First drive: Audi A7

Audi's high-class executive coupe has been given a major overhaul, in line with the new A8. AOL Cars heads to Cape Town for a first drive in this sleek 'bahnstormer

What is it?

Audi has given its A7 coupe a thorough going-over for 2018. It brings with it a refreshed look both inside and out, an incredible amount of sophisticated technology, and the promise of improved driving dynamics.

With the A7 Sportback, the firm hopes to marry the practicality of a hatchback with the comfort of an executive saloon and cover it with the exotic looks and flashy desirability of a coupe as successfully as it did with the previous generation.


What's new?

Audi's engineers says that the car's silhouette is basically the only thing that's been carried over from the old car. And, true to their word, the new car still retains that rakish outline.

It's all change elsewhere, though. Engineers have worked hard to reduce road noise and vibrations, while acoustic glass aims to keep the cabin even quieter.

There's optional air suspension, too, making the A7 an excellent long-distance cruiser.

For the first time, there's electrification makes its way to the A7, with a mild hybrid setup included on both the petrol and diesel models. It's not a fully optimised variant – the car won't run on electricity alone – but it offers slight economy and performance gains.

Other new features include a suite of semi-autonomous systems, including a cruise control that can brake, steer and accelerate the car on motorways and larger A-roads, plus autonomous parking and other driver assistance features.

What's under the bonnet?

There are two engines to choose from, one petrol and one diesel. The A7 is the first car to be denoted by Audi's new naming structure, so the diesel is badged as 50 TDI and the more powerful petrol as 55 TFSI.

Audi suspects around 80 per cent of sales will go to the diesel model, but in our limited time in the car we found it to be noisier and less refined than you'd hope from such an expensive executive car.

Much more refined is the 55 TFSI petrol. It can return up to 40mpg on a cruise, and is surprisingly spritely with 335bhp available. Hard acceleration on either engine is accompanied by a satisfying 'whizz' from the electric motor, too.

What's it like to drive?

The ideal driving scenario for the A7 Sportback is out on the open road. It's quiet and serene, especially in petrol form, and the ride is exquisite.

Opt for the sport suspension and you sacrifice some quality, but the ideal option is the magic-carpet-like air suspension.

That's not to say the A7 loses it on a back road. Our test route took in plenty of winding mountain roads and it performed admirably, helped by the all-wheel steering, which sees the rear wheels turn the opposite way to the fronts at lower speeds to improve agility, and the same direction at high speeds for better stability.

How does it look?

First drive: Audi A7

First drive: Audi A7

Naturally, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, we think the previous model had more of an athletic look than the new car, which replaces the creases and angles with a softer approach. The result, to us, is a slightly frumpier appearance that lacks some of the purposefulness of the new car.

One big advancement is the lighting signature, though, which uses LEDs to create an instantly recognisable 'face' and offer a more modern look to the car.

What's it like inside?

Audi models are often criticised for featuring interiors that feel largely the same whether you're in a lowly A1 hatchback or an R8 supercar. However, the A7's cabin is a continuation of the futuristic cabin on the A8, and feels a big step up for the brand.

There's more cabin space than the outgoing model, too, while a pair of large central touchscreen declutter the dash. However, with almost every physical button removed it can be quite difficult navigating even basic functions such as climate controls or radio.

What's the spec like?

There are two trim levels available at launch. They're named Sport and S line.

The former gets LED front and rear lights, 19-inch alloy wheels and twin-leather upholstered seats, while S-Line adds to this with HD Matrix LED headlights, 20-inch alloys, sports suspension and a racier body kit.

Features common to both include a digital instrument known as the Virtual Cockpit, wireless smartphone charging, and driver aids such as front collision warning and automatic parking.

Verdict

While Audi's keen to point out that this A7 is a serious overhaul of the old model, previous owners will find plenty to be familiar with the driving experience – it's quiet, comfortable and spacious.

However, the interior and handling are worlds away from the old car. It feels futuristic inside, and is impressive in the corners for such a big car.

With so many customers expected to opt for diesel, it's a shame it doesn't feel as refined and developed as the petrol – but that's by no means a deal breaker, and lower running costs should offset any concerns about the gruff noise. If you want the true A7 experience, though, opt for the petrol.

Facts and figures

Model as tested: Audi A7 Sportback 55 TFSI S line
Price: £58,040
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 petrol
Power: 335bhp
Torque: 500
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 5.1 seconds
MPG: 39.8