If you were underwhelmed by the conservative style of Audi’s A8 limousine, don’t fret — there is a solution in the unashamedly design-focused, second -generation A7 which is due in SA in the last quarter of 2018.
The premium German car maker pulled the covers off its full-sized liftback in its home town of Ingolstadt, backing up its promises that it would continue to carve out a unique niche in the field of luxury cars.
Due to be publicly shown for the first time at the Los Angeles Auto Show this month, the A7 continues as a five-door lift-back, but adds new A8-sourced features like all-wheel steering and a radical new interior.
It will join the A8 as the first production cars to graduate to 48V mild-hybrid electrical systems to propel the steel-aluminium composite bodyshells.
The first generation of the A7 stood largely alone, with its five-door format keeping it aloof from even Mercedes-Benz’s overtly design-oriented CLS. Since then, BMW has pushed its ugly duckling 5 Series Gran Turismo to become the not-quite-a-swan 6 Series Gran Turismo, so the competition should be fiercer.
The crisp interior retains the swooping roofline and sculpted light catcher behind the rear wheel while picking up sharp creases and tight panel shutlines. Audi claims a production tolerance of less than 0.1mm.
While the A7’s body style refused to date over its seven-year life span, the interior could not make the same claim, with its instrument cluster and infotainment systems ageing rapidly after its 2014 facelift.
The car shares its architecture, electrical and infotainment systems with the A8 and the next A6, however Audi needed three development bosses to get it through its gestation period, even though CEO Rupert Stad-ler approved it for production in 2014.
Audi insists the A7 will set new benchmarks for noise suppression, ride comfort and refinement, which would make one of the world’s long-distance cruisers almost irresistible.
While the current A7 took its power from everything from a 3.0l V6 petrol engine to a wickedly powerful 4.0l, twin-turbo V8 in the RS7, the new one will launch with just one powertrain — the petrol-powered, mild-hybrid V6 A7 55 TFSI. The engines use a belt-alternator starter system to regenerate energy and deploy up to 12kW of power into the engine’s crankshaft under acceleration. It can also go into a freewheeling mode between 55km/h and 160km/h to save energy and lower its fuel consumption.
The V6 delivers 250kW and 500Nm, letting the big coupe burst to 100km/h in a claimed 5.3 seconds, while using 6.8l/ 100km and 154g/km of CO2.
Its standard powertrain comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive, which only cranks up the rear wheels on demand. The mighty all-wheel drive quattro system of the old car has been reduced to a hang-on system. Other powertrains will follow once Audi is confident the production lines are hitting their accuracy targets, which will take some doing.
It just slips beneath the five-metre barrier, at 4,969mm long, which makes it 170mm shorter than the standard A8, and it rides on a 2,926mm wheelbase.
It retains its solid stance on the road, thanks to a low 1,422mm roofline and a squat 1,908mm width. That all makes it fractionally higher (2mm), wider (2mm) and shorter (14mm) than its predecessor.
It has the outline of the old A7, but adds taut surfacing and dives deep into Audi’s pool of OLED and laser lighting technology to add a set of welcome and farewell light shows. Like the A8, there’s a full-width rear lighting system, with 13 individual lighting pieces and a long light bar, geared to deliver a theatrical performance when the car is locked or unlocked.
It’s not likely to scare off fans of the current car, which continues with frameless doors and windows and a tailgate that still hinges from the roof to give unimpeded access to its 535l luggage area. This rises to 1,390l with the seats folded down.
Its single-frame grille isn’t quite as imposing as it is on the A8, but it’s still large enough to be accused of lacking grace and proportion, though it adopts enough of the Prologue concept car’s surfacing to compensate.
The glasshouse uses six windows, but is quite shallow to allow for greater body sculpting and a low roof line, sloping steeply to the rear, which also ties it in to the original A7.
It retains the active, pop-up spoiler, which it fires out of the tailgate at speeds above 120km/h to reduce lift at highway speeds. The initial cars will also offer an S-Line design trim to give them a sportier look.
Inside, there is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster as standard equipment, combined with a 10.1-inch infotainment screen that responds to touch, voice or written command and has haptic feedback.
Like it does in the A8, the introduction of touchscreens wipes away a generation of buttons and knobs, giving the driver-focused cabin a cleaner look than it has today.
It uses a short, flat-topped gear selector, similar to the one in the A8, which is largely designed for drivers to rest their wrists on while they’re writing on the lower touchscreen.
The contoured front seats have ventilation, heating and massage functions, while the rear of the cabin can be configured with either two individual seats or a 2+1 setup, which boast 20mm more legroom.
It uses all the same connectivity as the A8, complete with permanent 4G connection and Car-to-X and traffic sign services to use swarm intelligence for real-time traffic information.
It will introduce a remote garage pilot later, which will autonomously drive the A7 into and out of garages or tight parking spots, even with the driver outside the car operating it from a smartphone application.
Like the A8, it’s pre-engineered for the time when Level 3 autonomy becomes legislative reality, so there’s a suite of up to five cameras, five radar sensors, 12 ultra-sonic sensors and a laser LiDar scanner, networked via the zFas controller that manages the 39 driver assistance systems in the A7.
The new A7 will only get to SA late in 2018, however it appears to be pre-prepared for the years to follow.