Traditionally, a top-of-the line roadster or Coupe was a discretionary purchase made by someone who enjoys driving, and wishes to make a different statement once the need for a large saloon for business or family is behind them.
However, priorities seem to be different these days, and the need to carry two rear seat passengers in a four-door car with more style and individuality than a staid luxury saloon has become a requirement of at least part of this buyer group.
Enter the Audi A7 Sportback, BMW 6-Series GT, and Mercedes CLS, three quite different takes on the art of blending elegant Coupe lines with four-door practicality. What these three have in common though is a niche market position between the mid-size and luxury limousine classes in their respective model ranges.
Continuing the success of the first generation A7 Sportback of 2010, the new car is clearly an evolutionary design. But while its proportions remain very similar the body surface treatment and details follow the current Audi styling idioms.
In keeping with this are less prominent wheel arches, which extend from distinct rear shoulders that give the car a tougher stance. Up front, the LED headlamps that flank the large blacked out grille are offered in three versions – LED technology, HD Matrix LED, and HD Matrix LED with Audi laser light. The laser light variant is visually distinguished by a blue emitter element that can be clearly seen within the cluster, even in broad daylight. At the rear, the full width LED tail light strip visually emphasises the cars width.
Aerodynamic efficiency is well served by the 0.27 drag coefficient, but the A7’s sleek shape suffers from lift over the rear axle at high speed. The engineering solution is an electrically powered rear spoiler that rises at around 120km/h to provide 50kg of downforce at the A7’s electronically limited 250km/h top speed.
The cabin is where really massive changes have been wrought and the new interior bears scant resemblance to what went before. As on the current A8 new processors in the infotainment system are 50 times faster than before and have two large touchscreen displays - a 1540x720 pixel, 10.1 inch on the dashboard, and a 1280x660, 8.6-inch screen below it on the centre console. The bigger screen looks after infotainment, while the smaller one controls the HVAC system and some convenience features. It also has text input by handwriting or virtual keyboard.
The 12.3-inch (diagonal measurement) Virtual Cockpit instrument pack in front of the driver will be familiar to anyone who has driven one of the current Audi A4, TT or R8 models. A head-up display is an option.
The front seats are extremely comfortable. Our high spec test car seats had electric adjustments in all directions plus lumber support. Seat heating and cooling are other functions expected of a car in this class and were present and accounted for.
The three optional trim levels are standard, design selection and S line sport package, with a choice of Nappa leather and Alcantara, or Valcona leather. The contrast between the black piano lacquer on the 55 TSFI and open pored wood on my 50 TDI test cars showed off the breadth of choice for the wood inlays.
Rear seat legroom is good, and seems comparable to the current A6 sedan or a short wheelbase A8. The sloping roofline hardly impinges on rear headroom, and my six feet one inch tall colleague had no problems.
One of the advantages the A7 has leveraged over the CLS from day one is the versatility of its hatchback design, which pushed Mercedes to expensively create the Shooting Brake variant after the fact for their second generation CLS.
As you would expect of a large hatchback, the generous 535 litre boot morphs into a capacious 1,390 litre cargo area when the 40/60 split rear seats are folded down. If you are a keen golfer you will be glad to learn that the wider 1,050mm opening now allows two golf bags to be placed across the boot floor.
The most basic A7 Sportback comes with 18-inch wheels, with sizes extending to 19, 20 and 21-inch. The 21-inch size is standard on flagship models with air suspension, which looks good on a car of this size. Our 55 TFSI test car was shod with 8.5Jx21-inch alloys wrapped in 255/35ZR21 Pirellis, while the 50 TDI came with 8.5Jx20-inch wheels and 255/40ZR20 Michelins.