Everyone knows that the cars the Europeans design and the way we Indians use them don’t exactly match. For instance, when I see a portly gentleman squeezed into the back of a Mercedes-Benz CLS, I don’t know whom to feel sorry for: the customer or that Stuttgart engineer. But blame this 2004 issue four-door coupé (whatever that is!) for starting the trend of creating offbeat machines that sit between well-defined segments — the Volkswagen Passat CC, the burly BMW GT, the Audi A5 Sportback, and now this, the Audi A7 Sportback.
No complaints, however. Because when you are confronted with the A7 in the flesh, you become all weak-kneed. It’s very good-looking, you see. A person who’ll point out the A7’s lack of rear headroom and limited rear seat space for such a large, expensive car is the sort of person who’ll look at Megan Fox and fret about her sartorial choices. But guess what, the A7 is not all that bad when it comes to the rear room department; despite the beautifully raked roofline, Audi engineers have managed to liberate more than adequate space at the back for two adults. Perhaps they have cleverly done that by making the seating low, but the point is that it all works surprisingly well.
Though the distinctive headlamps are the starting point that defines the look of the car, the pronounced shoulder line — ‘tornado line’ in Audi-speak — is what makes this Audi stand apart from the rest of its gang. The doors are frameless while the greenhouse, of course, makes it look even hotter — the rear quarter-glass at the base of the C-pillar looks as if it’s been prised off an Aston Martin. Audi of course will deny it, saying that it’s been influenced by its own classic 100 Coupe S from 1969 (Google it and see), but the modern interpretation is too close to Astons — nothing wrong with that, because Aston Martins are the most gorgeous production cars in the world. The Sportback name of course comes from the sharply-raked C-pillar that ends dramatically at the rear.
Since the A7 is all about style, can the interior design be far behind? Audi’s interiors are always beautifully crafted, with high-quality materials and finishes. But it’s never flamboyant. This time around, you’d be surprised with the A7’s dash layout. It looks like Audi’s interior designers have loosened their ties a little bit — it’s much more flowing and elaborate, and they seem to have discovered that you can have curvaceous lines too. Everything is intuitive in terms of placement and it has all the controls you’d expect in a car of this class. Like in the A8, the A7 too gets that touch-sensitive control panel that governs various functions. It probably recognises a gazillion Chinese alphabets, but I had better things to do than fiddle with it. I had to drive the car, you see. * * *
It’s a large car from the outside, but you wouldn’t have known it if you had seen me driving it. It’s nimble, it’s dynamic and it’s fast. And did I mention that it’s beautiful? Sitting inside, I am stretched out like in a go-kart, and yet there is no issue with all-round visibility — except around the A-pillars, perhaps. The console is turned discreetly towards me, and I press the starter button and the red needles that face downwards rise up and return to the idle position. Our test car had the classic 3.0 TDI motor up front. The 24-valve 2,967cc V6 turbodiesel with VGT develops 242 bhp at 4,000 rpm and 51 kgm between 1,400 and 3,250 rpm. Transferring the power to all wheels is a seven-speed S tronic transmission. The Quattro system in the A7 is a next-gen version, the first time it’s being used in a production car. Under normal circumstances, 60 per cent of the torque is transferred to the rear wheels, with 40 per cent going to the front. Depending on traction conditions, up to 85 per cent of the torque can be sent to the rear axle and 70 per cent to the front. Audi claims this system is better because the distribution takes place with no lag. Also, it features intelligent torque vectoring — essentially, it detects which wheel is about to slip and it applies the brakes just a tiny bit and transfers more torque to the opposite wheel. The idea is to offer neutral handling as much as physics will allow, before the ESP god steps in.
The marvel of this engine is immediately apparent when you see the tacho needle barely touching 2,000 rpm, while the speedo needle is at a frantic 120 kph. It is not only quick, but the mid-range of this motor is also stunning. A dab of the right foot at this moment sends the A7 slicing wind at 170 kph so easily — straight-line acceleration is divine and never fails to impress fellow passengers.
The A7 shrinks around you (okay, it’s another thing that it’s cosy inside), but its external size has nothing to do with the way it moves and behaves. It’s fundamentally a front-wheel driven car (versions of which are on sale abroad), but by clever engineering, the A7 Quattro manages to keep understeer well under control.
Our test car came with the optional adaptive air suspension with electronically controlled damping. I would say this is a must under our driving conditions. Controlled using the MMI, in auto mode, the suspension lowers the body at higher speeds, while in dynamic mode it just sees the way you’re driving and changes accordingly. Comfort mode is meant for Indian terrain — though it’s a bit wallowy and takes the fun out of driving, it’s the best option to keep the car from scraping its bottom.
Which brings me to the Audi drive select programme — it governs the transmission, steering and the engine controller. You can decide what you want your driving experience to be like. I, for instance, took it on comfort mode when the roads were iffy. In this mode, the steering was too easy and suddenly tightened up at corners, but what could one do? The best option was to keep it in dynamic when the roads got better — the steering tightens up, the engine gets a more racy tone, the gears shift more rapidly and car becomes a different animal. There is an individual option in the programme also, to customise your driving preferences. Heck, what more could one want — the A7 gives you everything! By the way, the degree of customisation in this car is a bit extreme — you can even decide on the opening angle of the large hatch door.
The A7 indulges you in a different way, as compared to the A8 or the forthcoming A6. It is a youthful kind of car; in the sense Pops may drive the A8, which is not Junior’s style. For him, the A7 makes more sense. At Rs 64 lakh onwards, it is not a cheap car, but it makes a smart, and I dare say, a practical statement. Segment-benders themselves can create a new segment, I guess.