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We drive Audi's five-door coupe

2011-02-24 10:33

PREMIUM HATCH?: Running new A6 mechanicals wrapped in a striking styling package, A7 Sportback is a very accomplished premium five-door coupe – if you have need for such a thing…

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Audi
Model A7 Sportback
Engine 3.0 TDI V6, 3.0 TFSI V6
Power 180kW @ 4 000-, 220kW @ 5 250rpm
Torque 500Nm @ 1 400-, 440Nm @ 2 900rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual clucth
Zero To Hundred 6.5-, 5.6 sec
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Tank 65l (75l optional)
Fuel Consumption 6l/100km, 8.2l/100km
Weight 1 770kg
Boot Size 535l
Warranty 2 year/unlimited mileage
Price R717 000 (3.0 TDI), R728 000 (3.0 TFSI)

Lance Branquinho

Niche. Interesting word, isn’t it?

It's a staple term of marketing jargon favoured by product specialists who have to present a case for a car for which there is no clearly defined demand.

The idea of ever-expanding product niches has confounded me in recent years. German premium brands have been particularly good at conceptualising products nobody apparently needs then executing them so well that they become justifiable sales successes.

Think BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz CLS. Ever thought there would be rampant demand for an overpowered fastback SUV or a four-door luxury coupe?  

This brings me to Audi’s latest niche product, the A7 Sportback – available from your local four-ringed dealer from March 1. Although the Sportback classification is not altogether new (Audi launched the original A3 Sportback in 2004, followed by the A5 Sportback early in 2010), this is the first A7 designation to find its place in Audi’s product matrix.

It must be quite special then? Well, that's possible if you can placate those nagging doubts about what it's really supposed to be.

Is it an oversized hatchback substitute for A8 customers who fear a proletariat revolt in the face of their choice of premium limousine motoring? Or perhaps a finessed quattro alternative to the BMW 5 Series GT? Difficult to say, really, although if your judgement is guided by price - the two models available retail for R717 000 (3.0 TDI) and R728 000 (3.0 TFSI) – the A7 Sportback occupies a market niche competing with the entry level BMW 5 Series GT, Mercedes-Benz CLS and Porsche’s Panamera.


No matter into which niche you try to file the A7, Audi’s latest offering to the South African market is a rather striking car. Yes, it features a stylised version of the oversized signature Audi grille (not to all tastes), but viewed in profile (or from the rear) the A7 is quite a fetching piece of rolling Ingolstadt sculpture.

Design cues carried over from its smaller A5 Sportback include frameless doors, substantial front overhang balanced by a strongly arched (and rearward sloping) coupe roof and a chromed side glasshouse surround. There's even some heritage when viewed from the rear, where the rump gains oddly shaped tail lights (with a greater interior than exterior angle bias), merging perfectly with the defined classic Audi 100 coupe styling line running down and forwards towards the rear wheel arch.

Dual exhausts neatly round-off the A7’s rear styling.

All things considered, the A7’s simple surfacing and stretched proportions work well in symmetry; the standard 18" allloy wheels fill their arches with the required substance, lending the car an elegant overall presence.

The A7 Sportback’s cabin architecture shows off a new Audi texture and detail design direction, always class-leading under the styling hand of South Africa’s Oona Scheepers.

Audi’s new thicker-rimmed, four-spoked steering wheel, a driver-centric centre console, revised instrumentation fonts and a generally peerless sense of finish to the leather, aluminium and wood combination make A7’s cabin a very pleasant place to pass time on long journeys.

FOUR RINGS, FOUR SEATS?: OK, so it only takes two rear passengers, but those seats fold flat to yield 1390 litres of utility space – try that in a premium sedan when you have stuff to move around…


At this stage it is worth pointing out that Audi’s new A7 Sportback is strictly a four-seater. Although the rear seating is not of the raised centre-console, split bucket seat variety it's not a bench either. There are two clearly sculptured individual squabs.

If you're in the market for a five-member family-friendly luxury car, the A7 is not going to suit. You’ll have to wait for the new A6, due locally towards the middle of 2011.

Standard kit for the A7 Sportback includes Audi’s very user-friendly MMI infotainment and function control interface (featuring a rear-view camera), voice control, a powered boot lid and dual -zone climate control.

Options? You can live out your Top Gun fantasies with a head-up display, night vision, 3G-powered touch-screen satellite navigation and an opera-quality Bang and Olufsen sound system.

Take position at the helm and you get that peculiarly spoilt feeling, unique to bigger Audis, of being in a car that wishes to pamper you with the most relaxing, exactingly designed, ergonomic environment possible.

Audi’s launch schedule was coastal (Cape Town) although, with both the models available (3.0TDI and 3.0 TFSI) featuring forced induction engines, the performance differential to what I experienced should be negligible at Reef altitudes. We followed a meandering route from Chapman’s Peak to Grabouw and back, taking in the Franschhoek and Sir Lowry’s passes as well as Ou Kaapse Weg to evaluate the A7’s dynamics.

