Audi A7 Sportback review (2018): Luxury cruiser gets A8 tech
When I travelled to Valencia to look at the Audi A8 last year it was among the most technology stuffed cars I’d ever driven. Twin screens at the front and back, a bundle of self-driving and parking aids, massage seats with multiple settings and an AR parking aid – it truly was a technological marvel. Now, that technology is beginning to trickle down the range to other, more affordable and more practical models, and the Audi A7 Sportback is among the first to benefit.
By Jonathan Bray
The A7 doesn’t get the twin seat-back mounted Android tablets of the Audi A8 has, nor quite the rear seat luxury, although there is plenty of space back there for two adults. But its infotainment system is pulled straight from the Audi A8 and it’s a wonder to behold.
Audi’s old non-touchscreen system was seen in Audis as recent as the 2017 A3, but now is time for change. What you get in this cabin is a large 10.1in display set above a smaller 8.6in screen. Both are touchscreens and both look absolutely spiffing with crisp graphics and Audi’s “black panel” technology offering up bundles of contrast.
The top screen is your main interface, displaying maps, menus, media and so on. It’s where you’ll see your Android Auto or Apple CarPlay screen should you choose to use it. And it’s operated, unusually, via haptic touch. A little like the BlackBerry Storm smartphones of a few years ago it requires a physical press instead of a light tap to activate buttons and other on-screen options and gives out a short buzz of feedback whenever you do so.
The bottom screen is mainly static, displaying climate air conditioning and seat adjustment controls, driver aid toggle switches, plus a series of useful user-configurable shortcut keys, to which you can assign useful things like home and work satnav destinations. This lower screen also converts into a keyboard or a handwriting recognition pad for those who find that the (rather patchy) online voice recognition system doesn’t work for them. The touch surface even extends out beyond the screen onto the horizontal surface of the centre console with a narrow strip offering up controls for front and rear windscreen heaters and hazard lights.
If I have one complaint about this new system it’s that it’s a little too fussy and a tad over-complicated. I’m sure, in time, that owners will get to know their way around its layers pretty quickly but the frustration with having to tap OK so many times just to enter an address will likely remain in place for some time to come.
What I’m less sure of is that going entirely over to touchscreens is such a wise move. Most other manufacturers still recognise the need to mix and match physical and touch controls, if only to ensure drivers’ eyes stay on the road in front; it seems as if Audi is overcompensating here for a previous lack of progression.
Still, the infotainment console in the centre is only part of the story here; there’s a whole load of other stuff on offer in the new Audi A7as well. Behind the steering wheel, for example, is Audi’s stupendously good 1,920 x 720 resolution 12.3in Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which allows you to see directions with a quick downwards glance and tailor the display to your own preferences. Clicking the View buttons on the steering wheel allows you to quickly switch between different styles.
Audi’s Phone Box tech charges compatible phones wirelessly and establishes Bluetooth connection automatically. The premium Bang and Olufsen 19-driver audio system (driven by a 730W amplifier no less) deals with most audio material with gusto and plenty of grunt. The only issue I have with it, which is fixable by twiddling with the EQ settings, is that the default sound balance sounds a little harsh and nasal.
Audi A7 Sportback review: Driver assistance and other aids
With such illustrious heritage you’d hope there was plenty of driving assistance in place as well and, on this front, the Audi A7 doesn’t disappoint. According to Audi, the A7 has “over 39 driver assistance systems” that run the full gamut from accident prevention to self-driving features. You’ll even be able to park the car using an app on your smartphone while you stand outside the car and sit back while the A7 drives itself on the motorway for you.
You can see more pictures of the Audi A7 here
What you won’t be able to do is get a lot of these features on the Audi A7 straight away as a lot of them are set for a “gradual introduction”, starting later in 2018, but the hardware is all in place and ready to go.
Just as with the A8, the A7 is bristling with advanced sensors – a LiDAR laser scanner, long-range radar, four mid-range radars, a front camera, 360-degree cameras for parking and a host of ultrasonic short-range parking sensors as well. And data from all these are fed to the car’s driving “brain” – the so-called zFAS controller — which uses it to builds a live, 360-degree picture of the car’s surroundings.
