Peer back into the German premium history book and there are touchstone models that truly embody the qualities a brand’s badge cachet is built upon. More often than not they’re a large sports ‘executive saloon’, with depth and quality to match the trappings.
Well before the world got too drunk on wings and horsepower, figureheads of European prestige embodied balance and restraint together with dignity and class. Remember?
Perhaps you should sample the Audi S7 Sportback 2.9 TFSI quattro – or simply ‘S7’, to excuse the nomenclature – as a handy refresher.
Audis are nice. The S7 is different. It is, in a manner of many ways, what an Audi should be. You might imagine that back in late ’60s – with the shutters coming down on Audi predecessor Auto Union, “vorsprung durch technik” all shiny and new – today’s S7 would embody where the marque imagined it might be a century in the future.
Like its S6 four-door twin, the five-door S7 walks the luxo-performance line confidently yet subtly, and lays on the tech and safety thick if often inconspicuously – yet its coupe silhouette adds a more stylised confidence (and practicality) without overt ostentation.
Is it too subtle? Is it different, upscale, and unique enough to deserve its place as an Audi figurehead against the more common A4s, Q5s and RS3s of the family, either symbolically or in the actual experience?
The bi-turbo 2.9L V6-powered S7 clocks in at $159,500 before on-road costs. And you’d really want to like the cut of the Sportback’s jib because the five-door is around $10,000 pricier its technical doppelgänger, the S6 sedan.
If you like the general look but not the price point, the 3.0-litre turbo six-motivated A7 55 TFSI saves you around $26,000, although you’d have to splurge on costly options to approach the S7 look. While your heart might yearn for the turbo V8 RS7, the high-performer’s $224,000 before on-roads sting to the hip pocket is a stretch some aspirants can’t or won’t be willing to make.
Predictably, the gear-heads among us will inevitably give the excellent and similarly 2.9-powered RS4 Avant, at $147,900 list, more than cursory glance as a ‘practical performance’ solution.
The good news is that this new-generation S7, launched in May, is around $20,000 more affordable than the outgoing S7… which was V8 powered.
Our test car has raw ‘carbon twill’ interior inlays ($1700) and HD Matrix headlights with laser light ($2500) above the standard-fit HD Matrix units. They’re both desirable options.
There’s a $7700 Dynamic Package that bundles in a rear sport differential, variable-ratio front steering, and rear steering effect that we’d probably stick in the non-essential pile, frankly. Ditto the $18,000 ceramic brakes given the S7 is clearly no circuit carver and, unlike Germany, Australia’s speed limits hardly overtask the regular anchors.
As we outlined with our launch review, Audi lifts the S7’s tailgate and piles in the goodness. But let’s start outside.
‘S look’ front and rear styling is augmented by huge 21-inch Audi Sport rims that do the five-door’s dimensions justice, and the S7 has adaptive air suspension off the rack. Blackout ‘styling’ and privacy glass are par for the course, as is the HD Matrix LED headlight trickery and its fancy light show on start-up.
Premium touches? Metallic paintwork and the panoramic glass roof are standard, the frameless doors have power-assisted closing, and there’s tailgate foot gesture control for when your hands are full.
The S7 distinguishes itself from the A7 with fully-electric ‘S sport’ buckets in Valcona leather with heating and four-way lumbar adjustment, a multifunction wheel with electric adjustment, 12.3-inch digital instrumentation with S displays, a head-up display, and a complement of haptic touch glass control screens front and rear for the four-zone climate control.
Looks good, smells good. The leather package brings Nappa trim to the centre console, dashboard, door rails and armrests, inlays are in brushed aluminium, it gets trendy LED ambient lighting, and a fragrance system supplied with two supplied, erm, smells.
Infotainment wise, the S7 fits Audi’s high-grade MMI navigation plus with a 10.1-inch high-definition haptic touch screen featuring 3D-mapped sat-nav, DAB+, Bang & Olufsen 3D audio, handwriting recognition, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, along with inductive charging for Qi standard phones. Park sensing and camera viewing both offer 360-degree coverage.
The S7’s five-star ANCAP rating was based on the A6’s results with commendable category ratings. Adult occupant protection in particular scored a high 93 per cent, while child occupant protection (85 per cent) suffered a little for A7/S7’s slightly inflexible ISOFIX arrangement, specifically issues with affixing rearward-facing capsules.
The Audi also scored 81 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, where its all-speed AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection shone, while safety assist returned an average 78-per cent result where it got pinged specifically in speed assistance and a lack of roadside recognition smarts.
That said, the S7 does load in a lot active safety outside of the extremely clever HD Matrix headlights system that, with optional laser light added, effectively doubles the viewing range at night.
The ‘front pre-sense’ all-speed AEB is joined by rear pre-sense with reverse AEB, while blind-spot, active lane keeping, rear cross-traffic, side approach and intersection assistance are all standard. It also fits auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, ultrasonic-based parking assistance, and adaptive cruise control.
In fact, of anything we found the active systems a little too conservatively calibrated, specifically the rear cross-traffic system and its eagerness to haul on the brakes with a huge margin of clearance from an approaching vehicle.
Earlier comment that the S7 presents Audi done extra special is punctuated inside the cabin. I’d embarked on my S7 test experience directly from departing the latest TT – no slouch for interior presentation – but the large five-door is a rung or three higher in every area.
It looks (and smells) magnificent. Audi gets regular praise for interior execution, often deservedly in high-grade models, but the brand suffers at times for lacking model distinction in execution, both large and in detail. And there’s almost nothing about the S7 cabin that looks or seems like what you’d find in, say, an A1 or Q3.
