Sunday 15 September 2019

Food for thought in Audi’s new smooth operator A7

But options drive prices up sharply, warns EDDIE CUNNINGHAM

The A7 Sportback
The A7 Sportback

You know how sometimes you have a wonderful meal somewhere and rave about it to friends. It's your discovery and you tell a whole lot of people. Then, as luck would have it, you're back for a small celebration or something a few months later and things are not quite as wonderful as you recall.

It happens all the time; we let our over-imaginative expectations run away with us. Revisiting can often mean revising.

It seems like a long time ago now I was raving about a previous generation of Audi's large 4dr coupe, the A7.

It was my favourite; nothing to touch it as far as I was concerned. I loved its low-slung, sleek, tapering lines, its cabin and, to a lesser extent, how it drove. Now? Well, therein lies a tale.

For a start things have changed a lot. Rivals such as the Mercedes CLS, Porsche Panamera and BMW 6-series Gran Touring all make strong cases for dining at their table.

More importantly, I suspect, my (our?) expectations have gone through the roof in the intervening years. We want the lot - and then some more. There can be no pleasing us sometimes. Maybe there shouldn't be in this case, when you consider the A7 S Line quattro on test costs €104,000. Or is that being unfair? Let's see.

Like 'eating with our eyes', the look of a car makes such an initial impression it can whet or dampen your appetite.

Now normally I'd be critical of Audi's often frustratingly evolutionary design philosophy. The A4 saloon is a case in point, such is the similarity between previous and current models.

But I'm absolutely delighted they've tweaked rather than transformed this A7 Sportback. Neo-classic lines should be revered not reversed. I love the look of it still, more so with that powerful grille.

Just to manage your expectations (and mine by extension) it's important to remember this A7 is not a mega performance car. It's more a motor to savour and luxuriate in. I'm not 100pc happy with that (I love a good 'drive') but a bit like its svelte, sleek looks, its smoothness is supposed to compensate for the absence of outright dynamics.

But I was disappointed with its inability to deal with some of the fairly ordinary ruts and crevices that litter our roads. A car of this stature and underpinnings should be far better able to dampen such impacts. Not a major fault but an unsettling one that took some flavour from a few of my drives.

One new dish on the menu since last I drove an A7 is the car's mild-hybrid set-up. This uses a 48-volt electrical system and a belt alternator starter which generates up to 12kW of recuperation power.

It means the engine gets a helping, if small, fuel-saving, hand. The car can coast with the engine off for a while then restart smoothly.

In many ways cars are like a good meal with several courses. Only it is becoming increasingly more difficult to delineate which is the main event any more. That's because there is so much technology and interconnectivity in vehicles at this level (you pay for a good bit of it in extras unfortunately) that it tends to take much of the focus.

Back the years I'd be concentrating on looks, chassis and engine. But the visible and tangible novelty of innovation and interconnectivity now steal the eye. I could have trebled the list of stuff on board in the accompanying Facts&Figures panel such was the diversity of spec.

But I was deeply disappointed that the virtual cockpit element only comes as an option. I'd argue that Peugeot do a better one in their 3008SUV and it's standard (on a car costing a third of the A7).

Indeed, if I have an overall criticism of the car - and of Audi generally - it is that prices shoot up sharply with the options. But I did like the three-screen setup that draws your attention in the hugely roomy cabin: one showing normal activity (easily viewed through the steering wheel) and two horizontally split on the central console, between infotainment and more mundane tasks such as ventilation. The colours, contrasts and visual effects were a joy in night-time driving especially.

Speaking of which: we swept along the east coast into the night on good roads and in high spirits. As we sang, our 3-litre diesel hummed. What a gorgeous piece of engineering it is. It's still the main course for me in many ways; there's something about a big, refined diesel, I don't care what they say. I think it played a big role in making the new A7 such a tasty, practical package (great cabin and boot space).

The car lacks the verve of the Porsche, the new Mercedes CLS is a class act too; though I'm not nearly as big a fan of the BMW rival.

So would I dine again at the A7? Yes. It's pricey, has its flaws but it's still a bit special.

Facts & Figures

  • Audi A7 4dr coupé Sportback S Line quattro, 3-litre diesel 286bhp, 8spd TipTronic, €390 road tax, 150g/km, 5.4l/100kms, 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Price €81,800; with options: €104,527. Range from €77,300 ex-works.
  • Spec includes: electric front sports/heated seats, parking sensors, matrix LED headlights, leather/alcantara upholstery, 20ins alloys, Lane Assist, Audi connect, MMI nav/touch response, sports suspension, start/stop/recuperation. Options: virtual cockpit, 360-deg cameras, Bang & Olufsen system, 4-zone air con, 4-wheel steering, full-leather, damper control, wireless charging. Valcona leather.

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