Lights, camera, Audi! We spend a week road-testing the new A7 in mild hybrid 50 TDI guise
21 August 2018
A sure-fire way of guaranteeing drool-worthy status for and whipping up a storm of YouTube and Instagram interest in a second generation model that doesn’t look a million miles different from the original is to give it a strong dose of theatrics. The new Audi A7’s lines and other design details have been tweaked slightly but its gorgeous silhouette remains largely unchanged, which is no bad thing. The big news is at the rear, where Audi has given it the Knight Rider treatment with an incredible full-width light strip and 292 animated LEDs that dance around (check out our YouTube video) in a way that’d make KITT and Michael proud. Either side of the wide, tarmac-licking front grille and boldly creased bonnet that are all part of Audi’s latest design language, the snazzy and equally brainy HD Matrix LED headlights add an equally welcome cherry to the front, too. Handily, the German rivals with the blue and white roundel have dropped their equivalent body-style, leaving Audi to just contend with the posse with the three-pointed star.
Even in S line trim as tested, the new A7 with its frameless doors doesn’t scream for attention, though. It’s not in its nature, happy to carry on in spirit alongside the (now binned) 6 Series Gran Coupé and CLS as one of the market’s handful of prestige models that blur the lines between saloon, estate and coupé. Audi’s latest design evolution looks superb from most angles, the self-raising rear spoiler can be activated at slower speeds if anyone fancies posing, and although dishing out wheels no smaller than 19” seems daft with the poor state of UK roads, they and larger versions do finish off the A7’s overall image nicely. Yes, repeatedly activating the fireworks display from the lights will get on your neighbours’, colleagues’ and mates’ wick given time but will ensure the A7 doesn’t get too lost in Audi’s fairly similar-looking model range and should stand up to the test of time, balancing muscle with elegance.
Inside the new Audi A7 there’s plenty of space up front where the car feels pretty airy. Complaining that rear headroom is slightly eaten into by the car’s tapered rear, which is one of its defining features, would be kind of like complaining that the Sydney Opera House spoils the view of the harbour. Unless you’re tall enough to look Harry Kane square in the eye or are still relatively tall and going to be travelling from Land’s End to John O’Groats sat in the rear, you’ll be fine in the latest A7. Just bear in mind the middle seat’s legroom is taken over by the transmission tunnel, making it best suited to kids. Standard boot space weighs in at 535 litres, which is fairly impressive, and folding the back seats down opens up 1,390 litres. The storage nets and other practical touches are really handy, too.
Sport trim has brown, light grey and beige in its upholstery palette but anyone going for S line trim as tested will have to make do with Fifty Shades and choose black or dark grey. The Valcona leather sports seats with S embossing and rock grey contrast stitching are as comfortable as they are inviting, their side bolsters nicely spaced so that even people who’ve devoured way too many pies will be able to nook themselves in.
The new A7 is way more futuristic and minimalist inside than its family ancestors, from the shamelessly bold, multi-layered look to the dashboard fascias clad in polished piano black and edged in brushed matt aluminium, and the radically stylish gear selector, to the gorgeous main 10.1” full HD touchscreen with another almost as large (8.6”) full HD touchscreen beneath. Yes, it’s fiddly and actually potentially a bit dangerous stabbing the screen with your pinkies in order to adjust the climate temperature or other settings while driving, but the secondary screen does look awesome, the smartphone-like haptic feedback is a nice touch and it can be used as a tablet for scrawling sat nav destinations and other stuff onto.
Music fans will love the £800 optional Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound System, the ambient lighting suite adds an air of class, Virtual Cockpit is fantastic and lets you toggle the digital instrument display to show full-width sat nav or whatever else you fancy behind the steering wheel, and the Google-powered sat nav looks really stylish and works intuitively.
The only slight let-downs are that the rear-view reversing camera’s resolution appeared a little grainy, drivers of average height might find the footrest positioned too far away, and the lid of the compartment housing the front cupholders daftly juts up in the open position, slightly spoiling the cabin’s driver focus. Apart from these tiny gripes plus a couple of minor and probably isolated interior trim issues inside the test car, the second generation Audi A7 is a work of art inside, crammed full of tech’, and although it might ultimately lack soul and character, it’ll still coax out plenty of smiles.
Catching a glimpse of the car’s muscular hips and fastback rear roofline while adjusting the mirrors before setting off will give petrolheads a warm, fuzzy feeling. The purr from the meaty V6 diesel engine is a sign that something special is under the bonnet and with 286bhp and 620Nm/457lb ft torque on tap, fed to the road by permanent and thankfully rear-biased Quattro, the 3-litre A7 50 TDI can even keep up with plenty of feisty petrol cars, shoving itself to 62mph in 5.7 seconds and with a 155mph top speed. The car feels sure-footed on greasy, loose and otherwise iffy surfaces thanks to all-wheel drive and a self-locking centre diff’.