These systems will, says Audi, enable the A7 to offer level 3 autonomous driving within its lifetime. And that’s a big deal. Level 3 autonomy is, effectively, the point at which the driver no longer has to continually monitor and remain in control – it isn’t full autonomy because the driver still needs to be there to step in and intervene if necessary but the car itself should be able to effectively drive itself in the right circumstances.
And from what I was able to try out, Audi’s sensor tech does seem to work in a highly effective manner. The adaptive cruise control, for instance, worked flawlessly both in town and out, was able to bring the car to a full stand still and pull away again without any intervention. The car’s lane “emergency assist” system was pretty effective, too, pulling the car back into line when I allowed it to drift out.
The technology trickle down doesn’t stop there, though. The Audi A7 also gets the A8’s all-wheel steering system, which applies steering to the rear wheels in parallel to the front wheels at high speed (by up to two degrees) to make lane changing more predictable and counter to the front wheels (by up to five degrees) at slow speed to decrease the turning circle.
Audi A7 review: Exterior, engines and drive
And the technological splurge continues to the look of the car and the drivetrain as well.he most obvious starting point being the car’s new HD Matrix “laser light” front and rear light clusters, which should please children of the 1980s whose first exposure to car technology was probably Kit’s sweeping bonnet lights.
You can see more pictures of the Audi A7 here
Alas, although the strip of LED stretching across the entire rear of the car does animate in an ultra-cool swoosh from the centre out to the edges when you unlock the car, it’s not accompanied by matching sound effects. Audi has surely missed a trick here.
Still, the look is striking, especially at the front, where diagonally arranged zebra stripes accompany laser spotlighting for what is surely one of the most eye-catching light shows on any car currently on the road. Who needs coloured under-car LED lighting when your headlights look this good?
The rest of the car’s styling errs on the conservative side, which is not a bad thing. The long, low-slung look of the previous A7 remains with perhaps a slightly softer slope towards the rear than before and more pronounced creases flowing down the side panels. The front grille is wider and flatter, another nod to the design of the new A8.
But the most significant changes are hidden ones: improved aerodynamics improves fuel efficiency, a longer wheelbase means a fraction more legroom for passengers inside, and what Audi is calling “mild hybrid” engine technology. This uses a 48V battery, not to power the car as with a Toyota Prius, but instead to knock a few miles per gallon off the fuel efficiency by enabling the car to coast with the engine off at cruising speed (between 34mph and 99mph) and providing a smoother start/stop; the battery, stored in the boot, can even kick into regenerative mode when the sensors detect the car in front is slowing down and restart the engine when they detect the car in front has moved off.
At launch, the Audi A7 will be available with two different engines: a 3-litre V6 petrol developing 335bhp and a 3-litre 6-cylinder turbo diesel with 282bhp. I drove the TDI and, while it offers plenty of smooth power delivery, if you floor the accelerator pedal in any of the driving modes there’s a noticeable lag before the power feeds in, but in everyday driving it’s very comfortable, very quiet and even dodging potholes on country roads is a reasonable amount of fun for such a large car.
The car is reasonably fuel-efficient, too, with the diesel gets a combined cycle mpg approaches 50mpg – pretty good for a car approaching two tonnes.
Audi A7 Sportback review: Verdict
As the first car to benefit from the avalanche of tech debuted in the Audi A8, the Audi A7 is an important model for the German manufacturer and it hits most of the right notes. It looks great – especially those crazy LED lights – its interior technology is spot on and the car is bristling with sensors and driver assistance aids.
The one fly in the ointment is that the most exciting developments on the Audi A7 are yet to come, which means, at the current time rivals from Mercedes, BMW and Volvo remain a step ahead, at least on the autonomous driving front.
Still, with prices starting at £54,940 the Audi A7 is more affordable (and practical for most people) than the A8 it borrows much of its technology from. It’s a car that offers an enticing taste of the future – or it will when the full range of assistive features arrive.