Tested: 5 things you need to know about the Audi A7 Sportback
Johannesburg - If monthly sales figures are anything to go by, the humble sedan has seemingly reached the end of the road. Particularly in the luxury vehicle segment, the sports utility has risen in popularity, so much so that there are now more iterations of SUV on sale in South Africa than there are three-box sedans.
The big German brands continue to push the sedan, bringing updated models thick and fast but if you look carefully, the traditional sedans aren't the ones that are flying; it's those sloping-rear, sharp-nosed five-doors that pose as sedans keeping the sedan alive.
One of the key premium contenders in this raked-back segment is the latest Audi A7 Sportback, which was launched in 2019. We recently put the large, imposing business suit on wheels to the test and came away quite surprised. The latest A7 Sportback offers a sumptous blend of performance (that won't rip your face off), and comfort and safety features that you would expect in cars that cost twice as much money. It might be the ideal car for you, if you want something with a bit of character, but isn't screamy and shouty...
Here are five things you need to know about the A7:
5) Styled for the future
While its predecessor was much more angular and aggressive-looking, the latest Audi A7 has been softened in just the right places on the outside. Our test unit, a 55TFSI with S-Line styling kit looked smart, like a tailored suit. Its single frame grille, the narrow headlights, the boldly contoured air inlets and the flat front end convey at a glance the sportiness of the GT car. The styling not only looks modern and future-proof, but the tech that goes with the styling also aims to ensure you remain safe on the road for years to come. All A7s come with the brand's HD Matrix LED lights with dynamic turn signals and light signatures.
It is 4969mm long, has a wheelbase of 2926mm and is 1908mm wide, but stands only 1422mm.
At the back, its surprisingly large luggage compartment lid ends in a pronounced, curved lip from which an integrated spoiler extends automatically (at 120km/h) to improve downforce and stability as speeds rise. A flat light strip – a design feature that's become common to all of Audi’s top models (initially seen on the Audi Q8) – joins the rear light clusters together. The clusters themselves are made up of 13 vertical 3D LED segments.
The coolest part of all this style and drama happens when the car's doors are unlocked and locked. Fast-moving light animations play in the rear lights and in the headlights, which Audi says highlights the big coupé’s dynamics while standing still. That's cool, we just think they look like very Star Wars, and therefore instantly approve. Incidentally, our test car was painted white, as is the vehicle used for the press photography, but you can choose from 15 colours when building your new one.
4) Packed with tech
Like most of the latest Audis on sale in South Africa, the A7 Sportback is brimming with cool stuff. Like the system ushered in on the Q8 a couple of years ago, the A7 sports a new MMI touch response operating concept. It replaces the rotary push-button and the conventional buttons and controls of the previous model with two large, high-resolution touch displays. The driver controls the infotainment system from the upper display. Mounted on the centre tunnel, the secondary lower display provides access to the climate control system, comfort functions and text input. Drivers can rest their wrist on the automatic transmission’s wide selector lever knob. Audi also offers an optional head-up display that projects important information onto the windshield and MMI navigation plus also includes the Audi virtual cockpit system with a screen in the instrument binaccle instead of traditional, analogue speedo and rev-counter.
The MMI touch response system features haptic and acoustic feedback and is as intuitive to use as a smartphone but it does take some getting used to, particularly when you're driving.
Another nifty feature I enjoyed on the test car was standard Audi phone box that offers inductive charging for smartphones or wireless ear buds.
You also get Apple Car play and Android Auto and to ensure you can really enjoy your audio, Audi has fitted a Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound System as standard on local models.
3) Drives with intent
The new A7 Sportback features a range of safety assistance systems to make things easier for the driver. This includes adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, efficiency assist, swerve assist and turn assist; 360˚ camera; lane departure warning; night vision assistant and park assist. All driver assistance systems feature improved control mechanisms too. This doesn't mean, however, that you can't take control and have a bit of fun in the car. Our test-unit proved as fast as Audi claimed it to be, sprinting from a standstill to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds. It is electronically limited to 250km/h.
