Sitting between the A6, to be launched next Spring and the recently revised A8, Motoring Journalist DAVID HOOPER, editor of wheelworldreviews.co.uk, endures rain in Spain to test Audi’s new A7.
GERMAN carmaker Audi’s relentless introduction of new models is continuing apace with the launch of the elegant A7 Sportback.
Hoping for a bit of welcome winter sunshine, I joined a large group of journalists for the UK launch of Audi’s latest executive express in Southern Spain, in the hills above the holiday coast of the Malaga area of Andalucia.
The rise and rise in popularity of Audi’s premium products has been so great in the last few years that the company has almost become a victim of its own success, with demand for its cars outstripping the rate at which the company can supply them – a problem the company has been working hard to address and one which has cost it sales, the Q5 model being a prime example, with customers buying more readily available cars from rival manufacturers, rather than wait several months for the Audi of their choice.
Audi UK’s director, Jeremy Hicks, acknowledged the problems, saying the company’s biggest constraint is the number of cars they can produce and the lead times, or waiting times, for customers, yet Audi made a staggering 2.3-billion Euros in the first three-quarters of 2010, nearly doubling its previous record.
The A7 is aimed at the larger car market, competing with the Mercedes CLS or BMW’s 5 GT, with technologies in the recently relaunched Audi A8 now appearing in the A7, but with only 3,000 models expected to be sold next year, the company isn’t pretending it’s aiming for high sales figures with its latest newcomer.
James Allitt, the A7’s product manager, says the A7 was created through a design led study, which historically, is always the most successful. The result of that study is a car which can seat four adults in comfort, has a large boot and is practical in everyday use.
All A7s feature six-cylinder engines, 2.8 or 3.0-litre petrol or 3.0-litre TDIs, with either 204 or 245PS, and boast the latest Quattro system first seen in the RS5.
Built for lightness, using a mix of aluminium and steel, it is a first for Audi, and has helped achieve a C02 emissions figure of 139g/km and a combined figure of 53.3mpg, which isn’t bad for such a big car.
Another first for the A7 is the use of Google Earth mapping in its sat nav, a head-up display and even night vision is an option. Parallel park assist, seen on other VW Group products also makes its debut for Audi on the A7.
The range starts from £43,000, which includes the 20% VAT rate. There is a choice of two trim levels, with cars being built to order only, so there will be no surpluses, which is good news for residual values, with Audi claiming the second best residuals in the industry at the moment.
On the flight, I watched a short presentation, which showed the testing process every car goes through. They are subjected to 12 years’ worth of ageing in just 19 weeks, from baking heat, to arctic conditions. The engineers, says Audi, have zero tolerance and are determined to make everything as perfect as it can be – even the leather used is subjected to 45 stringent tests, while the paintwork is finished with Emu feathers to ensure an immaculate finish. Obviously Audi is not the only manufacturer to test its cars to destruction, but as buyers, we often forget the effort that goes into developing a new model.
The standard specification on the A7 is good, with things like leather, sat nav, climate, cruise and alloys all on the inventory.
It’s a big, comfortable car, which is definitely more suited to a motorway cruise than a B-road blast. This is the sort of car which eats up mile after mile on a cross-Europe trip with ease. On our extensive test route, the cars performed well, the powerful engines making light work of slower traffic, and providing plenty of traction out of tight, slow bends.
A mix of heavy rain and Spanish road works created a slippery mix of wet gravel and differing levels of grip on either side of the car, turning the road route into something of a rally stage. The A7s coped with the conditions, but showed plenty of understeer on the loose, slippery surfaces, which combined with a soft suspension set-up meant there was plenty going on to keep the driver’s full attention.
The cars we were testing during the launch exercise, were also laden with optional extras, taking the £47,000 asking price of both models to around £64,000 – that’s another £17,000.
There’s a short breathing space now until the next new model comes out in the Spring, the A6, which will be the first of many in 2011.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: Audi A7 Sportback.
BODY STYLES: Five-door hatchback.
ENGINES: 2.8 or 3.0 petrol, 3.0 diesel, all V6.
TRIM GRADES: SE, S Line
PRICES: From £43,755
IN THE SHOWROOM: Now
♦ All data correct at time of publishing.