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Audi A7 50 TDI - who says diesel is dead?

By Glenn Brooks | 4 July 2018

New, larger A7 is 31mm shy of five metres long

New, larger A7 is 31mm shy of five metres long

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With the exception of Italy, sales of diesel cars are still falling in the big European markets. Hardly an ideal time for any OEM to add fresh compression-ignition engines to a luxury model. Audi disagrees, believing that buyers will be drawn to the economy of its new mild hybrid 3.0-litre V6.

The second generation A7 Sportback was revealed to the media last October and then to the public at the Detroit auto show. The choice of venue was more to do with timing than the importance of the US market for this car. Having said that, big hatchbacks are no longer the hard sell which they once were in that country.

Audi of America now sells the A5 Sportback, the Panamera is doing well in the US and so too is the Buick Regal. The A7 will soon become available for North America's 2019 model year, replacing a car which has fallen hard down the sales charts in recent months as stocks of the old-shape model dwindled.

Size and design

The 4,969mm long Sportback is officially called a four-door coupé: Audi believes this to be the case due to the frameless doors, which among other things, do much to set it apart from the A6 sedan with which is shares many components and some panels.

There is no rear wash-wipe, which is a nuisance, Audi's design team likely wanting to keep the back end of the car having a less-is-more look. That is evidenced by an integrated spoiler which extends automatically from the edge of the tailgate at 120km/h or 75mph, and a flat light strip that joins the rear lights. The tail lights themselves are distinctive, being made up of 13 vertical segments.

As the ride can be jittery on the UK's less than magnificent roads, optional Wabco air suspension may be worth the money.

If the A7 now looks like its own car on the outside instead of an A6 hatchback or a bigger A5 Sportback, on the inside the changes are even more marked. 

Those passionate about minimalist design while find much here to fall for. The trouble is, as with all screens which demand to be touched for most functions, that perfect look is soon less so due to a plethora of fingerprints.

Tesla, Land Rover (Velar), Volvo and others have led the way in bringing the iPhone into car interiors and now Audi is following. Interestingly, BMW disagrees, as its latest models such as the X2 and X4 have just the one screen and they retain, albeit in updated form, a multi-function iDrive controller. More on this soon in reviews of both those SUVs.

All change for MMI

Audi still calls its driver assistance, infotainment and HVAC contols an MMI system. The rotary pushbutton and conventional buttons and controls of the previous model are gone though, replaced by the two large, high-resolution touch displays. The upper one has pretty much all car functions on it as well as navigation, and is fairly easy to quickly master. Below it on what is an asymmetric console above the centre tunnel, is a display for the climate control system. As in the Velar, with the ignition off there are two dark screens and when the car comes to life, there are lots and lots of illuminated virtual buttons and images.

Four-wheel steering and pneumatic suspension

In terms of dynamics, four-wheel steering is new, and this both reduces the turning circle and, it is claimed, improves stability at higher speeds. Air suspension is available too at a cost of GBP2,000. On steel springs, which comprises a five-link system with tubular anti-roll bar at either end, the ride can be a touch jittery on Britain's less than magnificent roads. For that reason, a pneumatic system may be worth the money. This was developed by Wabco.

The as-tested car was fitted with GBP450's worth of Sport Suspension, so that may have been part of the issue. Other options on top of the standard GBP54,055 for the 3.0-litre 50 TDI can include soft door closing (GBP625), a Bang & Olufsen sound system (GBP800) and a full leather package (GBP950). If you wish your exterior mirrors to fold electrically as well as have demisting and auto-dimming, then you must cough up a further GBP150.00. So it's pretty easy to drive away from the dealership in a sixty thousand pound A7.

MHEV as standard for all three V6 engines

All engines come standard with a mild hybrid system (MHEV). This uses a 48-volt primary electrical system. A belt alternator starter (BAS) works together with a lithium-ion battery and achieves a recuperation performance of up to 12kW when braking.

In the approaching era of electric cars becoming more prevalent, an engine capacity badge will obviously be missing from the tailgate of the model in question.

There has been a tweak to the start-stop function compared to the previous model in that it now activates at up to 22km/h (14mph). In combination with a standard front camera, the engine is restarted predictively while at a standstill. This happens as soon as vehicle ahead begins to move.