Rolling on the Audi’s MLB platform, the A7 has double wishbones managing wheel oscillation on the front axle, a single-wishbone trapezoidal link axle keeping the rears under control; it is coil-sprung at all four wheel corners. Customers can specify air suspension, an upgrade I would recommend if you wish to experience true premium ride quality on South Africa’s sometimes less than perfect roads.

Drivetrains will be familiar to Audi's customer base. The company’s 3.0TDI is available in 180kW trim, the supercharged 3.0 TFSI (a stellar engine, having established its credibility in the B8 series S4) runs in slightly detuned 220kW form.

Each engine drives all four wheels through a seven-speed, dual-clutch S tronic transmission, which interestingly features a crown-gear centre differential similar to that of the RS5 – enabling a degree of torque vectoring to ensure optimal drive out of corners under power, if you wish to really push on a bit.

Statistically, Audi claims the turbodiesel A7 should be good for 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds and return average fuel consumption of only six litres/100km. Its supercharged petrol partner runs an even swifter claimed benchmark 0-100km/h time of only 5.6 seconds, consuming only 8.2 litres/100km of unleaded. If you compare the claimed performance-to-consumption coefficient, it really is remarkable and shows just how sophisticated contemporary forced induction engines have become with the benefit of impeccable calibrated direct injection and stop/start technology.


Enough of the technicalities. How do these new five-door coupes go? I drove the 3.0 TDI first and, with 500Nm available at only 1400rpm, propulsion was seamless and urgent from just a tickle of the throttle through to 5000rpm.

There is no audible diesel acoustic and the S tronic transmission is effortless in its ability to co-ordinate those seven ratios to either drive down consumption or increase performance, depending on the angle of attack your right foot has on the throttle pedal. It really is a gracefully powerful cruiser, with outstanding endurance too; in real-world driving conditions, we averaged 7.6 litres/100km which should equate to a range of nearly 1000km when running on the optional 75-litre tank.

FORCED INDUCTION V6S: Both forced induction V6 engines provide effortless pace and C-segment sedan economy. Bi-turbo V6 oil burner joins the line-up in November…

After the first leg to Villiersdorp’s Theewaterskloof dam I switched to a 3.0 TFSI. Although the supercharged V6’s peak toque of 440Nm at 2900rpm would appear a trifle lazier than that of the 3.0TDI, the petrol-engined car’s intake and exhaust camshaft adjustment, all-round valve timing and supercharged (instead of turbocharged) forced induction regime gave a fantastically responsive experience each time a surge of overtaking acceleration was called for.

As effortlessly powerful (and economic) as the A7 powertrains are, the dynamic balance is not perfect - despite Audi drive select being standard.

There is no subtle way of saying it; the A7 Sportback’s steering is over-assisted and artificial. Then again, I could write a book the page length of 'War and Peace' about how nearly all modern cars, with electrically geared and assisted powered steering, are artificial and lack feel. Despite this, the A7’s all-wheel drive symmetry does means it tracks with superb directional surety in a straight line at speed, which is true to its purpose at a long-distance luxury touring car.

The A7 never felt inert or ponderous while crossing the four mountain passes on our ride-'n-drive mission but no – it's not a 10/10ths S- or RS-line performance car, yet again, this is never what it was intended to be...

Let me reprise the A7’s steering and handling balance. Is it easy to place the car on the road? Yes. Is it going to give you that last vestige of wheel scrubbing steering feedback, when the crown-geared centre differential starts mercurially shifting toque between the wheels, when powering out of a corner on an uneven (or wet) road surfaces, where quattro comes into its own? Well, no, not really.


An area in which the A7 did impress me hugely, and this is a something I detected when driving the smaller A5 Sportback the previous year, is the incredibly low (even non-existent) levels of cabin noise intrusion, especially ambient atmospheric noise, at high speeds.

I'm no aerodynamicist in the mould of Red Bull’s genial Adrian Newey but I think the A7’s sloping roof and rear hatch surfacing could have something to do with its ability to cut through air at high speed with a nearly imperceptible acoustic signature. Whatever the fundamental engineering factor underpinning its nuclear submarine-like silence is, kudos most go to Audi’s styling department and wind-tunnel test personnel.

Good car then? Well, yes, just depends what you’ll use it for – it's that vexing question about which niche it falls into (or between) again.

Audi’s product planning department may find the idea abhorrent but I think A7 Sportback’s 535-litres of luggage capacity (easily expandable to 1390 by folding the rear seats) will appeal to executive types with an outdoor hobby, who can’t live with the high centre of gravity dynamics (or styling grossness) of a large SUV.

If the A8 is a car for mature and moneyed CEO's and the A6 is for new members of the board, the A7 Sportback is for the CFO who actually wears a t-shirt on casual day Fridays and goes mountain-biking at Groenkloof after work on Wednesdays.

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