A7 Sportback

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Audi A7 Sportback

Driven June 2011

Audi A7 Sportback

The gender equation in urban India has changed. For the better. Women work, they don’t always change surnames after marriage, and many make the first move in a relationship.

Things have changed for men, too. It’s okay for men to cry, cook, change diapers, use moisturisers, and rather than force themselves to be macho, hammer-headed cavemen, they can be sensitive and understanding.

Perhaps a bit too sensitive and understanding. And so excruciatingly perfect that things seem a bit unreal and improbable.

Like the new Audi A7. No design is perfect, but this one I like. You could argue Audi could have gone a bit easy on the chrome on the grille, but this car turns heads in a way no other sedan would unless it had Aston Martin Rapide or Mitsubishi Evo written on it.

Sure, Audi’s marketing honchos aren’t going to be pleased with the A7 being called a sedan. They’d like you to call it a sportback, or a four-door coupe or a family grand-tourer. But really, let’s keep it simple. Because the A7 is perfect for people who want all the service and functionality of a luxurious four-door sedan, but don’t actually want a full-fledged luxo sedan like an A8. Just for the record, the A7 is technically a hatch, which actually makes the deal even sweeter.

That sloping roof makes the car look rather nice, and the hatch lets you have full access to a 535litre boot. Besides, the A7 has 60:40 split folding seats. Fold the rear seats down flat and you have 1,390litres of boot space. Of course, the sloping roof won’t let you take a refrigerator in the back, but you can actually take a washing machine and a big television set and still have some room. Even with all the seats up, two can sit comfortably at the rear, and if the third guy shops in the M or S sections of a clothes rack, he can sit at the centre too – the centre console doesn’t consume the potential third occupant’s space. The rear is the A7’s most endearing aspect. You’re nearly expecting all that style and that low roof to eat into passenger comfort. You’re all ready to tell your rear passengers, “Hey look, I have a fancy car. And I got it for myself. We can go short distances with you in the back, but don’t keep tagging along all the time”. Then you realise you don’t have to. You get proper head, leg and shoulder room here.

The only thing affected by that sloping roof is rear visibility. However, with the rear camera, even that isn’t an issue. Continuing the emphasis on style, all four windows are frameless, yet they do a great job of keeping ambient noise out in the ambience and not inside the cabin. In the city, you can barely hear the honks and beeps from the traffic around you.

But on the highway, at speeds above 160kph, those things do a bad job of keeping wind noise out. And on the highway, the A7 is a typical German long-legged mile muncher. But like most German cars these days, it thuds softly along those grooves and gaps on the road surface.

Which brings me to this Audi’s suspension settings. Like all Audis, you can set the A7 to Comfort or Dynamic, and even custom set the give in the suspension, throttle response, gearing and steering. But, as with most such NASA-grade technology, there isn’t one setting that’s perfect for all occasions. If you keep it in Comfort, the steering becomes too light. In Dynamic, it weighs up and becomes stiffer, but that stiffness doesn’t actually translate into much feedback. What it seems to do is add 100kg to the car. I was surprised the car has a dry weight of just 1770kg. It feels much heavier than that around bends.

The thing is, it’s a comfortable car. It’s luxurious, it does everything that is asked of it, but it doesn’t set new benchmarks for dynamics or comfort. BMWs are hardcore driver’s cars. Mercs are very neutral. But the A7 – typical Audi – sits on the fence. It’s comfortable but not exceedingly so. It’s quick on the straights but if you’re doing 180kph and brake in a hurry, the car gets nervous. Obviously, you don’t do such speeds often, but you really don’t know want chinks in your car’s dynamic armour. Especially a car like this.

At 500Nm, the 3-litre V6 diesel has lots of torque, and 245bhp is good enough, but despite the acceleration and the tug at the back that you get when you floor the throttle, it sounds muffled. Sure, it’s a diesel, but we know of five and six-cylinder diesels from Volvo and BMW that sound more brutish. Still, except for the minor dynamics chinks and this muffled engine, there are barely any deal-breakers with the A7. This isn’t a super-exciting, super-comfortable, super-luxurious, super-sporty car. But it is exciting. It is comfortable. It is luxurious and sporty… if you know what I mean.

Also it has one of the best adaptive lights we’ve seen in the business. If you set it to Automatic,
the lights shift seamlessly between high and low beam, and the cornering lights work brilliantly around sharp hairpin bends. Essentially, with an A7 you don’t have to stop your journey after sunset. Plus, you get some neat party tricks that aren’t essential to an automobile, but something you can show off.

The MMI has the usual list of things you can boast of at the bar… television, internal-external lighting adjustment, the ability to play music on your phone via Bluetooth, and the touchpad with handwriting recognition. The best party trick? The doors shut themselves even when you haven’t shut them properly.

So there’s nothing really wrong with this car. It does whatever is asked of it, and the styling, design and shape take the car to a level above the ordinary. It’s not brash, it doesn’t yell at others to grab attention, but it grabs attention, without trying. It turns heads, carries your family and lots of luggage, and covers vast distances without looking like another boring four-door sedan.

So here’s the catch. At Rs 62 lakh ex-showroom – which doesn’t include optional extras like the Bang & Olufsen music system, Heads Up Display and other such goodies – we’d call the A7 more an indulgence than a value proposition. But then, if all you wanted was a value for money Audi, you’d stick to the cheapest A4.

Let’s put it this way. If you’re a woman, a guy like the A7 would be a prize catch. It’s good-looking, stylish, carries itself well, doesn’t go over the top to get noticed, but still gets noticed, and is sensitive and kind. The A7 is the kind of guy a girl would love to take home to her parents. But in all that properness and perfectness, the A7 is also the kind of guy who drops you home on your first date, but will never give anything more than a peck on your cheek when he sees you off at the door, while you have other more exciting things on your mind. Now, that may not be terribly electrifying in a guy, but if you’re looking for a long-term, secure relationship, that might just about work.

 



Sriram Narayanan

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