First Drive: 2019 Audi A7

Cape Town – When the Audi A7 broke cover on July 26, 2010 at the Pinakothek der Moderne art museum in Munich in 2010, this sleek fastback five-door from Ingolstadt dispelled the notion that abject beauty and functionality were mutually exclusive. Case in point: I have stuffed an upright bass, amplifier, and various other musicker detritus within the hatch of an A7 and showed up at a gig looking like a million bucks (the car, not me). And unlike moi, the Audi A7 does not show its age.

The digital acreage of a Boeing Dreamliner’s cockpit.

Of course, nigh on eight years is an eternity in the car world, and with technology escalating at such a fevered pitch, especially within the Audi camp, the A7 is suddenly the oldest car in the stable. There’s no room in this modern world for its warm, organic cabin with the charming analogue gauge cluster and real buttons.

So Audi’s runway model gets a complete redo for the 2019 model year. We'll see it in Canada the third quarter of 2018.

It might seem like a lot of trouble and expense for Audi to fly the world’s motoring press to Cape Town, South Africa, for this launch, but once here in this sunny tip of the continent, it all makes sense. Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, beautiful roads, and a beautiful car with which to take it all in.

This second-generation A7 carries forward its distinctive swept-back profile but the surfaces are more complex, and with its wider haunches and shorter overhangs the A7 sits on the tarmac with more tension and purpose. The back end is dominated by a new LED lighting element that spans the width of the car, and up front we see a large, sharply defined version of Audi’s hexagonal grill.

Clad in Ara Blue, the car we drove surely got its fair share of appreciating stares, but this new A7 will never garner the oohs and aahs of the original, only because, well, this profile is no longer brand-spanking-new.

The 2019 A7 rides on Audi’s fresh scalable spaceframe which is a mélange of aluminum, steel, carbon, and titanium. Compared to the outgoing A7, it is lighter and brags ten percent more torsional rigidity and thirty percent more lateral rigidity. Smaller than the A8, its wheelbase and track are identical to the upcoming new Audi A6 sedan.

When it arrives in Canada for the fourth quarter of 2018, the new A7 3.0 TSFI will be powered by a single-turbo 3.0L V6 that makes 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft from 1,370 to 4,500 rpm. A seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive are standard. The V6 gets assistance from a mild-hybrid system that incorporates a belt-driven alternator/starter dubbed BAS. It recoups energy during deceleration and, when the 48-volt battery is full, it supplies torque at lower speeds to aid with the car’s acceleration under certain conditions. Audi claims a 0.7 L/100 km improvement in fuel economy.

Unlike the outgoing A7, whose interior was defined by organic, sweeping architecture and artful wood inlays, this new A7’s digs are considerably more stoic. Oh yes, the assembly, attention to detail, and quality of material is unassailable, but there’s nothing really warm and cuddly in here. A serious, horizontal aesthetic ditches almost all tactile buttons and controls for a pair of central haptic-feedback touchscreens – or “black panels” in Audi-speak. Factor in the standard 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit that sits ahead of the driver, and you have the digital acreage of a Boeing Dreamliner’s cockpit.

The pin-sharp graphics are spectacular, with the upper 10.1-inch screen dealing with infotainment while the lower, slightly smaller panel controls vehicle functions. It also acts as a writing tablet for inputting navigation info and the like. Scribble in “fast food” and the A7 will dutifully bring a list of the closest artery-clogging establishments with their Yelp ratings.

The haptic/audio buttons provide a modicum of feedback, and generally the system is easy to negotiate, offering the de rigueur pinch and swipe operations. It’s configurable, and with a processor fifty times faster than the outgoing unit, response time is instant. Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity will be standard.

The 2019 A7 is armed with the same sensor suite as the flagship A8 (ultrasonic, short-range radar, long-range radar, and laser) which means it paints a full 360-degree picture of what is around the vehicle. That also means that every available safety and driver’s system is on the A7’s menu, along with the A8’s AI (Audi Intelligence) Level 3 Traffic Jam Assist autonomous system. The latter is ready to go but Audi can't "activate" it because it's not legal anywhere in the world – legislation has yet to catch up. So keep your hands on the wheel.

Full LED headlights are standard, and while we can’t get the groovy European matrix technology that steers into corners and eliminates any high-beam dazzling of oncoming traffic, there will an available laser element that illuminates twice as far as the LEDs. It only operates when conditions allow.

The A7s we drove were equipped with the top-spec air suspension, and that, in concert with strides Audi has made in quelling cabin noise, made for exceptionally serene cruising. Also fitted was the optional active rear-wheel steering system that is new to the A7. At speeds up to 60 km/h, the rear wheel will steer up to 5 degrees counter to the front, shaving 1.1 metres off the turning circle to 11.1 metres. Above that, the rears work in tandem with the front wheels, aiding in high-speed stability.

As with most Audis, choosing from the Drive Select menu (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual) alters the parameters of ride stiffness, throttle response, transmission mapping, and steering feel. Once we had escaped the confines of Cape Town and started coursing the spectacularly scenic coastal roads, it was time to select Dynamic mode.

The 2019 A7 is an adept handler, but the light and numb steering does not encourage much in the way of spirited driving. She’s a cool mistress, this new A7. There’s grip, there’s poise, and the 3.0L turbo V6 is a torquey, free-revving sweetheart, but driver engagement is not what this Audi is all about. No surprise really, as that seems to be the dynamic signature of any Audi that is not an outright sports car.

That said, the 2019 A7 is more than happy to set a brisk pace and it sure is quick, blasting through the 100 km/h benchmark in 5.3 seconds. The seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic shifts quickly and smoothly, and responds instantly to shift paddle requests. What will take you by surprise is how the rear-wheel steering aids with the car’s agility through tight switchbacks.

In Europe there is a dedicated, lowered steel-sprung sports suspension. Will we get that in Canada? Unlikely. Those buying this new A7 will be embracing its tech, luxury, and style. And functionality. There’s an extra 13 mm of legroom and 5 mm of headspace in the back, and while cargo capacity has not increased, it remains a healthy 535 L, expanding to 1,390 L with the 60/40-split rear seat folded.

Currently available on autoTRADER.ca

At this point, Canadian specs for the 2019 Audi A7 are thin on the ground. Know that its beauty remains, its available technology has escalated to brag the potential implementation of Level 3 autonomy, and it will go down the road keeping you comfier while burning fewer fossil fuels. What it might not do is draw you into the driving experience like the old car did, as this fetching technocrat feels a couple of steps further removed from the human experience.

Haute Voiture. 2/9/2018 6:35:00 AM