Audi’s new flag­ship fast­back isn’t just pretty – it’s packed with lots of bril­liant tech­nol­ogy, too.



TTHESE days, more than half of the new mod­els be­ing un­veiled by car­mak­ers are ei­ther SUVs or crossovers. That’s why the launch of a stylish fast­back, such as the all-new Audi A7 Sportback, is some­thing to cel­e­brate.

The de­sign of the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion A7 is an evo­lu­tion of the orig­i­nal model’s. The grille is now much wider, sits lower and has a hexag­o­nal out­line that is ac­cen­tu­ated by sharp cor­ners. Many of the lines around the front, such as the sharp bon­net creases and the slim head­lights, seem to ex­tend out from the grille. And the op­tional Ma­trix LED head­lamps are the coolest you will find any­where.

Audi’s ob­ses­sion with LED lights ex­tends to the in­te­rior. The driver can tweak the light­ing in­ten­sity, colour and con­tours around the pas­sen­ger cabin. This am­bi­ence com­ple­ments the high-tech dash­board, which con­sists of three high-def­i­ni­tion elec­tronic dis­plays which have re­placed the in­stru­ment panel, in­fo­tain­ment and cli­mate con­trols. The new A7’s two touch­screens with hap­tic feed­back make up the lat­est ver­sion of Audi MMI. The only ele­ment from the older gen­er­a­tion of Audi’s MMI is the vol­ume con­trol knob for the au­dio sys­tem. Such a knob works far more ef­fec­tively than a touch­sen­si­tive scale on a screen, no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful it looks.

Audi’s vir­tual cock­pit is the main in­stru­ment clus­ter for the driver. It is a high-def­i­ni­tion graph­i­cal dis­play of the speedome­ter,

tachome­ter and nav­i­ga­tion map in the cen­tre. While vir­tual cock­pit works per­fectly, the touch­screen ver­sion of the MMI is some­what de­bat­able. Those who grew up in the smart­phone era will have no is­sue with the con­trols, but hav­ing to look at ei­ther the up­per or lower screen in the cen­tre of the dash­board to al­ter set­tings is not in­tu­itive.

Thank­fully, there is a voice com­mand func­tion, but it doesn’t work for ev­ery set­ting. Per­haps the smart­phone gen­er­a­tion is suf­fi­ciently as­tute and able to make ad­just­ments af­ter just a split-sec­ond glance. Even back­seat pas­sen­gers have a small touch­screen dis­play­ing a bar graph where tem­per­a­ture set­tings for the left and right halves of the rear can be in­di­vid­u­ally ad­justed to within 0.5 de­grees C.

There is ac­tu­ally room for a fifth oc­cu­pant since the cen­tre con­sole isn’t overly in­tru­sive. On the topic of space, open­ing the huge tail­gate re­veals a mas­sive boot, which sim­ply adds to the prac­ti­cal­ity of this car.

The A7 is marginally shorter and nar­rower than be­fore, but its wheel­base is 12mm longer. At the same time, the de­sign­ers have re-pro­filed the roofline to lib­er­ate a tad more head­room, although in fair­ness, it was never re­ally a se­ri­ous prob­lem in the pre­vi­ous car.

The higher roofline is com­ple­mented by the A7’s rear end, which looks perkier than the older model’s. If you re­call, the pre­vi­ous A7’s rear was a throw­back to the 1970 Audi 100S Coupe, so its long slop­ing pro­file caused its rear end to droop. Now, with the rear end a bit higher, the A7’s back­side no longer has a “sad look”.

Less ex­cit­ing are the fake

ex­haust out­lets, which are em­bel­lished with chrome sur­rounds. You never re­ally see the ac­tual tailpipes, as they curve down­wards and end be­fore reach­ing the rear valance. Per­haps the dis­play of real pipes is re­served for the sportier S7 and RS7 ver­sions, both of which we await very ea­gerly.

Not that this “base” model is a slouch. It is pow­ered by a 3-litre V6, the same unit used by the Audi S4, S5 and the lat­est Porsche Cayenne. With a sin­gle tur­bocharger nes­tled in the val­ley of its 90-de­gree V-block, this en­gine pro­duces 340hp and 500Nm.

