Audi Sportback

Concept previewing CLS-baiting A7 makes Detroit debut

It takes something pretty special to leave a V10 R8 pleading for attention, but this managed it. The Audi Sportback concept - the upcoming A7 with a concept car interior and detailing, if we're being honest - had its wraps pulled off at Detroit shortly after the R8, but the press spent more time ogling the four-door CLS rival.

The biggest surprise is that it's took Audi so long to come up with a riposte to the Mercedes coupe/saloon combo. It has been one of the more successful niches carved out by the premium Germans, and already has a growing pool of rivals. While there are no bold claims about what it's gunning for, the Sportback's 4.95m x 1.93m x 1.4m dimensions are tellingly close to those of the CLS.

The A7 will likely make its production-spec debut later in the year, but it's unlikely to be a massive step on from the Sportback - replace the lights with less glitzy units, shrink the 21in alloys a tad and make the side mirrors less breakable and you're probably about there. That's good news - it's a smart rival for the CLS, and a very clean design. There’s none of the fussiness and random use of lines, creases and curves that you'll find on an A5.

In fitting with the Detroit motor show's (and American car industry's) heightened awareness of fuel economy and money saving, the Sportback boasts a 3-litre V6 'clean diesel'; it's a TDI, but the US market is seemingly still in some need of convincing that diesel isn't completely the devil's work. And the big shouts are about the engine's cleanliness and efficiency, with performance buried further down in the press release.

As it happens, the Sportback has 225bhp and 406lb ft of torque, making it good for 0-62mph in sub-7sec and a top speed of 152. The concept gets Audi's seven speed S tronic double clutch 'box and the obligatory Quattro all-wheel drive. Environmental-wise, it'll crack 48mpg while emitting 156g/km of CO2. That diesel engine is also good for the EU6 cleanliness standard that isn't introduced until 2014. Audi's taking the current climate very seriously.

There's also a trick steering system; it's electro-mechanical and consumes energy only when steering, saving fuel further. Automatic parallel parking can also be deployed. The dynamic package comes courtesy of the Audi A4 and A5 series, with multi-link front suspension to tighten handling. The concept is also lavished with fade-resistant carbon ceramic brakes, measuring 380mm at the front and 356mm rear.

Expect to see a production version of the A7 later this year with the car hitting UK shores in 2010. While you wait for that, check out what else is at the Detroit motor show.

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