Audi A7

...so will Tom love its Rus­sian doll re­place­ment?

Top Gear (UK) - - GARAGE - TOM FORD

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Audi A7 £56,955 OTR/£73,875 as tested Good­bye Audi Q8 £65,040 OTR/£85,565 as tested

Over six thou­sand miles in the Q8, and I’ve re­ally en­joyed the big orange weirdo-barge. It is slick, techy, in­ter­est­ing, makes an im­pres­sion (ado­ra­tion-ver­sus-out­righthos­til­ity run­ning at roughly a 50:50 split), does ev­ery­thing per­fectly well and im­presses in lots of ar­eas. There’s just one prob­lem: I don’t know what it’s for. I can’t fig­ure out the Q8’s USP. In fact, the only thing I can think the Q8 of­fers that you can’t get in an­other car, is the way it looks. And while that’s an en­tirely valid rea­son to buy some­thing, it has left me feel­ing a lit­tle bit disconnected from it.

It’s not even that it does any­thing badly. It’s a big car with de­cent space and yet a sus­pen­sion ar­range­ment that man­ages to dis­guise its bulk with an in­sou­ciance that bor­ders on ge­nius. It’ll drive off-road a lit­tle bit, is rel­a­tively fru­gal (evening out at 36– 38mpg dur­ing the course of my own­er­ship, which is spec­tac­u­lar for a car of this size) and stows a small fam­ily with ease. It might be a tad large to thread through traf­fic or a cen­tral London car park, but sits on a mo­tor­way with the ca­sual com­fort of the truly un­both­ered by cross­winds.

No, not all of the for­ward-think­ing sys­tems are things I’d spec­ify (some of them feel a bit beta, like the oc­u­lar swarm of cam­eras whose sen­sors be­come ‘ob­structed’ reg­u­larly, or in­sist that 40mph road­works have a 110mph limit), but oth­ers have be­come in­stant must-haves (LED head­lights, 3D park­ing cam­eras). It all hangs to­gether very nicely. But I just can’t get ex­cited about a car with such a broad, vague char­ac­ter. Lit­er­ally the most ar­rest­ing thing about it is the styling.

Pos­si­bly it’s the lack of quirk that makes it feel a lit­tle like an ap­pli­ance, a psy­cho­log­i­cal re­lent­less­ness that makes me won­der… why? It’s a ques­tion that I sus­pect

will be an­swered – at least in part – with the forth­com­ing RS Q8, a ve­hi­cle that might well have the fire­power and char­ac­ter to go with the Q8’s shouty face.

But the whole thing has been both­er­ing me. Is progress the re­lent­less dele­tion of sin­gu­lar­ity across model ranges, to the point that we’ve fi­nally ended up with a range of cars that are es­sen­tially Rus­sian dolls, all in­tel­lec­tu­ally nested in­side one an­other, whose ‘char­ac­ter’ is merely de­fined by their slight changes in ap­pear­ance and size? And it’s not just Audi which is do­ing the di­vide-and-con­quer thing with its mod­u­lar plat­form mul­ti­tudes: see also BMW and Mercedes and the rest of the Volk­swa­gen em­pire. Should we be wor­ried that the hege­mony just pro­vides op­tions with­out re­ally of­fer­ing so­lu­tions to any spe­cific need?

So, in a slightly odd twist, I’ve asked to flip-flop into a new Audi A7. Which is es­sen­tially a squashed Q8, if you think about it. Very sim­i­lar ar­chi­tec­ture, same five-seat, hatch­backed, four­door, niche-blur­ring semi-coupe de­sign theme, same 50 TDI engine, same eight-speed au­to­matic gear­box and qu­at­tro. Just two feet closer to the floor. It’s cheaper to buy (£8–10k less), tax (though they both sit in in­surance group 45), does more mpg and is faster to 62mph by over half a sec­ond. Physics is in the A7’s favour, ob­vi­ously, and it weighs 265kg less than a Q8 depend­ing on spec, but how much dif­fer­ence is there in terms of sat­is­fac­tion?

This is what we’re go­ing to try and find out. Is Audi more than just a set of cloned pa­ram­e­ters in wildly dif­fer­ent sets of clothes, or does it have gen­uine char­ac­ter buried in the mul­ti­tude that doesn’t wear an RS badge? Stay tuned for more pseu­do­science in forth­com­ing re­ports…

Ruf­fles says that the Rus­sian doll de­sign is not to his taste

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