"The Audi A7 is beautifully styled, and a spacious and practical alternative to the Mercedes CLS."
If you like the idea of driving a large executive car buy you can’t really see yourself behind the wheel of a big, heavy saloon, the Audi A7 Sportback could well be the ideal car for you. Audi has targeted the A7 to rival cars such as the BMW 5 Series GT and Mercedes CLS, both of which are subtly different to the A7 in terms of concept. The A7 is stylish and comes loaded with technology, plus it's based on the luxurious A6, so shares a lot of tried-and-tested equipment and parts. You don’t get as varied a choice of engines as in some other Audi ranges, instead getting to choose from a limited selection of high-powered 3.0-litre diesel engines, with an option for Audi's quattro four-wheel drive, too. It comes in three main specifications – the entry-level Standard car, then mid-range SE, and top-of-the-range S line and Black Edition models. Practicality is good, with a large 535-litre boot, and it's comfortable and relaxing to drive, while the flagship S Line and Black Edition versions offer suitably fast performance. The powerful S7 uses a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine that can accelerate the car from 0-62mph in only 4.7 seconds.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Audi isn’t offering the more efficient 2.0-litre TDI diesel in the A7, so the best bet is the two-wheel drive 3.0-litre TDI, which Audi says is the top seller. Fitted with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, the 3.0-litre returns fuel economy of 44mpg and emits 139g/km of CO2. Petrol TFSI cars obviously a bit cost more to run, returning 29mpg, but this isn’t as bad as it seems, given the level of performance available. The S7 gets a 414bhp twin-turbo V8, but includes a clever cylinder deactivation system that keeps fuel economy at nearly 30mpg, which isn't bad at all for such a fast car.
Interior & comfort
Once you’re inside the A7, the interior is stunning. The wraparound-effect dashboard sports stylish instrument dials and controls that are great to look at while also being easy to use. And the class act continues in the rear, too. It may be a strict four-seat car because of its two armchair-like seats in the back and no seatbelt in the middle, but most adults will find it easily as comfortable as any limousine like the A8. You can easily stretch out your legs, though passengers who are over six feet in height will have problems with headroom thanks to the sloping roof. The interior is nice and quiet (though going for larger alloy wheels can compromise that), with an acoustic windscreen further filtering out any wind, road or engine noise.
Practicality & boot space
You only get four seats in the A7, but there's still the same amount of room that you get in the A6. Its 535 litres of boot space is more than the Mercedes CLS, and it expands to a strong 1,350 litres when you fold the back seats down flat, so there's more than enough luggage capacity. With the rear seats in place, the boot is a bit shallow, but is does go back a long way and there's plenty of space for awkwardly shaped items. The hatchback tailgate means the space is easy to access, and therefore more useable than it could have been. There's plenty of storage inside, too. Alas, visibility is a weak point, which makes the optional rear-view camera something of a much-have purchase.
Reliability & safety
The Audi A7 has still to make its debut in the Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but as it's based on the A6, you can expect it to score quite highly. The A6 made its first appearance in the 2013 poll at 27th in the top 100 cars. Audi itself managed to reclaim five of the eight places it dropped in 2012, to place 10th in the manufacturers rankings. That hopefully marks a continued improvement that ends the company's tendency to yo-yo in the rankings, with customers singling out practicality and low value-for-money equipment as problem areas. The A7 is, however, very well built both inside and out, suggesting that the car will certainly prove reliable, especially as the engine and gearbox technology has been tried and tested in other Audi models. The A7 hasn’t been put through the Euro NCAP crash safety tests yet, but the A6 did secure the full five-star rating, with a particularly strong 91 per cent scored for adult protection, so expect the A7 to do likewise. It comes equipped with front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and tyre pressure monitoring as standard. You can also add active lane assist, adaptive cruise control and night vision as optional extras.
Engines, drive & performance
The A7 has been built using 20 per cent aluminium to reduce its weight and generally improve handling. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is still a very big car, weighing in at around 1,700kg, even with its weight reduction. Nonetheless, Audi has accomplished its mission, because the A7 does indeed handle very well, with the optional quattro four-wheel drive improving traction still further, especially in slippery conditions. The steering isn’t quite up to par, however, proving less agile and responsive that the Mercedes CLS, so it's not as much fun to drive overall. All models do come equipped with Audi's drive select system, which allows you to alter the suspension and control settings to suit you. If you want the best performance possible, though, you definitely need to go for the S line or Black Edition. The S7 has a very powerful V8 twin-turbo engine that is combined with lots of grip driving through corners and even sportier handling.
Price, value for money & options
There's no doubting that the A7 is a seriously desirable car, and that is, of course, reflected in the hefty list price. You’ll need at least £40,000 to get one and if you’re trigger-happy with the options list, that price can easily sky rocket as high as £90,000. You do get a lot of equipment as standard though, including sat-nav, dual-zone air-conditioning, leather upholstery and xenon headlights. Luckily, resale values in the UK used car market are very strong for Audis, so you can expect to get back as much as 50 per cent of your initial outlay even after three years of ownership when you do decide to get a second-hand deal. That's better than most of its key rivals.