February 9, 2011
Power comes from Audi’s direct-injection supercharged 3.0-litre V6, making 310 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque in this application. While other markets get a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, we have an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic manufactured by German specialist ZF. The latest version of Quattro all-wheel drive with its lighter, faster-acting “crown gear” centre differential and a 60 per cent rear-wheel bias delivers the goods. This is a stellar drivetrain. The engine pulls strongly and evenly from low revs, and while we might bemoan the lack of twin-clutch technology, this tranny works a treat. It responds instantly to flicks of the paddle shifters and is always a paragon of smoothness. I’ve driven ZF boxes in Jags, Maseratis, Bentleys and BMWs, and they never fail to impress.
2012 Audi A7 Sportback . Click image to enlarge
Dynamically, the A7 is all Audi: astoundingly capable in all weather conditions, yet a tad aloof and lacking pure steering feel. (The R8 is exempt from latter two criticisms.) It may not engage the driver like many BMWs, but it scoots, corners and grips like few other cars. And rear-wheel bias or not, you’ll never break those back tires away from the A7’s relentlessly neutral cornering. Audi Drive Select is included, with four presets (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual) that adjust the steering weight, throttle and transmission mapping, and cornering lights function if so equipped. The Individual setting allows you to custom tailor your own setup.
While other Audis have their Drive Select buttons on the dash, here you hit a button labelled “Car” on the console that calls up a dedicated display on the MMI, after which you select the setting via the rotary controller on the centre console. Indeed, the A7 is a sharp and entertaining driving tool in Dynamic mode, but spontaneous selection is not so easy.
On the highway the A7 is a true-tracking cocoon of serenity. Top gear has the engine spinning a lazy 1,400 rpm at 100 km/h. As such, extended highway cruising will see fuel economy dip below 8.0 L/100 km, although more vigorous motoring sabotages that in a real hurry. I averaged about 13.0 L/100 km for the week.
Judging by the way this A7 goes down the road, Audi has been working to improve the ride quality of its cars – one that has tended towards an unnatural jitteriness. Despite the firmer sport suspension and 265/35R20 performance tires, the A7 was pleasantly compliant, with only the sharpest impacts upsetting the ride. This bodes well for the upcoming A6.
As for the technological gizmos, the crystal-clear head up display gets a thumbs-up, as does the blind spot warning system. The infrared night-vision screen that comes up between the analogue speedo and tach is more gimmick than useful. Yes, it does highlight warm things like humans, dogs and exhaust pipes, but who drives down the road looking at the dashboard? And I still find Audi’s MMI interface to be too obtuse when selecting radio bands, frequencies and preset stations. Way too much button pushing and scrolling.
For those who appreciate utility with their beauty, the A7 Sportback proves to be more than just a pretty face. The powered hatch conceals a 535-litre storage space that expands to 1,390 litres with the rear seats folded down. Yup, the A7 Sportback is the damn prettiest five-door hatchback your hard-earned dollars can buy. The fact that it runs as good as it looks, has an interior for the ages and will easily hold an IKEA shopping spree makes it all the more desirable. Did I mention it was slap-me-silly gorgeous?
Pricing: 2012 Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TSFI Premium Plus
Crash test results