Audi might not have invented the concept of the 'four-door coupe', but with the first generation A7 Sportback it certainly ran with it, turning out a dramatic fastback shape that managed to take Audi’s otherwise restrained and often samey styling and give it a new personality.
Time and the proliferation of similarly sleek models from rivals has dulled that original car’s visual impact, and gentle evolutions like the latest A7 Sportback will never delight like their predecessors, but the new car brings with it updated technology, subtle styling revisions and the promise of better performance and economy.
In terms of exterior and interior styling Audi has largely hit its mark, but what the latest A7 fails to bring to the table is a suitable ride and handling compromise. Put simply, it’s neither comfortable enough to effectively serve as a luxury car, nor entertaining enough to hit the spot as a driver’s car – hobbled by a jittery and unsettled ride, and a combination of numb steering and slovenly responses.
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Those pounding up and down the motorway are less likely to discover these shortcomings, and for them the excellent cabin quality and design, hushed engines, absence of wind noise and strong performance will all be enough to justify the purchase – but Audi can, and should, do better for one of its most desirable models.Audi A7 Sportback in detail
Performance and 0-60mph time - The 55 TFSI petrol is the quicker of the pair, out-sprinting the 50 TDI diesel by four-tenths to 62mph. Both hit a limited 155mph and both are smooth and refined, though fuel costs aside we prefer the petrol’s delivery.
Engine and gearbox - Choice of petrol or diesel V6s, the diesel using permanent all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic, the petrol with on-demand all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Both feature 48V mild hybrid tech.
Ride and handling - Neither as comfortable nor as entertaining as we’d like from a car like this. Very refined indeed on smooth roads, but less so on poor UK surfaces. Neither air suspension nor all-wheel steering seem worth the money.
MPG and running costs - Diesel models are competitive with rivals in terms of economy, while the petrol 55 TFSI should use a little less fuel than its closest petrol competition.
Interior and tech - Cabin design, quality and technology to lead the class, if a little anodyne for some. The touchscreens aren’t perfect, but probably the best of their type.
Design - Familiarity with A7s has dulled their visual impact, so the new model doesn’t seem as sharp as it once might, but fans of the model should find plenty to like.Prices, specs and rivals
The bottom line for A7 Sportback pricing is £54,940; that gets you the 50 TDI quattro in Sport trim. Spending £55,140 steps you up to the 55 TFSI in the same Sport trim, while S line models begin at £57,840 for the diesel and £58,040 for the petrol.
Sport specification nets LED headlights and tail lights, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, Audi Drive Select, heated and folding door mirrors, Pre-sense safety tech and lane departure warning and cruise control as standard. S line goes further with Matrix LED headlights, unique LED daytime running lights, 20-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension (which cuts 10mm from the ride height), an S line styling package and S line interior trim changes.
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To this you can add features like adaptive conventional suspension (£1125) or air suspension (£2000), four-wheel steering (£1900), and a sport differential (£1500). The cost can quickly mount up, though as we’ve stated in the ride and handling section you can probably hold on to the extra cash required for the four-wheel steering and air suspension, since neither significantly improves the driving experience.
The A7 Sportback’s closest rivals are the Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW 6-series Gran Coupe. The former is newest to the market while the latter is about to be replaced by the 8-series, so if you’re seriously struggling over your decision it might be worth waiting for BMW to show its hand before you opt for the others.
As a driver’s car the Mercedes shades the Audi, both riding better and handling with more aplomb, while its new inline-six engines are smoother than the Audi’s V6s. The Audi fights back with a great cabin, but for the time being the CLS gets our nod as the best large and luxurious four-door coupe.
Performance and 0-60mph time
Whether petrol or diesel’s your poison, neither stands head or shoulders above the other in accelerative terms and both offer more than enough performance to put the Sportback on a par with its rivals.
Quickest by a small margin is the 55 TFSI, which covers the industry-standard 0-62mph sprint in 5.3 seconds before eventually running into a 155mph limiter. The engine’s tone is predictably muted on the race to the red line, but the distant, cultured sound isn’t unpleasant and remains audible enough to let you know when the engine is working hard.
The diesel is quieter still, but again its six-cylinder note sends the right messages to the driver without sending excessive vibration back to the cabin. Drop the hammer from a complete stop and you’ll pass 62mph in 5.7 seconds, again on the way to 155mph, but the diesel does its work with slightly less commotion.
