The Audi A7 Sportback sports a pair of sensible shoes in 3.0 TDI ultra guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Audi A7 Sportback might seem a guilty indulgence but your conscience can be salved by opting for one of the 60mpg ultra versions, powered by a 218PS 3.0-litre TDI diesel powerplant. They get all of the latest A7 updates and are some of the most affordable luxury cars to run.
Although you might not guess at first glance, this latest Audi A7 Sportback has had a lot of work done since its 2010 introduction. Just two years after it first appeared, Audi revised the diesel engine range but the biggest changes have been saved for this latest car, possibly the most noteworthy versions of which are those which wear Audi's ultra badge. Were this car in another manufacturer's range, they might wear a GreenLine or a BlueMotion badge, but Audi has instead decided to plump for that lower case ultra designation to denote its most fuel-efficient models. While choosing a fuel-efficient version of a luxury car might smack of missing the point, an A7 Sportback ultra is not without its charms.
While powerhouse models like RS7 and the 3.0-litre BiTurbo get all the column inches in car magazines, the A7 Sportback might just be at its most attractive with an ultra model's decidedly more modest 218PS 3.0-litre TDI engine. They're certainly not slow, getting to 62mph in a punchy 7.3 seconds and running onto a top speed that knocks on the door of 150mph. What's more, in this modest state of tune, the engine never feels particularly strained and nor do you have to work it particularly hard, a healthy 400Nm of torque being available from just 1,250rpm. As a result, the ultra is refined and relaxing with long-legged gearing helping it get the most from a gallon of derv on a motorway run. The seven-speed S tronic transmission drives the front wheels only, which make the ultra models unique in the A7 line up, every other car in the range featuring quattro all-wheel drive. This saves around 70kg of weight but you still get the Audi drive select dynamic handling system.
Design and Build
The revised engine and transmission set up gives this A7 ultra some real substance, but it's good to know that a bit of style's been injected to provide essential balance. The front end now features a hexagonal single-frame grille while the bumpers are shapelier and complement the LED headlamps as well as LED daytime running lights. At the back there are wider trapezoidal tailpipes. Not a lot really needed doing to the interior, which was already probably the classiest cabin at that price point, but Audi has offered some additional interior materials, including aluminium and Beaufort walnut inlays. The colour palette has been revised, extending to include the Valcona leather upholstery available as an upgrade to the standard Milano leather in the SE Executive trim. In the S line version, which previously featured black Valcona leather, a Lunar silver option is also now offered. The cargo space under the electrically powered tailgate measures 535-litres which extends to 1,390-litres when the rear seat backs are folded.
Market and Model
Given that you get the most modest engine and no quattro all-wheel drive mechanicals, it's not surprising that the ultra versions of the A7 Sportback are the most affordably priced. You'll still have to dig down the back of the sofa for £45,875 for the SE Executive model or £48,665 for the S line variant, but those prices don't look at all bad compared to the Mercedes-Benz CLS where the entry-level CLS220 BlueTEC diesel manages just 176bhp, gets to 62mph in a relatively slow 8.5 seconds and isn't as economical yet still starts at £46,500. Standard specification includes a powered tailgate, leather seats, electric seat adjustment and heating, cruise and parking controls, satellite navigation, the Audi Music Interface (AMI), DAB digital radio and Bluetooth phone preparation. The 'hub' of the interior is Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) system with a retractable monitor.
Cost of Ownership
We really ought to be used to big cars getting the sorts of fuel economy figures we tend to associate with city tots but it's still hard to get your head around the fact that this big Audi, laden down with electric and leather everything can achieve a combined fuel economy figure of 60.1mpg. Audi even reckons that on a motorway run you'll be looking at numbers more like 65mpg. Emissions are rated at 122g/km; a good deal lower than a Hyundai i10 1.2-litre. Choose your options sensibly and depreciation isn't too savage, with the ultra retaining around 42% of its value after three years. That's excellent for this class where typical buyers are always looking for the newest, shiniest thing and look to offload once the three-year warranty has expired.
Before we go any further, we need to look a little at the raison d'etre of this car. Are you buying a luxury car then handicapping it with a penny-pinching motor? That would have to be the nagging doubt that surrounds the A7 Sportback ultra. Fortunately the engine has enough about it to easily parry that accusation. So good is the 218bhp engine that it actually makes you ask whether it's worth paying more for more powerful A7 models or whether you require the added weight and complexity of an all-wheel drive transmission. You get the same interior features, the same silky transmission and the same attention to detail. The engine is refined and muscular and investing in a set of winter tyres will probably mean that you won't miss hauling around a quattro transmission. The best A7 Sportback might very well be the cheapest one. You might need to get in quick before Audi rectifies this issue.