The first engine which Audi announced for the A7 was a 3.0-litre TFSI. This turbo petrol V6 produces 250kW (340hp) and 500 Nm (369 lb-ft). It is paired with a seven-speed S tronic and quattro all-wheel drive. Two versions of a V6 diesel followed shortly after the start of production. The as-tested '50' version of the Volkswagen Group's 3.0-litre V6 diesel was one of these, and the '45' is the newest addition. For the moment at least, there are no four-cylinder cars.

TFSI 55, TDI 50, TDI 45: say what?

Try as I may to follow the logic of it (is there any?), Audi's two-digit prefix remains an oddity. I can see what the company wants to do. Namely, in the approaching era of electric cars becoming more prevalent, an engine capacity badge will obviously be missing from the tailgate of the model in question. But why add two digits to petrol and diesel cars? Audi of America has taken a stand and told HQ not to put the badges on the bootlids or tailgates of any of the cars which it sells. Audi UK hasn't, so our versions of the A7 (and so far, the new A8 and A6 too) have the extra two numbers. The R8 is not part of the new system, nor are any S or RS models.

The 55 TFSI is the most powerful of the three A7 variants currently available in Britain, so if there are 60 or above, and 40 or below versions to come, their buyers will be none the wiser as to what powers them, only where they sit in the pecking order.

For the record, the 50 version of the 2,967cc diesel V6 produces 286PS and 620Nm. The newly added GBP52,240 A7 Sportback 45 TDI has equivalent outputs of 231PS and 500Nm from its identically sized V6. Drive is to both axles via a centre-locking differential and the gearbox, which is branded a tiptronic, is an eight-speed hydraulic torque converter automatic with a lock-up clutch. In Audi-speak, a dual clutch manual is an S tronic.

The other odd sensation if the throttle pedal pushing back slightly, which is a signal to say the car is ready to coast.

Official C02 emissions of 147g/km and a Combined average of between 48 and 50mpg (dependent on whether 19-, 20- or 21-inch wheels are fitted) prove that the mild hybrid tech is no gimmick. And the 50 TDI is anything but a light car: 1,880kg without the driver. The fuel tank holds 63 litres and Audi specifies a 24l reservoir for the AdBlue reservoir.

Haptic throttle

To drive, the A7 is a bit unusual. This starts the moment the seatbelt pulls itself against each occupant. That took me a while to get used to, but if it keeps people safe, then it's a good thing.

The other odd sensation is the throttle pedal pushing back slightly, which is a signal to say the car is ready to coast. This is where the mild hybrid systems comes into its own, and the move in and out of engine being on or off is entirely free of incident. Passengers won't even know it's happening.

Rivals

Other cars which this one is up against include the BMW 6 Series GT and Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Looks being such a personal thing, buyers are lucky enough to have three distinct choices. The Audi is roomier than it initially looks, especially in the back, although there is significant intrusion from the transmission hump. Best to think of it as a four-seater but one with a massive boot (see photos for the capacity).

Sum-up

Overall, the A7 Sportback doesn't excite and the new digital-everything dashboard won't be for everyone: even after a week I wasn't always sure if the headlights or DRL were on: in bright sunshine you can't tell unless you prod the touch-sensitive switch and the state of lighting is announced in the instrument panel. What was wrong with the rotary controller which every German make has used for decades? Once you get used to all the tech, the A7 could well become endearing. It's certainly a nice place but for the price I'd take an RS 4 Avant and wake up excited every day.

Manufacturing and life cycle

Might the A7 successor due in 2025 become part of the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) collection of models?

All A7 production is on the same line as the A6 and A6 Avant at Audi's Neckarsulm plant, build getting underway there in late February. Germany, China, the US and the UK should be the major markets. Expect four-cylinder engines to be added over the coming 12 months, along with replacements for the S7 and RS 7, plus an e-tron.

Audi will likely facelift the A7 just the once which would be in the fourth quarter of 2021, then release the third generation car in 2025. That should use a fresh platform rather than yet another evolution of MLB.

It might be the case that the mark three A7 even becomes RWD/AWD or, depending on how well electric cars are accepted over the next 3-4 years, becomes part of the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) collection of models. Details of MLB Evo and PPE as well as other vehicles for these and other Volkswagen Group architectures can be found in just-auto's current and future vehicles database.