In general day-to-day driving the diesel’s easy-going mid-range is quite an appealing characteristic, but if fuel costs aren’t a consideration the petrol is probably the more pleasant companion, still offering plenty of torque when you need it but also a smoother, more linear delivery than the diesel can manage. It feels a little keener off the mark too, which contributes to its more responsive feeling.
Engine and gearbox
Two drivetrains are currently available in the A7 Sportback. Both feature three-litre engines, both are V6, and both use Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive technology, but from there the two differ.
One is a diesel, badged 50 TDI quattro and developing 282bhp between 3500rpm and 4000rpm and a brawny 457lb ft of torque spread between 2250rpm and 3000rpm. Diesel models are equipped with an eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission and conventional quattro permanent all-wheel drive with a self-locking, electronically controlled centre differential. In Dynamic mode the diff sends more torque to the rear wheels – up to 85 per cent in the most extreme cases.
The other is petrol. This carries 55 TFSI quattro badging (nope, we’re still unconvinced by Audi’s latest naming strategy) and produces its 335bhp maximum power output from 5000rpm to 6400rpm. Its 369lb ft torque output might be less mighty than the diesel’s, but petrol drivers do get the benefit of it being delivered from just 1370rpm, all the way to 4500rpm. It uses a seven-speed dual-clutch 'S tronic' transmission.
It too features quattro all-wheel drive, but not the same system as the diesel. Audi bills it 'quattro Ultra' technology. This is primarily implemented for efficiency (Audi’s 'Ultra' tag first appeared on its hybrid Le Mans racers), and features a multi-plate clutch centre differential with the ability to decouple drive to the rear axle. This makes the 55 TFSI front-wheel drive in most conditions, with the ability to call upon the rear axle when necessary. Responses here can again be adjusted using Audi’s drive select system.
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Another feature of both cars is 48V mild hybrid technology. As part of a 48V electrical system (with a lithium-ion battery in the boot) the A7 Sportback uses a belt-driven alternator starter for quick and efficient starting, and to re-start the engine following periods of engine-off, decoupled-drive coasting. It’s also capable of recuperating energy during deceleration, while a conventional pinion starter is included for cold-start situations.
Ride and handling
Here’s where the A7 Sportback’s shine begins to dull. Dull being the operative word here, since neither petrol nor diesel A7 is particularly entertaining to drive.
It starts with the steering, which feels slightly slow to respond around the straight ahead. Good for stability at high speeds on the Autobahn, but less desirable on twistier roads. While matters improve as you wind on more lock and the rack is always consistent, your fingers won’t be blessed with any feedback, so directing the A7 is more administrative duty than pleasurable activity.
We’ve also significant misgivings about the A7’s ride quality. Having tried cars on both conventional steel springs and the optional air suspension set-up, neither is as pliant as say, a Mercedes-Benz CLS, and both seem to induce a drumming resonance through the expansive interior that harms the A7’s otherwise very impressive levels of refinement.
Of the two set-ups we’d suggest saving your money and opting for conventional springs. The air suspension might give you a greater range of suspension compliance and body control, but it’s further behind the conventional set-up at its worst (juddering over sudden and high-frequency bumps) and it is ahead at its best (pliancy and body control at higher speeds).
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You can also give the dynamic all-wheel steering a miss. While it pays dividends at lower speeds, cutting around a metre from the A7’s turning circle, it doesn’t seem to offer a great deal more agility in other situations.
The new Sportback is undoubtedly competent, offering plenty of grip and stability to its driver, predictable responses and, on smoother roads, class-leading refinement, but its basic dynamic set-up is an unhappy compromise, neither comfortable enough to be a luxury car nor entertaining enough to be a sporty one.
MPG and running costs
Most frugal of the A7 pair is the 50 TDI, which achieves a combined economy figure of 48.7mpg and CO2 of 150g/km. This is pretty much par for the class – Audi lists its closest rivals as the CLS 350d, BMW 630d Gran Turismo and 640d Gran Coupe.
The two BMWs also achieve mpg figures in the high 40s, and the latest straight-six Mercedes CLS 350d (also with standard all-wheel drive) has a provisional combined figure of an identical 48.7mpg to the Audi, which suggests an identical CO2 figure, too. It’s worth noting that the 6-series models are on their way out and an 8-series is due, so expect BMW to fight back with those cars.
The 55 TFSI is less fuel-efficient outright than the diesel, but Audi’s decision to fit quattro Ultra part-time all-wheel drive seems to have paid off, its 39.8mpg combined figure coming out ahead of the BMW 640i Gran Turismo and 640i Gran Coupe, which manage numbers in the mid-30s. The Mercedes-Benz does likewise, the latest in-line-six CLS 450 achieving 36.2mpg combined.
