This is Audi’s latest five-door hatchback. It’s the flagship Audi hatchback, even if the Germans insist on calling the 2018 A7 a coupé-saloon. Of course there is no such thing, but neither Audi nor its rivals are shy when it comes to taking advantage of gullible consumers. “Hey, everybody, look over here: it’s a less practical, more expensive A6…”
Money talks though, so I should probably shut up right about now. People are buying these things in their droves.
As regular old saloons continue to lose market share to SUVs, old niches also enter the mainstream. The original A7 was launched in 2011 (some six years after Mercedes tried to claim the coupé-saloon oxymoron in 2005), and now it’s time for the second generation car.
After the A8 wheels tested late last year in Spain, we’re now in South Africa for the launch of the second Audi from design boss Marc Lichte that ushers in a new look for the brand. The focus is on a lot of sheet metal, lots of LEDs and lasers and lots of sharp edges.
Built on the VW Group’s MLB platform, the A7 shares the same architecture as the new A8 and A6. The Porsche Panamera, just as a reminder, comes on the family’s MSB platform that you find in the new Bentley Continental GT. In other words, way out of this price range, buddy.
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At launch you can have only one petrol-powered A7, housing a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 and badged as the A7 55 TFSI. When you ask the Audi volk about their questionable naming strategy the Ingolstadters reply, ”Because BMW is doing it…”
And you thought there’s no originality in the car industry any more…
That V6 engine produces 340 horsepower and 500Nm of torque, but don’t confuse it for the 2.9-litre V6 in the RS5, or a number of Porsches. The 2.9 is basically a 4.0-litre V8 with two cylinders lobbed off, and it’s twin-turbocharged, whereas Audi’s new 3.0-litre features a single twin-scroll turbocharger nestled within the banks of the V.
Chassis-wise, the A7 is mostly a front-wheel drive hatchback, until you need the rear axle to act up and the quattro system comes on song, within milliseconds. The big deal is a rear-wheel steering system and electronic suspension, which is handy for ironing out road imperfections around Cape Town, particularly on the optional 20in wheels fitted to our tester (you can have up to 21in).
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Overall the second-generation car is actually slightly shorter and taller than the outgoing model, but it’s wider, so the proportions don’t suffer much. Crucially the wheelbase has grown which frees up a little extra room inside, to the tune of a few millimetres.
Anyway Audi is adamant the new A7 is a coupé, saloon and an estate all in one. I sat in the back during a short stint, and I had to tilt my head. Maybe it’s not so much the sloping roofline as it is the rear bench seat, which is mounted too high. But that’s the price you pay for having quattro and rear-steering on board.
Speaking of which the rear-wheel steering is subtle, gently and almost imperceptibly smoothening out the corners. With a long wheelbase of 2,926mm the effects are subdued, but there is no doubt the A7 corners neatly and securely.
As for the electric steering system — featuring an adaptive ratio so it’s quicker at speed and less cumbersome in a parking lot — it offers zero feel. Speaking to Audi engineers present in Cape Town, this is all intentional. Audi drivers don’t want road feel — they want effortless steering. They get it. As capable as the A7 is, it doesn’t invite an enthusiastic driver to enjoy its dynamic advantages. It doesn’t inspire fun. It’s like exercising on a treadmill rather than an empty road, an insulating place to get the job done.
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The interior however is grafted almost entirely out of the flagship A8. The A7 cabin is a minimalist, pared back design with very few switches in sight. It’s all about connectivity and digitalisation, so you get a bunch of huge screens perfect for attracting fingerprints. The solution is not to actually touch the touchscreens and use the pretty neat voice control system instead. Right in front of the driver, there is a crisp, vivid display which is fantastic, so much so that I generally ignored the 10.1in of fingerprints centerstage and depended on my binnacle and head-up display instead.
In terms of practicality, this thing isn’t that bad — with that huge rear hatchback opening you get a useful load bay and 535 litres of cargo space with the seats up, and if you fold down the 40:20:40 rear seats (not flat), you get a total of 1,390 litres. So there’s a lot of car here — not much aluminium or magnesium or carbon fibre to speak of though, so the kerb weight is over 1.8-tonnes at least.
The 3.0-litre engine is nice, refined, and quiet, and as is typical with VW Group products it lags in normal mode, and responds best in sport mode. The shift paddles are completely negligible and uninspiring to use. Leave it in auto. With a seven-speed ’box the computer knows best anyway.
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Now, you must have noticed the new second-generation A7 is a good looking car, quite restrained and subdued. Maybe a bit too subdued. Nobody in Cape Town gave us a second glance, except for the double-takes when they noticed the steering wheel was on the ‘wrong’ side. We were testing LHD cars in a RHD market.
But to my eye the A7 just doesn’t look special enough — maybe if you’re the type of person that thinks carbon fibre man jewellery is cool, you’ll love this thing. And if you get an A7 in grey with a grey interior, it’ll even match your personality.
Once the convoy-drive ends and the highway monotony opens up to some mountain roads outside Cape Town, you’d expect what Audi calls ‘quattro-ultra’ to start shining and the new engine to entice. Instead you resolve to the silence of the cabin, the limp steering responding to every input without effort, and progress relegated to a subconscious grind. You know what the right pedal does, what the left pedal does, and so it goes on… And then you get there. So it’s not exactly a driver’s car, then.
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For me the biggest novelty in the second-gen A7 could be the semi-autonomous systems on board, similar to the flagship A8’s, such as the button that minds cruise control as well as lane keeping assist to keep you on the road with no hands required on the wheel. It works for up to 30 seconds when the alarm bells ring urging you to take back control. It’ll take corners and drive about on its own maintaining a safe distance to the car in front, and generally it’s about as good as a merrily inebriated human driver. I had a significantly smoother AI experience in Merc’s S-Class.
Which leaves me a bit confused, to summarise. I’m not all that sure which questions this car answers. If I wanted to seem individualistic I’d get an Avant. If I wanted to blend in inconspicuously there is the A6 or the A8. If I wanted an emotional drive in the mountains I’d look at a different brand altogether, otherwise an S5 with that other V6 might do. It seems to me the A7 tries to be too many things at once. It’s not Audi’s fault entirely — we want it all, now, and that’s the 21st century: instant gratification. Well, from where I’m sitting, with 0-100kph in 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 250kph things seem fairly instant, if not all that gratifying.