Audi’s valvelift sys­tem (AVS) varies tim­ing and lift for both ef­fi­ciency and power. In part­load con­di­tions, mostly in ur­ban driv­ing, the en­gine op­er­ates in B-cy­cle mode. It is es­sen­tially a Miller-cy­cle op­er­a­tion where fuel econ­omy is op­ti­mised at the ex­pense of out­right power by re­duc­ing pis­ton pump­ing losses. AVS man­ages this by keep­ing the in­take valve open a lit­tle longer than nor­mal even af­ter the com­pres­sion phase has be­gun, al­low­ing the pis­ton to as­cend the cylin­der with less re­sis­tance.

In ad­di­tion, the pow­er­train comes with Audi’s new Mild Hy­brid (MHEV) sys­tem. The tech­nol­ogy uses a front­mounted, belt-driven al­ter­na­tor that also func­tions as the starter mo­tor. When coast­ing, the en­gine is shut down for as long as the ac­cel­er­a­tor is not ac­ti­vated, and starts up im­me­di­ately when power is de­manded by the driver.

The starter-al­ter­na­tor runs on a 48-volt DC cir­cuit with elec­tri­cal en­ergy stor­age pro­vided by a sealed lithium-ion bat­tery. How­ever, the fuel sav­ings are not huge, with Audi claim­ing that the MHEV saves up to 0.7 litres of petrol ev­ery 100km.

The A7’s per­for­mance is of greater in­ter­est. This is a large fast­back with a kerb weight of 1815kg, yet it com­fort­ably


ac­cel­er­ates from rest to 100km/h in 5.3 se­conds. That is pretty quick. The 7-speed dual-clutch gear­box does a splen­did job de­liv­er­ing seam­less gearchanges, and man­ual se­lec­tion is avail­able us­ing ei­ther the gearshift lever or the steer­ing­mounted pad­dle shifters.

Audi’s qu­at­tro (all-wheel-drive) driv­e­train and dy­namic steer­ing are stan­dard on all 3-litre A7s. The test car was ad­di­tion­ally equipped with air sus­pen­sion and dy­namic four-wheel-steer­ing.

The four-wheel-steer­ing’s vari­able ra­tio sys­tem con­sists of an ex­ter­nal drive that not only ad­justs steer­ing re­sponse de­pend­ing on speed and driver in­put, but also in­ter­venes to make cor­rec­tions when the sen­sors de­tect that the car is stray­ing from its lane. The lat­ter fea­ture, how­ever, re­quires the road to have clear lane mark­ings.

Four-wheel-steer­ing is an op­tion worth con­sid­er­ing. While its ac­tion is not no­tice­able at speed, it is de­signed to en­hance the car’s agility by giv­ing the rear wheels a small de­gree of steer in the same di­rec­tion as the front wheels. Be­low 60km/h, the rear wheels’ steer an­gle is up to five de­grees in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, which re­duces the stan­dard car’s turn­ing ra­dius by 1.1m. On the moun­tain roads around Cape Town, the A7 proves it­self to be a clean and smooth per­former. Its re­fine­ment some­what masks its ac­cel­er­a­tion but its poise and grip are noth­ing to be scoffed at.

With an over­all length of nearly 5m, the A7 is no com­pact sports car. Still, its re­spon­sive steer­ing and all-wheel-drive make it an easy car to drive quickly, even on tight roads.

The A7 is in a niche seg­ment where it com­petes with BMW’s 6 Se­ries Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz’s CLS. Like its ri­vals, the Audi oozes style and has plenty of pas­sen­ger ameni­ties.

But be­cause its com­peti­tors are notch­backs, the A7’s fast­back bodystyle makes it a unique and far more prac­ti­cal propo­si­tion.

The A7’s re­fine­ment masks the punch­i­ness of its ac­cel­er­a­tion, but its poise and grip are noth­ing to be scoffed at.

Ad­vanced cock­pit can be il­lu­mi­nated in a va­ri­ety of colours and is equipped with more tou­ch­op­er­ated con­trols than be­fore.

Flex­i­ble cargo hold has 40:20:40 split-fold­ing rear seats and an elas­tic cargo net, but its 535-litre ca­pac­ity (seats up) is iden­ti­cal to the older model’s.

The tech­nofest con­tin­ues here, with a touch-panel for ad­just­ing cli­mate set­tings and two USB ports for charg­ing smart­phones.

APRIL 2018

APRIL 2018

Tur­bocharged V6 with 340hp zips the A7 from rest to 100km/h in 5.3 se­conds, but fuel sav­ings from the MHEV aren’t huge.

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