Ten years ago a premium car with a powerful engine and a hatchback would never have sold. The market has come around to cars like Audi's awesome S7 Sportback, as Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Audi S7 Sportback packs a 420PS punch, driven through a seven-speed S tronic transmission to all four wheels. While its no B-road brawler, get one on an autobahn and you won't regret shelling out over £60,000 for one minute.
We're a strange bunch. Sell us Brits a small car and we insist it has a hatchback. Small cars with boots are given the elbow with quite some conviction. As you begin to spend more money, something strange has tended to happen. This behaviour reversed. Aside from big SUVs, the idea of a premium five-door car never gained significant traction. Even cars that looked as if they should sport a tailgate often featured stubby boots instead. It's only in the last few years that a change has come about and Audi is a company that's never slow to tune into buyer trends. Its A5 Sportback and A7 Sportback models couldn't have been timed better and now we have a model that stretches what buyers will pay for a big hatchback that little bit further. 'Hatchback', however, seems an entirely inadequate way of describing the awesome 420PS Audi S7.
The S7 is a vehicle that, in many ways, represents a cleanish sheet of paper for Audi. It's not a model that, like the S4 or S6 models, has a long history to live up to. As such, it's a car that many will take on its own merits rather than compare with a predecessor vehicle. And its merits are quietly impressive. The 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 under the bonnet might not offer the soundtrack of a screaming V10 but it seems an engine that's a little more in step with the Zeitgeist and one that won't leave many wanting more in the way of power. With a massive 550 Nm of torque on tap, the S7 will sprint to 100km/h (62mph) from rest in 4.7 seconds, its power being deployed, predictably, by quattro all-wheel drive. The top speed is limited to 155mph although Audi insiders reckon it will knock on the door of 190mph were the limiter removed. But at the same time, there's 'Cylinder on Demand' technology that allows the TFSI engine to cut four of the cylinders when cruising to aid efficiency. At low speeds or when driver demands more power, the other four cylinders instantaneously spring back into life. Air suspension is fitted as standard, as is Audi's Drive Select driving dynamics system. The driver can then tune throttle pedal response, shift points of the S-tronic transmission, the assistance to the electro mechanical steering and the characteristics of the adaptive air suspension. It's as clever as it sounds.
Design and Build
The S7 might be a car that has a presence about it, but there's also a subtlety to its detailing. Perhaps the most overt items of styling are the wheels, 19-inch in standard guise ranging up to 21-inches for the frankly inadvisable options. Tucked behind them are S7-stamped brake calipers while the trademark S aluminium mirror housings catch the eye, especially when the car's finished in a darker colour. Nine exterior colours are available, including an exclusive crystal effect Estoril Blue. No, it's not the same colour as BMW's iconic M3 paint finish of the same name. At 4,980mm long, the S7 is a seriously big car, although the sleek coupe-like profile helps disguise any notion of bulk. The cabin is designed to comfortably seat four adults - and can seat five - while the electrically powered rear hatch rises to reveal a sizeable boot that can expand to 1,390 litres with the rear seat backs folded. At motorway speeds, a rear spoiler extends from the rear hatch to improve stability. Other cues that will help you spot an S7? Aside from the S7 and V8T badging, look out for the redesigned single-frame grille, the front bumper, the sculpted sills, the rear bumper, the diffuser and the tailpipes. A lot of work has gone into endowing the S7 with just the right amount of visual muscle.
Market and Model
With 'standard' cars priced at around £62,000, the S7 doesn't seem bad value for money at all. There aren't many cars that can touch it for its combination of power and presence. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the S7 is that it isn't trying to be something it's not. It's never going to be a track car and doesn't pretend to be. It's a car for getting a hustle on big roads and that ability doesn't always come cheaply. Whether it does it a whole lot better than a 3.0TDI A7 which retails at around £20k less is a value judgement you'll need to make. Equipment levels are predictably overstuffed. Some of the finishing speaks of a real attention to detail, with S badges, a red ring on the start-stop button, an S7 logo in the illuminated door sill trims, an aluminium strip on the S tronic selector lever and aluminium shift paddles all burnishing the look and feel rather agreeably. The footrest and the pedals are also made of stainless steel, while the soft keys of the MMI operating system are in an aluminium-look finish. Also fitted as standard equipment are xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights, a driver information system with colour display and an MMI radio plus audio and operating system.
Cost of Ownership
It's easy to get a bit excitable at the ordering stage, but as long as you can keep your options selections on the right side of reasonable, you can help cap off depreciation to an extent. Big petrol-engined cars tend to lose value quicker than diesel ones, so you'll need to keep both eyes open when going into S7 ownership. Fuel economy is one area where you'll probably be pleasantly surprised, that Cylinder on Demand technology making the car very efficient on long motorway cruises and helping contribute to an overall economy figure of 29.4mpg. Best of luck replicating that though. You'll probably find the throttle pedal on this car has strangely addictive qualities. It's worth remembering what a niche model this S7 is. Audi sold nearly 114,000 cars in 2011 yet would count 100 S7 sales this year as an achievement. That's less than a thousandth of their UK throughput. When couched in those terms, is the S7 an irrelevance? Not really. It builds brand equity and looks damn good while doing so. It also underscores Audi's technical credentials. There aren't many other cars this big and this powerful which will still emit just 225g/km of carbon dioxide. I can remember driving a 177bhp Audi A6 2.4 that couldn't match that figure.
The Audi S7 is a car that merits a measured approach. It is a sporting car rather than a sports car, its blend of talents making it like a mainstream A7 with a bit extra in hand rather than a hard-riding RS-style Audi that's been tuned back a couple of notches. That in itself is no bad thing. You'll enjoy the S7 for its smooth ride, its effortless powerplant, the dizzying amount of technology built into it and its slick-shifting transmission. Couched in these terms it's hard to judge it anything but a success. Above all, it's a mature car. That hasn't always been the case with some S model cars bearing the four rings, as they often prioritised big power over virtually everything else, but the S7 is a more rounded contender. What's the definition of cool? Not having to try too hard? The S7 barely breaks a sweat.