Tuesday 25 April 2017

So good it's frightening

AUDIA7 FOUR-DOOR COUPE, RATING 92/100
AUDIA7 FOUR-DOOR COUPE, RATING 92/100

I have to confess I am always wary of the 'spin' that surrounds cars. By golly there's a boot-load of it out there. So when the nice man in the Audi centre in Ballsbridge told me every car of their annual allotment of the A7 Sportback had been sold -- around 50/60 I think -- I reserved judgment.

Not that I didn't believe him -- I did -- but special promotions, prices and things like that can shift a moderate offering and create momentum. After all, we are talking €70,000 or so for this car, in the depths of a depression. Not alone that, I was subsequently informed (no, not in Ballsbridge) that they could sell as many more if only they could get them. In other words, there is a waiting list for this car. Yes, a waiting list. Depression?

Anyway, I was absolutely out on my feet when I picked this up. So tired, and yes a little bit cynical, I just drove it the short journey -- to bed. I do believe driving when tired is a potential killer so I took extreme care before turning in for a marathon sleep.

Next day, fresh and feeling like a good old drive I swept onto the road and wondered what in the name of God they had done to it.

I took my time. I didn't let my initial sensations of Audi A7 overrule me.

And then, after one significant burst of pace and power I just yielded. What was the point of fighting it? Why stand in the way of the obvious? This car swept all over me. There is no point beating around the bush. This was a glorious piece of machinery to drive. You don't often hear me saying that.

Audi just got so much right, it is frightening. No, not frightening, enthralling. I enjoyed it so much I'm afraid I'm missing something and should be criticising it.

But as I've outlined, I am not alone. I readily believe there are people out there looking to buy one of these, only they can't. Just think about that. There are people with €70,000 at their disposal and they want the car I drove, and drove, and drove. And everywhere I -- correction, the A7 -- got those envious glances.

It is a 4dr coupe in direct competition with the modern classic Mercedes CLS. But it is a different sort of 4dr coupe. Like the CLS, it has decent seat room in the back and a big boot. So it is suitable, no doubt, for those who want a car that looks this good, drives so well, and fulfils the function of an executive family car.

It had a wonderful energy about it. That started with the exuberant 3-litre, V6 diesel. Now here is an engine for 2011. It was not just quiet and smooth but had an edge to it that I loved.

The Audi people thought I might whinge about the Sport suspension on my test model being a bit harsh because it was less forgiving than a normal one and would therefore thud a bit on the rougher surfaces. Not a bit of it. I thought it suited perfectly.

Of course the quattro permanent four-wheel-drive gave me marvellous grip and traction as I pushed it through twisty, bouncy roads. And if, in my super sensitive mode, the automatic gearbox (S-Tronic) wasn't kicking down that millionth of a second quickly enough, I had my F1-like paddles on the steering column to take control. This A7 was so good, I'm afraid I went off at the damnedest of hours to put it through its paces again. Just to be sure to be sure. It was good fun.

I like the look and poise of it, that rear windscreen sweeping it into classic sportback shape. The A7 has a lot of its super-saloon A8 sibling in it and slots in above the new A6 saloon, just like the A5 fills in dots between the A4 and A6. It is a clever positioning and gives buyers the option of a sporty, fairly practical 'coupe' in between major saloons.

But whatever about the rest of them, the A7 is the best Audi I've driven in a long time. It hits the spot by managing to juggle the imperatives of handling, ride, comfort, power, acceleration and accommodation.

I think this beats everything else in its price range -- and beyond. It really puts it up to Mercedes and BMW right across the board. If I had the money it is one of the few cars I would consider buying. I know I wouldn't because I couldn't but even in these dark times we can all dream.

Yes, of course there's a drawback or two. Because of the crescent shape, getting into the back means you do have to crouch quite low and the design militates a bit against rear-seat leg room. But really they are minor quibbles. I am not surprised this is a sellout and I envy those who have or who will get one. It is a treat. If I drive anything better this year I will consider myself lucky.

What

Audi A7 Sportback 3.0TDi V6, 4dr Coupe (2,967cc, 245bhp, 0-100kmh in 6.3 secs), 7spd STronic gearbox, quattro four-wheel-drive, CO2 of 158g/km; VRT is 24pc. €447 annual road tax. COST Range starts at €62,010. Tested vehicle €66,900 (options add €20,350). Delivery, related charges extra.

Target Market

Families, well-to-do couples/singles, enthusiasts.

Plus

Drive, engine, room, looks, handling/ride.

Minus

Low roof hinders rear access, extras pile on the price.

Standard Equipment

Leather upholstery, air con, cruise control, stop/start system, parking assist, 18ins alloys, heated front seats, sat nav, xenon headlights.

Others to consider

Mercedes CLS, BMW 6-series.

Rating: 92 / 100

ecunningham@independent.ie

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