In-depth reviews

Audi A7 Sportback review - Engines, performance and drive

The Audi A7 offers a composed and confidence-inspiring drive, but it isn’t particularly engaging. The ride on air suspension isn’t perfect, either

The old Audi A7 Sportback was a comfortable and capable cruiser, but didn’t feel particularly sporting or agile. Audi has tried to address that with the latest car, introducing a lighter platform and fresh features such as four-wheel steering. It can turn the rear wheels up to five degrees in the opposite direction at low speeds to make the car easier to manoeuvre, and two degrees in the same direction a higher speeds to make it feel more stable.

Four different suspension set-ups are offered on the A7. There’s standard steel springs, 10mm lower sport springs, springs with adaptive dampers and a full adaptive air suspension system. So far, we’ve sampled the sports set-up and the air option (which costs around £2,000) with mixed results. 

The A7 certainly feels sharper than an A8 from the off, with less body movement and more direct steering increasing the feeling of agility to an extent. Going for quattro all-wheel drive (standard on all but the entry level A7 Sportback) means it feels assured and planted whatever the weather, too. The A7 is confidence inspiring and easy to place on the road, but it never feels like a car you’d drive purely for the enjoyment of doing so. A Porsche Panamera is much more fun, but we’ve yet to try the A7 alongside a Mercedes CLS. 

Of greater concern is the ride on the air-sprung car. It deals with big bumps effectively and settles into a relaxed gait on smooth surfaces, but still lets you know about scars in the road at low speeds, so the improvement over the sports suspension is marginal. 

That’s a shame, because these small fidgets spoil the A7’s otherwise impeccable refinement. The engines are hushed, while wind and road noise are well isolated. As a motorway cruiser, then, the A7 really impresses. It’s a great car to dispatch miles in at speed. 

Engines

For a bit of a niche model, the engine choice in the A7 Sportback is broad. There were just two engines available in the A7 at launch, one petrol V6 and one diesel V6, which is now available in two power outputs. Both also use Audi’s 48v mild hybrid system, which uses a belt-driven alternator starter that recuperates energy under braking or when coasting and stores it in a lithium ion battery pack under the boot floor. 

The system allows the engine to be shut down when coasting at speeds between 34mph and 99mph, and also means the stop/start system can activate while the car is still rolling to a stop. It has little impact on the overall driving experience, however. 

Despite changes in public perception of diesel vehicles, the 3.0 TDI (badged 45 TDI for the 228bhp version, and 50 TDI for the 282bhp car) is set to make up over 80 per cent of UK sales. We can see why, as when combined with the smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox it’s a brilliantly flexible powertrain. A healthy 620Nm of torque for the 50 TDI ensures it pulls strongly but serenely in any gear, with only a cultured V6 hum to disturb the peace. 0-62mph is dealt with in 5.7 seconds, and it feels every bit as fast as that figure suggests. The 45 TDI isn't far behind, managing 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.

By comparison, the 335bhp 55 TFSI V6 petrol isn’t quite as complete as an all-rounder. It sounds a bit nicer, is faster outright (0-62mph in 5.3 seconds), and the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox it comes with instead of the diesel’s Tiptronic torque converter gives faster shifts. But it needs to be worked harder to get the best out of it, and you often find it hunting for gears where the diesel just holds on to a high cog and rides the wave of torque. Still, it’s by no means a bad offering for those averse to diesel.

The 2.0-litre engines offer improved running costs at the expense of performance, but they're by no means slow. The 242bhp 45 TFSI manages 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds, while the 210bhp 40 TDI diesel has a time of 8.3 seconds, which drops to seven seconds exactly when you add quattro.

There's also the A7 Sportback quattro 55 TFSI e, with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and an electric motor, producing a total output of 362bhp. The plug-in hybrid model takes 5.6 seconds to reach 62mph from standstill and will go on to reach 155mph.

Above those models sits the sporty S7, which takes a very different approach to its predecessor. Out goes the old petrol V8, replaced by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel. At first glance, things don’t look promising: power has dropped from the old car’s 414bhp to 344bhp, while the 0-62mph time has increased by half a second to 5.1 seconds. However, the diesel counters with extra torque: a whopping 700Nm peak is 150Nm more than the outgoing model.

These changes mean that, in reality, the diesel gives away little. Acceleration is still strong, and the eight-speed gearbox is more responsive in this application than it is further down the A7 range. The drivetrain is complemented by a 48-volt electrical system, which charges an electric compressor with the aim of reducing turbo lag. It works, too: the throttle response is sharp for a car of this type. It might not deliver the lovely roar of the old V8, but the diesel unit makes a fairly pleasing, bassy growl under hard acceleration, too – though much of this is synthesised in Dynamic mode.

Air suspension is standard for the S7, with air springs optional. The ride can jiggle in the former setup at low speeds but the handling is impressive. Thanks to the inclusion of four-wheel steering, the S7 feels more agile and well-balanced than even the smaller S4. The steering itself is light and offers little feel though, so ultimately it’s still not a huge amount of fun.

The range is topped out by the hot RS7. Unlike the S7, this keeps hold of petrol power: the twin-turbo V8 makes 592bhp, 800Nm of torque and will accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph, but the optional Dynamic and Dynamic Plus packs raise the limiter to 177mph and 190mph respectively.

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    50 TFSI e Quattro Black Edition 5dr S Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £0

Most Economical

  • Name
    50 TFSI e Quattro Black Edition 5dr S Tronic [C+S]
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £0

Fastest

  • Name
    S7 TDI Quattro S 5dr Tip Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £66,700

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