely alive. Audi claims 6.3l/100km, we averaged around 9.7 – but there was a fair amount of BiTurbo-ing to our consumption figure (we reckon under 10 is still respectable for the space and grunt on offer here).

URGE AND SURGE

Power delivery in this force-fed V6 is like a kid in the ice-cream section of the buffet line, it dishes up dollops of urge and surge. Unlike some turbo systems which work together, this setup allows for a smaller turbo to get you off the line, followed by a backstop in the form of the bigger-brother second turbo higher up in the limited diesel rev-range. Handling that mid five-thou redline is the eight-speed Tiptronic, which makes sure that the next gear is on hand to keep boost flowing seamlessly to rubber.

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Interior is neat and beautifully finished, a typical Audi trait.

Turbo lag is a non-entity here, with this engine feeling like it belongs in a tug boat rather than something with four wheels. Get through the first two or three gears and that torque surge starts feeling like it could pull Van Reenen’s pass all the way to Durban. This is the car for caravan drag racing, I kid you not.

Where an S7-type badge would make it better is on the agility front. Sure, the quattro set-up gives you loads of grip – which heaven knows we’ve needed with the storms we’ve been having recently.

But even in the sportiest settings (our car had the optional adaptive air suspension), the chassis doesn’t seem to harden up enough to ward off bits of body roll – which reminds you of the size of the car you’re piloting.

The steering paddles are also a bit pointless as they don’t give you full gear control. And I know it’s safer Audi, but I found the handbrake automatically activating a little annoying. Sometimes it’s sufficient to just use Park.

VERDICT

The badge only says TDI, so there’s no real way of knowing this A7 is the R855 000 BiTurbo – until it smokes you that is.

But there’s a bigger picture at play here, petrolheads. Cars like this sound yet another blow to the traditional petrol powerplant. This A7, with all the Sport modes activated, even had a subtle growl to it – not to mention slick Sportback styling, and a sporty raising and lowering rear spoiler.

Together with the generous space on offer, as a family-man package this car is just about flawless really. We reckon it’s worth every oil-burning cent. -Mercury Motoring

FACTS

Engine: V6, 3-litre turbodiesel

Power: 230kW @ 3900rpm

Torque: 650Nm @ 1450rpm

0-100km/h (Gauteng): 5.6 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 250km/h

Consumption (claimed): 6.3 l/100km

Price: R855 000

Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

BMW 640d Gran Coupe (230kW/630Nm) - R970 668

Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 (225kW/370Nm) - R831 407

Porsche Panamera diesel (184kW/550Nm) - R989 000

Follow Minesh Bhagaloo on Twitter.


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