If you’re in the market for something like an Audi A8, BMW 7-series or Mercedes-Benz S-class, but you really don’t like three-box saloons, then the Audi A7 Sportback is for you. Its ‘extended coupé’ profile hides a chassis that is neither A6- nor A8-based, although the A7 naturally shares a lot of technology with the two models that sandwich it in the Audi hierarchy.
The A7 is a wonderful thing to cruise around in, given its high levels of refinement and typically stunning Ingolstadt interior, but the exterior’s rakish promise is let down by a chassis that is ever so slightly inert. This is especially true of the S7 and RS 7 performance models, which are brutally quick but strangely uninvolving.
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The S and RS models are worth mentioning here because, if we were marking those cars alone, we’d probably give the A7 three out of five. The reason is that the very use of S/RS badging on an Audi automatically sets dynamic expectations at a certain level; you want the car to give you an entertaining drive that is a cut above normal Ingolstadt fare. Sadly, as we’ve found all too many times, S and RS Audis are hit and miss – some are excellent, some are a bit ‘meh’.
And the RS 7 in particular falls into this latter category, its astonishing straight-line performance being the only thing worth recommending it for. On the handling and steering front, it’s all too predictably safe. The S7 is less of a disappointment, because Audi gears the S-cars to be discreet-yet-rapid, which it emphatically is.
But then, so is the standard range. The BiTDI and TFSI cars will be more than quick enough for most people’s needs, they’re both more economical than the S/RS cars, they’re obviously cheaper to buy and the fact that their handling isn’t the sharpest in the world is neither here nor there. For that reason, we prefer the regular A7 range to the performance models.
> Performance and 0-60 time - Even outside of the realms of the S7, the A7 is brisk. The fastest model can reach 62mph in 5.2sec and will bounce into its 155mph limiter. Read more about the Audi A7's performance here.
> Engine and gearbox - Petrol and diesel drinkers come in V6 layouts and send drive to seven- or eight-speed S Tronic gearboxes. Read more about the Audi A7's engine and gearbox here.
> Ride and handling - Aside from the front-driven Ultra, the A7 comes exclusively with quattro four-wheel drive. Avoid Dynamic Steering like the plague. Read more about the Audi A7's ride and handling here.
> Interior and tech - The A7 doesn't get Audi's latest TFT 'Virtual Cockpit' displays - first featured in the new TT - but its displays are still better than those of its rivals. Read more about the Audi A7's interior and tech here.
> Design - At five metres long, the A7 is a stretch even for an elongated coupe. But post-2014 facelift, it wears an inoffensive yet recognisable body shape that's likely to split opinion. Read more about the Audi A7's design here.
Prices, specs and rivals
The regular A7 range starts from £48,720 on the road for a 3.0 TDI Ultra SE Executive, and rises through three trim levels and three engines to £61,980 for a top-of-the-range model in Black Edition trim with the 3.0-litre Bi-TDI quattro. The S7 and RS7 are understandably pricier still, starting from £66,625 and £87,535 respectively.
The cheapest SE Executive trim is still as well equipped as you'd expect from a high-end Audi. 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, electric and heated front seats, full leather upholstery, four-zone climate control, cruise control, all-round parking sensors, and Audi's own infotainment system complete with a really snazzy fold-out screen.
S line adds sports seats, sports suspension, 20-inch alloys, 'Matrix' LED headlights and the S line exterior and interior styling packs, while Black Edition cars up things to 21-inch wheels, a BOSE stereo and black styling details.
The engine lineup is equally simple - all A7's bar the performance-oriented S7 and RS7 get a 3.0-litre turbo diesel with a choice of three power outputs - 215bhp, 268bhp and 316bhp. Entry level cars are front-wheel drive, which doesn’t seem right for a big, powerful Audi - thankfully, the rest of the range has quattro four-wheel drive.
Key rivals for the A7 are the BMW 6-series Gran Coupé and Mercedes-Benz CLS. Some may argue that the Audi's more sleek, understated shape appeals, but we suspect many will fall for the BMW's more aggressive exterior. It also drives well, and like the Audi there's the option of a sports version - in this case, the M6 Gran Coupe, with its 552bhp V8. The range as a whole starts at £61,080.
The Mercedes isn't exactly an ugly duckling either - you could say these swept back saloons/coupes are among the most attractive models in their respective carmaker's standard line-up. Next to more recent Mercedes introductions though the CLS does look a little old-hat, and we'd be tempted to wait and see how Mercedes replaces it. The CLS range starts at £47,950.