While its 55 TFSI 3-litre petrol sibling is said to be insanely quiet, the 50 TDI diesel A7 is a wee bit gruff on full throttle and doesn’t feel brutally brisk despite probably having overtaken half a dozen cars with ease, its real qualities shining through when powering onto and off of roundabouts, along snaking A-roads, away from standstill at traffic lights and in other cheeky situations.
Audi’s ‘drive select’ system enables suspension and other characteristics to be tailored to match the road, other conditions and the driver’s mood, but even in comfort and efficiency modes, the new A7’s air suspension unpleasantly thumps through manhole covers and similar, likely proving too firm for some drivers. It copes excellently with even the tallest of speed-bumps, though, and twisty, lumpy country roads are an absolute hoot even when the car’s left in one of these softer settings. Dynamic mode firms the suspension up even more, sharpens the throttle response and generally makes the A7 feel more aggressive, but Audi’s boffins still for whatever reason haven’t managed to create a car with masses of steering feel and feedback, the rivals from Munich still reigning champion in this department.
The 50 TDI A7 makes do with Audi’s 8-speed tiptronic gearbox rather than the twin-clutch 7-speed fitted to petrol versions. It behaves smoothly most of the time but occasionally trips over itself in slow-moving traffic queues and other situations where it gets confused over whether acceleration is called for and at what pace.
Mistaking the A7 for a police car is forgivable as the front grille features a pair of pretty noticeable black boxes as part of the car’s mountain of safety and other technology that includes five radars of varying ranges, cameras all around the car, a LiDAR laser scanner, loads of other sensors and a central processing brain called zFAS. Audi’s always been one of the frontrunners in driverless car technology and, like its A8 sibling, the new A7 is bunged full of clever stuff. However, because of UK laws, many of the features aren’t accessible yet and will be gradually dripped into the A7 over the coming months and years, like Tesla has been doing.
For now, apart from the various bings, bongs and visual warnings courtesy of all the safety gadgetry, the cleverness of Audi’s Phone Box system that pairs Bluetooth automatically and charges compatible phones wirelessly, and the ‘connected’ A7 essentially being permanently online, the main feature of real-world benefit is adaptive cruise control. Whether on motorways or in town, it’s capable of maintaining a fixed distance between the vehicle in front and also handling the steering to keep the Audi in its lane.
The cleverest part of the new A7, though, is actually to do with its engine, which is a mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) setup involving a 48-volt electrical system, lithium-ion battery and fancy alternator. Braking and coasting regenerate power which can then be used to propel the car while it coasts at speeds of over 34mph. It’s a clever system which uses the front camera to predictively activate the start-stop function that works up to 13mph, with real-time sat nav data also telling the car about approaching roundabouts, downhill gradients, traffic queues and other situations. The result is that the car discretely encourages coasting at various times by vibrating the accelerator pedal. It all happens unobtrusively and almost affectionately, conjuring the image of Sergei sat in the passenger seat elbowing Aleksandr the meerkat, eliciting ‘not now’ or ‘ok, ok’, responses on occasion.
Anyone about to get a new company car on lease or who is eying up personal contract hire (PCH) deals may well have come across something called WLTP. In very basic form, it’s the new European emissions and fuel economy test that is mandatory from September 1st and will soon be joined by an on-the-road test. More realistic CO2 and MPG figures are the main goals, drivers fed up of real-world numbers often falling well short of those in marketing bumf. Potential A7 50 TDI drivers will be well impressed, though, our week-long road-test of around 450 miles seeing it finish on 46.3mpg, agonisingly close to the published WLTP figure of 48.7mpg. Well done, Audi. What’s more, although Adblue top-ups can be a faff, the 63-litre fuel tank gives the big, friendly giant a potential range of 650-to-700 miles, and an extra 10 litres can even be specified on the options list. Anyone in the market for a luxury four-door coupé like this won't wince at the A7’s as-tested price tag of £65,000, translating into leasing payments of around £600 per month with a 9-month initial rental up front.
So, to sum up, Audi’s second-generation A7 is one impressive car on many levels. Its “aint broke, don’t fix it” silhouette has been treated to some stunning lighting effects and other details, giving it strong kerb appeal. The interior, although as flamboyant as John Craven, is beautifully constructed with the finest materials by and large and is bursting with gadgetry from the superfluous but sleek to the downright useful. This may understandably put some folk off, but all cars share the same fate. The 50 TDI’s V6 engine blends grunt and creaminess superbly and delivers the kind of real-world economy that will satisfy Scots and Yorkshiremen, and although the handling isn’t mind-blowing and the ride’s on the firm side, the overall driving experience is very likeable. It’s a shame that A7 drivers won’t be able to enjoy all of the various Level 3 autonomy features until the powers that be give them the nod, but the fancy lights and diesel-saving mild hybrid powertrain will maintain interest in the meantime in what is a desirable car for drivers with taste, which evolves if not ignites Audi’s lineup nicely.
Our rating: 7.5/10
Words: Oliver Hammond Exterior photography: Isabel Carter