To ensure an enhanced feeling of turning intent, the car can be equipped with four-wheel steer like you get on other large platform cars in the VW/Audi/Porsche stable.
There's more lag than I expected, considering it's a mild-hybrid 48V type car, but when you get it on the boil and in the torque band it's rev-happy and eager to make haste, but in a smooth and linear manner. The 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine with 250kW supplies effortless cruising and overtaking power while the 48V mild-hybrid system provides greater comfort and efficiency.
Audi claim that it will sip 7.1l/100km in a combined cycle, but you can expect it to live in the 10s and closer to 12l/100km if you make regular use of Dynamic mode.
Incidentally, mild hybrid system (MHEV) in the A7 Sportback features a belt alternator starter (BAS) that works together with a lithium-ion battery and achieves a recuperation performance of up to 12kW when braking. At speeds between 55 and 160km/h, the car can can coast in "free-wheeling" mode with the engine deactivated.
The start-stop function of the A7 has also been significantly upgraded and now activates at 22km/h. In combination with the standard front camera, the engine is restarted predictively while at a standstill as soon as vehicle ahead begins to move.
It's important to note that this quattro car also uses Audi's efficiency-honed Ultra technology that sees it performing mostly as a front-wheel drive car until it senses that the rear wheels need motivation.
2) Exceptional quality and engineering
Audi say many aspects of the front and rear axles have been developed from scratch. The standard progressive steering, whose generally sporty ratio becomes even more direct the further the steering wheel is turned, features a new design for more direct road feedback.
Additionally, mounted behind its large wheels with improved rolling comfort are aluminium fixed-calliper brakes with discs up to 400mm in diameter. Customers can also choose between four suspension setups: a conventional steel spring suspension, the sport suspension that lowers ride height by 10 millimetres, electronically controlled damping and the self-levelling adaptive air suspension.
As alluded to earlier, the A7's leading chassis-related innovation is dynamic-all-wheel steering. It combines direct, sporty steering response with sportscar levels of stability, resolving what Audi calls the conflict of aims between agility and comfort. The steering ratio varies too as a function of speed between 9.5:1 and 16.5:1 by means of active steering technology at the front and rear axle. At the front axle, strain wave gearing is used to superimpose these in response to the driver’s steering input. At the rear axle, a spindle drive turns the wheels by as much as 5 degrees. At low speed, they steer counter to the front wheels to further increase the agility of the big coupé when parking or driving in urban traffic, for example.
This reduces the turning circle at full lock by 1.1 metres. At 60km/h and above, the rear axle steers in the same direction to increase straight-line stability and facilitate lane changes. Nifty, neat and it works on the road, turning a huge limo into something that feels as agile as an A3 in the hands.
1) Makes you feel special
The main thing about the Audi A7, apart from all its tech and its sharp styling and its smooth ride is its ability to make you look and feel like a lottery winner. Seriously, this is an Audi sedan, dressed as a sporty fastback, and it turns more heads than some sportier vehicles we've recenty tested. There's something in the car's styling that makes it sleek and ultra fluid, while that sublime ride and sporty dynamics give you a sense of driving, which you don't normally get in the ho-hum Audi line-up.
It's not cheap, but it's also not ludicrously expensive compared to some of the SUVs that you're probably considering buying at this point. Keep the options to a minimal , pick a cool colour, and just let the A7 make you feel special for many years to come.
You won't see many of them on the road and you will have that peace-of-mind that comes with all Audis from a safety perspective, and you get a stellar maintenance contract that can be upgraded to last a full 10 years. It won't be as good at swallowing up adventure gear or holiday luggage, but if you spend most of your time in the city, this is the car you need for you and the family.
So...before you turn your back on the sedan, go test drive this raked-back one and a Q7 back-to-back and see which one makes you feel like you're buying a million bucks worth of motor car.