In recent years, a seemingly never-ending barrage of new models has seen Audi expand its line-up to fill every possible niche. So it’s no surprise the S7 has arrived to broaden the appeal of the rakish A7.
The dramatic proportions and intricate detailing of the Sportback already look great, with curved wheelarches and a bold shoulder line that blends neatly into a stubby rear end. The S7 adds a silver-effect grille, mirrors and bumper detailing for even more presence.
Open the driver’s door and you’re greeted by a beautifully built cabin, which has been partly carried over from the range-topping A8. There’s a greater sense of space and more headroom than in the CLS: the wide range of wheel and seat movement in the Audi ensures the driving position is perfect, while the curved dashboard is attractively styled and thoughtfully laid out.
But it’s the quality of the materials, plus the crystal-clear displays and dials, that really mark it out. The 6.5-inch sat-nav screen glides gracefully out of the centre console, while at night our car’s £300 ambient light package gives the whole cabin a classy glow.
As with the CLS, the S7 is a strict four-seater, but rear passengers get plenty of legroom. A big boot, fold-flat seats and a versatile hatch tailgate make it the more practical choice.
Our car was also fitted with the £210 load-through ski hatch. But keen drivers will get more excited about the engine than the car’s versatility. The new twin-turbo V8 debuts in the S7, and replaces the normally aspirated V10 in the S6 and S8. Its cylinder shutdown technology allows the engine to run on just four cylinders when it can, to boost economy and cut CO2 emissions, although the car emits 16g/km more than the CLS, at 225g/km.
The engine’s character more than makes up for this. For starters, Audi’s clever active noise cancellation system uses sensors, exhaust valves and artificial noise creation to ensure you’re never aware that only half of the eight cylinders are being used. Throttle response is sharper than in the CLS, too, and power delivery is beautifully linear, with the car pulling strongly throughout the rev range. It feels keener and more alive than the CLS’s engine, and is silky smooth, with a subtle V8 soundtrack always in the background.
At the test track, the all-wheel-drive S7 rocketed from 0-60mph seven tenths faster than the Mercedes, in a time of 4.3 seconds. In the real world, the pair are closely matched, although the Audi has the edge with its low-speed punch and slick twin-clutch gearbox.
Unsurprisingly given its dimensions and 1,945kg kerbweight, the S7 feels heavy in corners, yet it’s surprisingly agile and responsive. The steering is well weighted and precise (our car had the £1,210 Dynamic steering option), while the 4WD chassis gives amazing grip and composure.
Adding an extra string to the Audi’s bow is the way you can fine-tune the steering, throttle, suspension and gearbox responses using the standard Drive Select system. In the Dynamic setting it feels tauter and sharper than the Mercedes, yet switch to Comfort and the standard air-suspension delivers a reasonably compliant ride. The 20-inch wheels generate tyre roar over rough surfaces no matter which setting you select, though, plus they react sharply to nasty bumps and expansion joints.
Even so, there’s not much between these cars for refinement and comfort – both are impressively hushed cruisers. The Audi is cheaper to buy, at £61,995, and our experts predict it’ll hold on to its value better. But those higher emissions mean business users will pay an extra £601 in tax annually, at £8,588.
The S7 is a great addition to the range, with its performance, poise and style. But is it good enough to take victory in this test?
Chart position: 1
Why? Promising sports car pace, executive luxury and hatchback practicality, the S7 is a hugely desirable choice. It also offers surprisingly low CO2 emissions.