I recall being at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. One of the highlights of the show was the Audi Sportback concept. The sleek sedan was being billed as the future A7, Audi’s entrant into a growing field of coupe-styled sedans.
The 4 door coupe was born due to a perceived lack of styling on most sedans. Some may argue that Audi’s sedan were amongst the most sleek and stylish, which may explain why they did not feel the need to be an early adopter of the concept.
In what seems like record time, the A7 was brought to market and journalists were given the opportunity to experience the latest Audi vehicle during a short trip to the Mediterranean paradise of Sardinia.
Landing at the airport in Olbia, a fleet of A7s waited in a secluded parking lot, glittering in the Sun. The initial press briefing at the airport included a quick rundown of some of the technical features of the vehicle and we were each given Apple iPads to accompany us on the ride around the island. Apparently the Apple tablet devices were preloaded with routes around the island as well as information about the vehicle.
The A7 was designed on an all-new platform to be shared with the upcoming A6 replacement. The vehicle slots in, as the nomenclature would indicate, between the size of the current A6 and range topping A8. The chassis expands on Audi’s pioneering use of lightweight steel and weight saving aluminum.
The hood, roof fender and trunk lid are all aluminum. The overall chassis architecture has resulted in a vehicle that not only weighs 300 kgs less than a current A6 but boasts an extremely rigid platform.
The A7 footprint is 3 inches shorter, 2 inches wider and it sits 2 inches lower than a current A8 sedan. Overall the vehicle appears to flow organically from the large centre stack radiator grille back around the raked windshield and over the slopping rear glass window. The vehicle is sleek enough in fact to register a drag coefficient of .28 CD, or in other words, the same as a 2010 Porsche 911 Carrera.
Stepping inside the cabin, it became apparent that the sleek coupe styling was more than an exterior treatment. Starting with the front seats, the drivers and passenger sit lower than what you would expect from a sedan. With arms and legs extended, we grip the steering wheel and look our over the low slung dashboard that extends around the front seat occupants and runs onto the front door panels.
As eye-catching as the vehicle is on the outside, stepping inside reveals beauty is more than skin deep. Already known for some of the best executed cabins in the industry, Audi’s designers have raised the bar once again. Top shelf materials, like a laminated strip Beaufort Oak veneer and Alcantra leather, constantly remind passengers that this is premium motoring. Rear seat leg and head room is also surprising ample, given the sloping roof line. Technology is omnipresent with optional items such as; an informative heads up display, night vision camera, onboard wifi system and radar assisted braking system. The Google maps based NAV system is likely the finest on the market today.
The Euro-spec vehicles we drove were powered by the same super-charged 3.0L TFSI V6 found in the A6 and S4. The engine’s 300HP is channeled through a 7 speed S-Tronic dual clutch transmission to the standard Quattro all wheel drive system. 0-100 kms/hr can be knocked off in a sprite 5.5 seconds, the A7 is no slouch. Canadian A7’s are equipped with the smoother shifting 8 speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox. This generation of the Quattro system uses a new sport differential and computer governance to allocate engine torque to either the front or rear axle when needed. It will also apply slight braking to an inside wheel when it senses a load change thus allowing more torque to the outside wheel. Even without the optional Drive Select system, the A7 will carve through twisty mountain roads without cause for concern. Braking is equally responsive.
The automatic-start-stop engine feature is added as standard equipment to European models to increase fuel-efficiency. Audi staff likened its operation to similar systems found on Hybrid vehicles. However, I found its operation interfered with an otherwise refined power train and was perhaps the only concern on the power train.
According to Audi, the Sportback concept, with its rear lift-gate, can offer wagon like utility while still enjoying the styling of a 4 door coupe. 535L of storage with the rear seat backs up expands to 1390L once folded down. A static display of 2 large suitcases and 2 large carry-on bags resting in the cargo area confirmed the practical utility of the design. An optional park assist system helped to steer vehicles both backing up and moving out of parallel parking and regular spots. This system is only available on the A7 at present as it is only compatible with the Electro-Mechanical steering introduced on this model.
At first glance many may have wondered what future the A7 had in the North American market. Lets be honest, not many full-sized or premium vehicles that count 5 doors amongst their list of features, have been sales successes. The reality is the design of the A7 has been so artfully executed that the rear treatment appears more as a short trunk lid than lift-back. Furthermore the rest of the stunning sheet metal will attract enough buyers that I suspect Audi will sell as many as they can build, just on looks alone. The fact that it is a solid performer with excellent road manners and a healthy dose of performance, is just icing on the cake.