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The Audi Range

EXECUTIVE DECISION

Can Audi's huge hatchback mix it with the executive car elite? Steve Walker takes a look.
Big, luxurious cars never used to have hatchbacked rear ends. The lifting tailgate was seen as the preserve of the utilitarian vehicles that ply our supermarket car parks and swarm around the school gates. Then the rise of the luxury 4x4 brought an interesting fact to the attention of car buyers with a desire for prestigious, lavishly appointed cars and the means to afford them. The hatchback is actually jolly useful. The leading premium car brands all offer 4x4 vehicles with hatchbacked rears and the trend is spreading, notably to four-door coupes like the Audi A7 Sportback we look at here.

Ten Second Review

Audi has brought its popular Sportsback formula to the executive arena with the A7 four-door hatchback. Its combination of style and practicality could draw buyers out of traditional saloon cars and there's the usual advanced Audi technology under the skin.

Background

The A7 Sportback was announced as the 35th member of Audi's UK model line up but don't bother trying to count them all. At the current rate, by the time you've finished, this prolific German marque will probably have launched a couple of others. Audi has risen from a position of relative obscurity to challenge arch rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz on equal terms but staying in touch means shadowing their every move.
Mercedes was first out of the blocks in the executive four-door coupe sector with its CLS saloon but BMW followed suit with the somewhat less elegant 5 Series GT hatchback. It meant that Audi was left bringing up the rear with its A7 Sportback hatch, despite having got there first in the smaller compact executive sector with its A5 Sportback. Still, none of that matters much now that the major protagonists are in the ring, ready to slug it out and see who's best. And not just from a design viewpoint. With the most recent additions to the A7 range - the sharper, heavier-hitting S7 and the 3.0 BiTDI Quattro, which at last gives Audi a diesel A7 with the muscle to take on BMW's 535d - there's every reason for BMW and Mercedes not to feel complacent.

Driving Experience

Familiar engines constitute the A7 Sportback line-up. It's basically the larger six-cylinder units from the A6 saloon. The most recent addition to the line-up is the bi-turbo 3.0 BiTDI which delivers 309bhp and a whopping 479lb ft of torque from just 1450rpm. It's good for 62mph in 5.3 seconds which makes it even quicker than the 298bhp 3.0 TFSI which, with 298bhp, quattro four-wheel drive and a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, requires 5.6 seconds for the benchmark sprint. In fact, the only swifter car in the range is the S7 which, with its 414bhp petrol 4.4-litre bi-turbo V8, nails 62mph from rest in just 4.7 seconds.
As usual in Audi land, the entry-level cars are front-wheel-drive but there's quattro all-wheel-drive for those willing to pay for it. The quattro system is Audi's latest with torque distributed 40:60 in favour of the rear wheels for a sportier experience at the wheel. The crown gear differential that debuted in the RS 5 performance model also features, with the ability to distribute more drive to the front or back of the car as required. While the front-driven A7s get the smooth Multitronic CVT automatic gearbox, the more dynamic quattro cars have the lightening fast S Tronic transmissions with seven speeds, two clutches and paddle shifters.
All A7 models feature Audi Drive Select adaptive dynamics. This allows owners the choice of driving modes which instantly alter the steering weight, throttle response and gearbox settings at the touch of a button.

Design and Build

Style and practicality are key areas where the hatchbacked A7 needs to deliver in comparison to the A6 saloon and its rivals in the wider market. It's very similar in size to the A6, measuring close to five meters in length and at 1.9m wide. The cabin is designed to comfortably seat four adults and the electrically powered rear hatch rises to reveal a sizable boot that can expand to 1,390 litres with the rear seat backs folded.
Audi did a fine job of sculpting an elegant but sporty shape for its A5 Sportback and the larger A7 version has much of the same style. The long flowing roofline of the hatchbacked car serves to lower it visually bringing a sleeker profile than a conventional saloon while also delivering impressive aerodynamic performance. The shape is particularly well resolved around the rear where the tailgate ends in a sharply contoured flourish with a curving spoiler lip spoiler. More bold creases on the bumper and boot lid produce a purposeful look.

Market and Model

The usual cavalcade of high-tech titbits you'd expect in a top line Audi features on the A7 equipment list. SE and S Line specifications are available, all with xenon headlamps, electric tailgates, full leather trim, electric heated seats, cruise control, satellite navigation, Bluetooth and DAB digital radio. S Line modes get firmer settings for the independent suspension system but there's also a Sport suspension option that's halfway between the standard and the S Line. The S7 is more lavish still with a choice of various hard trim finishes, including carbonfibre.
The options list has an upgrade to the MMI control system which introduces MMI Touch with its 8-inch monitor and touch sensitive control pad. There's a navigation upgrade with a module which can download news, weather and route information from the driver's home computer to the car and Audi is offering a head-up display for the first time. The park assist system can detect viable parallel parking spaces and take over the steering to manoeuvre the A7 into them.

Cost of Ownership

Running costs for the A7 will be aided by the sleek Sportback shape with its low aerodynamic drag and the lightweight aluminium body parts. Whirring away behind the scenes to improve efficiency are brake energy recuperation and start-stop technologies. The optional upgraded satellite navigation system can even help with reducing fuel costs because it warns the gearbox of approaching corners and helps avoid unnecessary gearchanges. In the final reckoning, the 201bhp version of the 3.0-litre TDI engine can return 54.4mpg in front wheel-drive guise with 135g/km CO2 emissions.

Summary

Of all the design features present on modern cars, the hatchback isn't seen as one of the more prestigious. It is practical though and as premium manufacturers embrace it more readily, the old shopping hatch stigma is on the wane. The Audi A7 Sportback is an executive hatchback, a category of car that would have seemed more than a little odd a decade or two ago but on aesthetic and versatility grounds, this sleek four-door seems to have clear advantages over more conventional saloons.

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