Let’s make no bones about it: the High Street ambience makes this S7 – or at least goes a very long way to reinforcing it. The quality of the leather, the metallic switches, the HD haptic screens, that raw carbon inlay effect, and more all conspire to achieve the desired effect with aplomb. The content of the Virtual Cockpit and the mapping display of the navigation are richer and distinctly different to lesser offerings in the family.
These things, if seemingly esoteric, really do matter. The seats are superbly comfy, the surface design is ornate, the user interfaces slick and straightforward. There’s no evidence of cost consciousness anywhere. The net effect is the S7 feels properly grand and expensive.
The frameless windows, fundamentally four-adult oriented seating regardless of seatbelt count, and somewhat restricted rear headroom are all common coupe attributes. And given the roofline tapers cleanly beyond the B-pillar through the boot line, it’s a proper coupe at that – regardless of door count – according to car design convention.
Though the hair atop my 178cm frame brushes the row-two headlining it’s still roomy and limousine like, and the high-definition rear climate controls and illuminated seatbelt buckles, to find them easily in the dark, are neat upmarket touches.
The rear 40:20:40 split-fold seat backs stow, converting the S7’s boot from a huge 535 litres – you could probably fit a palette on the flat floor space – to a whopping 1390L as a two-seater. Practical? You bet.
Gone is the V8, a format you can’t get in a mere A7; arrived is a V6, which you can get in A7. Quite distinctly different V6s, mind, but that only goes some way to quelling the sense that S7 has downgraded its heartbeat, even in spirit if not actual figures and data.
Those familiar with Audi and Porsche machinery know both corporate cousins use a regular single-turbo 2995cc V6 (S4, Macan S) and a higher-performance bi-turbo 2894cc V6 (RS4, Macan GTS). They’re used in different ‘tunes’ and, in my experience, each marque claims majority development of the more heroic latter unit.
But crucial here is that, at 331kW (to 6700rpm) and 600Nm (from 1900rpm), you’re 81kW and 100Nm healthier packing the S7’s 2.9 than the A7 55’s larger-capacity 3.0. Yes, the same outputs as RS4 Avant.
Lament the loss of the old 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, but that produced the same power and 50Nm less. The seven-speed dual-clutch has been replaced in this new version with an eight-speed conventional automatic.
Performance? Audi claims 4.6 seconds to 100km/h, which is one-tenth shy of its S6 sedan twin if one-tenth swifter than the old eight-cylinder S7. That’s swift by any reasonable measure though perhaps the 2.1-plus-tonne weigh-bridge ticket is the immovable hurdle to swifter performance.
Unlike the RS4’s 2.9, this version of the engine has Audi’s clever EPC system, a sort of electro-initiated compressor spooling system to improve response, as well as its 48-volt sailing stop-start functionality to save fuel. Consumption? A claim of 8.5L/100km of pricey 98RON only, if thick into double figures in a real world of balanced everyday driving.
Further downstream, the quattro system’s static 40:60 front-rear torque split brings a rear bias though it can shuffle up to 70 per cent forward or up to 85 per cent rearward when conditions dictate.
Hit the road and from the get-go the S7 clearly tends more towards comfort than sportiness. The V6 soundtrack is a nice muted thrum that rises in volume with Sport mode, revs, and driver enthusiasm, but the Audi seems out to suppress noise rather to create it and it suits the vibe of the Sportback just fine.
In Auto drive mode, driven sedately around town, the S7 is almost serene. It blocks out ambient and tyre sounds impressively and the air suspension copes well with Sydney’s often crook road acne, though those large 21-inchers do tend to slap noticeably over expansion joints. Body control is pretty decent, the soft ride married to a bit of floatiness not unusual for upmarket air suspension applications.
At a cruise, it does feel bit unwieldy, if not overly so for something nudging five metres in length. It takes up most of any car space you want to occupy and those incessant proximity sensors are ever-present parking up or coming to a stop in traffic.
Grandest of grand
The Audi S7 is comfortable, quiet and quick GT
It’s not the most driver-centric car in Audi’s stable, mostly because the controls tend towards the light and aloof side. But the S7 does have an uncanny knack of flexing its muscles – in body control, in driver feedback – once you push on a bit, even without diving for the drive mode selector.
As is common in the Volkswagen Group, a tap of the transmission control puts the driveline (only) into Sport and even pointing S7’s bluff nose towards hill curves, that’s all that’s really required to get a hustle on.
Do so and the big Audi points, grips and goes: it’s just not that terribly interested in connecting the driver’s synapses the action. Is that such a bad thing? Not really. That’s because, on balance, it’s clearly aiming to offer the grandest of grand touring manners and the trade off for a slightly dulled experience behind the wheel for a fatigue-free long-hauling comfort is, the S7 convinces you, one suitably struck.
Its road manners aren’t without fault though. That electric turbo spooling feature doesn’t completely eradicate response times every time. And the eight-speed auto is susceptible to some low-speed palpitations – but these are two slightly tardy dimples on an otherwise well-polished experience.
Audi offers a fairly ordinary three years of unlimited-kilometre warranty from the date of first registration.
In terms of servicing costs, Audi offers upfront packages of $2350 for three years or $4110 for five years with intervals of 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
I imagine the S7 would be the perfect foil for bombing between Autobahns and Alpine Passes on that great European road trip – don’t hold your breath – even if you’d probably yearn for an RS-something for the particularly curvaceous bits of the route. Yet it also seems to fit Aussie grand touring requirement very nicely indeed.
It’s quick enough. It’s surprisingly practical. And more smartly priced, too, than the last version.
But crucially, it’s glove fit for that fine premium German saloon experience where balance, restraint, dignity and class are – or at least should be – requisite fortes.
Audi doesn’t sell many A7s, let alone pricier S7s, in Oz. And I suspect a good many A4 and Q3 owners who make up much larger numbers don’t truly know what they’re missing…