For other running costs it’s too early to say how A7 Sportback ownership might transpire, but as with other cars in its class, standard alloy wheel sizes of 19 and 20 inches mean tyres will not be cheap when replacement time rolls around. The Audi’s relatively frugal engines and resulting low CO2 figures do mean VED and BIK tax rates are a little lower than its predecessor, though.
Interior and tech
For all the A7 Sportback’s dynamic shortcomings it’s hard to imagine many owners being disappointed by the interior. In design, layout, construction and technology it’s probably the best in both its class and at its price point, and while the cabin of its Mercedes-Benz CLS rival feels a little more sumptuous and a little less po-faced, the A7 is ruthlessly well thought out and packed with cutting-edge tech.
That you’re staring at Audi’s Virtual Cockpit should be no surprise in a car this far up the range, but the A7 has also grabbed the double-touchscreen set-up from the larger A8 (now also implemented in the smaller A6) with configurable displays, smartphone-style controls and haptic feedback technology.
The latter is quite convincing, the vibrations being sent through the touchscreen doing a pretty good job of replicating the feel of pressing a physical button. The downside is that you still have to actually look where you’re pressing, since the screen gives you no more tactile feedback when prodding around unseen, but the 'buttons' are large enough that a rough stab usually gets the job done. Being able to pinch and swipe on maps or slide your finger fore and aft to adjust the temperature works well, too.
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Elsewhere, the A7’s cabin continues to impress. The seats aren’t quite as comfortable as those in the A8 but there’s enough padding here, and enough adjustment, that longer journeys would be little hardship. There’s plenty of rear seat space, too (and despite the rakish roofline, getting in and out isn’t difficult) and when the body isn’t drumming away to itself over bumps, refinement is otherwise excellent – acoustic glass and slick aerodynamics mean wind noise is basically non-existent at motorway speeds.
Audi’s LED lighting technology is very impressive, too. We’ll leave the unlocking and locking animations up to you – it’s either fun or distastefully flashy depending on your point of view – but they undoubtedly give the A7 a unique look among its rivals. And the LED headlight technology itself remains a worthwhile feature, the matrix LEDs of S Line models even more so. GPS guidance adjusts the beam pattern depending on the road you’re on, and the high beams pull the neat trick of adjusting around oncoming vehicles, to maximise your visibility without dazzling other traffic.
As with all of Audi’s models, the latest A7 Sportback’s design is a case of evolution over revolution. The basic silhouette and proportions remain relatively similar when compared to its predecessor – think a rakish, if substantial 'four-door coupe' with a low-slung roofline and relatively low, sharply cut-off tail. Surprisingly it’s a little shorter and a little narrower than its predecessor and a negligible 2mm taller, though a marginally extended wheelbase (from 2914mm to 2926mm) has been implemented to improve interior space.
Less appealingly, the latest A7 Sportback is no lighter than before, and in some cases a little heavier – the current range spans the 1815-1880kg range, compared to the old car’s 1755-1895kg.
Whether you see the new car’s styling as an improvement over its predecessor will depend on how keen you are on Audi’s recent trend for including sharp cuts and slashes down its cars’ flanks and above the wheelarches – the latter designed as a gentle homage to the old Audi Quattros and their box arches, now included on all new quattro-equipped models in the Audi range.
It undoubtedly looks more modern, but the evolutionary approach means some of the impact of the original A7 has been lost with time. The rear end is now less distinctive, too – not everyone liked the old model’s frowning rear lights, but the latest full-width strip (with its flashy light display on unlocking the car) could be considered a little too similar to the larger A8.16 Apr 2018
Since its launch in 2012, the Mazda CX-5 has offered a blend of engaging handling, neat hatchback-like styling and a practical interior. It may have been a mainstream, high-riding compact SUV, but it proved there could be an element of driving fun in ordinary 4x4s.
The latest model, launched five years after the original, sticks to the same winning formula. The proportions and detailing will be familiar to owners of the old model, but its bolder, sharper and marginally more aggressive design makes it one of the tidiest and handsome SUVs on the road.
It’s a similar story inside. To give it a more premium feel than its direct rivals from Nissan and Ford, there’s a greater use of soft-touch plastics and brushed-metal trim. However, while that means the cabin feels more upmarket, it’s barely any bigger than before. This means that when it comes to practicality, the CX-5 is class competitive rather than class leading – buyers looking to edge ahead in the space race should look to the Skoda Kodiaq, instead.
