You are here

Quick twin-test: Audi A7 vs Mercedes CLS

Nothing for ages, then two come along at once. Svelte four-door coupes do battle

  1. What’s the point?

    Audi and Mercedes would insist the A7 and CLS are models in their own right, when in reality they’re basically swoopier, more style-lead and (supposedly) more dynamic versions of their existing saloons. The old A7 was based on the A6, but this new one shares a chassis, much of its technology and 48-volt mild-hybrid powertrains with the new A8. It’s gone up in the world, you might say. 

    The CLS, however, remains an E-Class underneath, as indeed it always has been since it gave birth to this whole swoopy four-door coupe thing back in 2004. So the two kinda meet in the middle now, at £60k or thereabouts if you factor in options. Which you most definitely should because they ratchet up the value somewhat.

    As tested, both are six-cylinder, 3.0-litre diesels, all-wheel drive and automatic of gearbox. Eight speeds in the Audi, nine in the Merc. The Merc is an AMG-Line – the only trim available in Britain – and the Audi an S-Line. It’s £66,140 for the Merc as-tested, and £66,350 for the Audi.

  2. How are the interiors?

    Because it’s a hatchback, the Audi is way more practical than the CLS. Its boot is bigger, and access to it much easier. That aside, it’s very A8y in here. So few buttons, but two touchscreens and Audi’s brilliant ‘Virtual Cockpit’ that makes both of them redundant. Material quality is broadly superb – there really is little to separate the 7 from the 8, in tech’ terms too – and the tapering roofline doesn’t compromise headroom in back.

  3. Same goes for the Merc. You can get adults back there, and they won’t hate you for it. The dash is all E-Class and that’s fine with us. Feels more opulent, somehow cosier than the business-like Audi, and we prefer a physical controller for infotainment functions. But that’s just personal preference. As we said, all the Audi’s are accessible via the wheel/Virtual Cockpit anyway, so you need never go near those (admittedly gorgeous) centre screens.

  4. How do they drive?

    The A7 is not a ‘sports saloon’, even in S-Line trim tested, with its 10mm lower, firmer suspension. Quattro means it’s grippy enough, but ultimately the A7 is just a bit remote, with super-light steering. Comes into its own on the M’way, where it’s quiet, stable and the ride (which isn’t great on these wheels) settles down. Air suspension and four-wheel steering improve things, at a cost. But what cannot be improved upon, unless you buy the 3.0-litre petrol A7 when it eventually arrives in the UK, is the eight-speed automatic gearbox. You have to drive around its hesitancy, which means progress isn’t as smooth as it ought to be. The nine-speeder in the Mercedes is much more decisive, making driving smoothly and swiftly much more straightforward.

  5. But what really sets these two apart are their engines. The 282bhp A7 is strictly a competitor for the less potent CLS 350d. That uses the same in-line 6cyl diesel as this 400d, just with a bit less power than the 335bhp offered here. This engine is a peach. Quieter and smoother than the A7’s older V6 TDI for sure, and in reality just as efficient even though it doesn’t have trick 48v electrics (only petrol CLSs have that). The CLS is more engaging to drive, and just as serene as the A7. Both, remember, are all-wheel drive, but the Audi’s is front-biased to the Mercedes’ rear.

  6. Which one do I buy?

    Neither of them, because you’ll either get one as a company car or on PCP. The Mercedes has more about it than the A7, insofar as it has a better engine and is better to drive. But as a product, an object of design and item of iPhone-like tech, the A7 makes a compelling case for itself. Cooler too, more practical and in standard-form, a bit cheaper.

  7. You could cut this one both ways. We’re giving the nod to the Merc because of the way it drives, but the Audi is well pitched and has better kerb appeal. Only so far though. We can’t help but be disappointed at the lack of effort both marques have put into making these cars look good. The CLS used to be at the cutting edge of retro-cool. Now look at it. It’s tricky to see why you’d opt for this instead of a significantly cheaper E-Class. And there’s a new A6 along in a few months that takes a lot of learning from the A8. TopGear knows little of ‘style’ but on this evidence we’re not the only ones. 

    Read TG’s full review of the Audi A7 and Mercedes CLS

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear’s code of conduct (link below) before posting.

Promoted content