CAPE TOWN, Western Cape ? We slide in behind the wheel of the new Audi A7 Sportback on the international launch, here in Cape Town, to find that while the grand tourer?s appealing formula hasn?t been rewritten, there is a great deal of promise in store...
Cast as it was in a production staffed with rather conservatively styled stablemates, the original A7 cut a distinctive figure when it emerged in 2011. Now, with Audi at least consenting to add some more visual verve to its latest offerings, albeit still within the framework of sharp creases and that single-frame grille, the new A7 manages to add some welcome edge to its forebear?s stateliness.
As hackneyed as it may sound, the A7 is one of those cars for which pictures do few favours. The bar-shaped brakelamp array that looked somewhat strained on the new A8 has finally found a more comfortable place on the A7?s slightly cinched tail ? a sort of Bauhaus Barchetta, if you will ? and the new car?s overall look is lower, wider and more purposeful than its safer predecessor. Factor in the rakish profile, with its gracefully tapering roofline and the optional LED matrix head- and taillamp package that sees locking the car met with a Cylon/Wurlitzer light show and the new A7 is a properly striking car. Certainly, the number of craning necks and hurriedly brandished smartphones on our route paid testament to this.
The A7?s cabin goes a long way to cementing Audi?s reputation for setting the perceived quality benchmark in the premium segment. Open-grain wood inserts, brushed chrome trim finishers and satisfyingly dense plastics are the mediums for a cabin that?s about as clean and solid as you could hope for. The centrepiece is the brace of touchscreens that blend (bar a slight panel gap) with the gloss-black upper dash panel. The majority of ancillary control hardpoints ? including the hazard lights ? have been moved into an expanded MMI infotainment system that incorporates haptic feedback.
The seats are sympathetically bolstered, allowing someone as broad in the beam as myself to feel held in but not unflatteringly compressed and their low-slung siting and the high door shoulderline make you feel as though you?re planted within the car rather than just perched atop it. Cabin and utility space is impressive, with the sitting-behind-a-six-footer test revealing plenty of legroom at the rear, while headroom is also fairly generous, despite that canted roofline. Although fairly shallow, the boot stretches a good way into the A7?s innards and serves up a claimed 535 litres of luggage space ? enough for the obligatory pair of golf bags.
Grippy, but gripping?
Hit the open road with the 3,0-litre V6 turbopetrol and the experience is pure grand tourer. Being stuffed to the gunwales with sound deadening and thick glazing, the A7 is a serene cruiser that permits only some distant V6 snarl to permeate the otherwise quiet cabin. Tipping the scales at close to 1,9 tonnes, the A7 is not exactly light, but it certainly doesn?t feel leaden. Swift directional changes are met with some expected body roll, but the chassis quickly straightens itself out and the ride ? something that invoked the ire of journalists hailing from parts paved with billiard table-smooth blacktop ? is impressively composed, even when contending with our S line-equipped test car and our notoriously patchy road surfaces.
The steering, although responsive, is on the slightly leaden side and becomes especially tight when the drive select system is hooked into its most dynamic setting. Thankfully, the A7?s all-wheel-drive system?s ability to push torque in a balanced fashion, both laterally and longitudinally, means that the ponderous nose heaviness that sometimes afflicted the previous car has been largely addressed. And the 3,0-litre's 250 kW and 500 N.m outputs are about par for units from similar rivals.
But in true Audi fashion, the demure soundtrack and the AWD system?s ability to rope in all unruliness means that the A7 sometimes lulls you into thinking there?s not that much firepower at play. The dual-clutch ?box is smooth when left to its own devices and alert when it comes to manually shifting, while the throttle?s calibration is on the slightly measured side, even when dialled into its sportiest setting.
It?s brisk, stable and refined ... yet the A7 feels as though it?s also a very stylish and beautifully crafted vessel capable of containing so much more. This isn't the damning of faint praise often levelled at a motoring fraternity that?s often assumed to be sent to slumberland by anything with less than 300 kW on tap, but rather a feeling that the A7 is not only a wonderfully engineered cruiser, but also a prelude to some potentially very promising S/RS powerful models ? the latter being earmarked for a tuned version of the firm?s impressive twin-turbo 4,0-litre V8...