Image 4 of 9Mazda CX-5 in detail
Performance and 0-60 time summary – The CX-5 isn’t likely to win any races, but that’s not really the point of it anyway
Engine and gearbox summary – Mazda’s attempts to improve its SUV’s 2.2-litre diesel engine have made the CX-5 a refined and pleasant drive
Ride and handling summary – Mazda has managed to transfer some of the precision and control found in its sports car and hatchbacks to its SUV
MPG and running costs summary – With its tall body and high ground clearance, the CX-5 doesn’t have the best start in terms of economy, but it still performs well
Interior and tech summary – There’s nothing dramatic or surprising inside the CX-5, but it's simple, well laid-out and its infotainment system is a doddle to use
Design summary – The CX-5 combines some of Mazda’s concept-car styling cues with neat proportions and short overhang to make it one of the most attractive SUVs out therePrices, specs and rivals
Prices for the Mazda start at £24,895. For that you get the entry-level front-wheel drive, manual, petrol version, while the 2.2 D 175 AWD Sport Nav automatic – the most expensive CX-5 – costs £34,595. That looks a little costly until you consider that a similarly equipped VW Tiguan 2.0 TDI 190 4Motion will set you back a not inconsiderable £37,415. By contrast, the more practical seven-seat Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI SE L undercuts the VW, but that matches the Mazda at £34,470. And while the Skoda is not quite as engaging to drive, it’s close enough that some will sacrifice the sliver of extra satisfaction behind the wheel for the increase in space.
Seat’s Ateca is probably the only other small, affordable SUV that can rival the Mazda for driving enjoyment. Prices for the Ateca start at an incredibly low £18,675, but it doesn’t take long before it becomes an over £30,000 car when you start adding four-wheel drive, a diesel engine and an auto gearbox.
There’s a choice of 2-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel engines in the CX-5 (both have four cylinders and are turbocharged). The petrol produces 163bhp and 155lb ft of torque, while the diesel engine (by far the most popular in the UK) is available with two outputs: 148bhp and 280lb ft, and 173bhp and 310lb ft.
Outright performance isn’t anything to write home about, with 0-62mph times ranging from 10.5sec for the two-wheel-drive manual petrol, to 8.8sec for the 173bhp diesel all-wheel-drive automatic model. The slowest accelerating car also has the lowest top speed of 122mph, but, oddly, it’s the 148bhp two-wheel-drive diesel that has the highest top speed at 127mph.Engine and gearbox
The 2.2-litre diesel engine is the only version we’ve currently tested. It’s much like the engine in the previous CX-5, but subtle changes to the internals aim to make it quieter and more refined.
Some of these gains have been made with improved sound insulation, but there’s also a device that Mazda calls the Natural Sound Smoother, which consists of a special damper that sits within the engine’s connecting rod pin.
It’s only a small change, but the results are remarkably effective. At idle, the more powerful iteration of the 2.2-litre unit emits nothing more than a muted clatter, while under load the soundtrack is more petrol than diesel. It’s not exactly exciting, but the distant growl does make you second-guess the type of fuel that’s being used. On the move, the four-cylinder powerplant also responds more crisply to the throttle than most diesels, plus it revs with impressive keenness.
Accessing the engine’s potential is made easier by the standard six-speed manual ’box, which benefits from slick and precise shift action – there’s the spirit, if not quite the accuracy, of the MX-5 roadster in this transmission. A six-speed automatic is available with the diesel engine, too.
Our test car was also fitted with the brand’s latest four-wheel-drive system, which is standard fit on the 173bhp diesel and optional on the lower-powered 148bhp version – the petrol is front-wheel drive only. Called i-ACTIV AWD, the four-wheel-drive system uses 27 sensors to monitor everything from throttle application, yaw and steering inputs to decide how best to distribute the engine’s torque. Even switching on the windscreen wipers will subtly adjust the set-up as it primes itself for wet and slippery conditions. It’s all very clever.
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But, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Mazda’s mechanical make-up is its G-Vectoring system. It’s a system we’ve already seen on the 6 saloon and 3 hatchback, but this is the first time it has been applied to an SUV.
Essentially it’s torque vectoring, but unlike rival systems it doesn’t use the brakes to sharpen turn-in and dial out understeer. Instead, it subtly reduces engine torque as you turn the wheel, momentarily decelerating the car and shifting the weight forward and over the front tyres for increased grip.Ride and handling
As with all Mazda models, the CX-5 has been developed around the firm’s SkyActiv philosophy. This effectively means engineers have strived to make the car as light, efficient and fun to drive as possible. In the case of the CX-5, the use of the old car’s platform means the kerb weight is largely unchanged, but increased use of high-tensile steel means that torsional rigidity has been boosted by 15 per cent.
Work has also been undertaken on the suspension, too, with the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear benefiting from plenty of revisions. The biggest changes revolve around new dampers with altered valving and the use of liquid-filled bushes for greater accuracy and reduced vibration.
As well as its SkyActiv philosophy, Mazda places great emphasis on its ‘Jinba Ittai’ theory. The literal translation of this phrase has something to do with horses and riders, but the brand has reappropriated the phrase and changed the meaning to ‘car and driver as one’.
Now, you can see where this driver-centric approach would work with the MX-5, or even one of the firm’s front-wheel-drive hatches, but can it really be successfully applied to an SUV? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.
From the moment you pull away, it’s clear the same team that created the MX-5 has developed this machine. Obviously you sit much higher and the view out is rather different, but the driving position is spot on for your surroundings, and the major controls have the same well-judged weighting.
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Point the CX-5 down some typically twisted back roads and it responds remarkably well. The steering is precise and has a natural rate of response, making it easy to place the car exactly where you want it. There’s also more grip to lean on than you’d expect, so you can push harder than you’d dare in other similarly high-riding models.
More surprising is the excellent body control. Yes, there’s some roll through tighter corners, but it’s only when travelling quickly on really ragged roads that the Mazda starts to get a little flustered. Even then, the CX-5 never feels wayward, but then you’re never really going all that fast, anyway. Instead, the Mazda gently reminds you that this is a tall vehicle that tips the scales at nearly 1,700kg in diesel all-wheel-drive guise.
The CX-5 also gets the slickest application yet of Mazda’s G-Vectoring system. Unlike in the 6 saloon and 3 hatchback where you’re aware of the engine subtly throttling back the torque, in the CX-5 the set-up is seamless, with the driver’s only clue to its effectiveness being the unusually strong front-end bite when turning in.
And it’s not just the chassis’ composure in corners that marks the Mazda out as a surprisingly engaging choice. The pedals are perfectly spaced, while the brakes are progressive and offer decent stopping power. The CX-5 also smothers bumps well, avoiding the stiff-legged low speed ride that often affects cars like this. Factor in the decent suppression of wind and road noise, and the Mazda makes for refined and relaxed progress when all you want to do is take it easy.
If you’re in a position where you have no choice but to drive a compact off-roader that’ll spend most of its time on tarmac, then the CX-5 should be close to the top of your shortlist.MPG and running costs
Despite being a high-riding SUV, with all the aerodynamic sensitivity of a house, as well as big, expensive tyres, buyers of the CX-5 will still demand that it’s economical to run. It having overcome its 4x4 traits to be involving to drive is simply not enough.
Mazda’s efforts to keep the CX-5’s kerb weight as low as possible (1345kg for the lightest two-wheel-drive petrol, and 1545kg for the heaviest, the four-wheel-drive diesel automatic) have benefited its efficiency. The official combined MPG figures range from a respectable 47.1mpg for the petrol and an impressive 56.5mpg from the two-wheel-drive 148bhp diesel.
The 225/55 R19 tyres that come with the Sport Nav level trim’s 19-inch wheels cost from around £120 for some decent rubber, to over £160 for ones from premium brands.Interior and tech
The CX-5 is not groundbreaking inside. The design is conventional, the materials are the usual set of leathers and plastics, and the dominant colour is black. However, what it lacks in exuberance it more than makes up for with a sensible, ergonomic design, and a solid, quality finish.
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The icons on the buttons are clear and easy to read, as are the dials. None of the functions seem misplaced, hard to reach or annoyingly different just for the sake of it. The infotainment is simple and easy to use, too: switching between the radio and satnav – a task you might frequently undertake – requires the press of just one button.Design
SUVs are never the most exciting, exotic or alluring vehicles on the road. Yet Mazda’s latest CX-5, with its short overhangs, neat lines and tough proportions, is a handsome car. Its big grille opening, surrounded by sharp lines and shallow, mean lights give it an aggression that none of its rivals possess.
The only aspect of the CX-5 that doesn’t live up to its concept-car looks are its wheels, which look small and weedy – even the optional 19-inch items – by comparison to the butch bodywork.12 Apr 2018