Audi A6 & A7 Sportback

Tech-savvy Audis now sportier, better value

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

ENTERING middle age with nary a visible wrinkle sounds like an impossible dream, but Audi’s A7 Sportback has managed to pull it off. Broad and muscular, yet also svelte, this striking liftback-coupe still has the star power its more conservative A6 sedan sibling lacks. It’s such a goddamn looker we doubt its beauty will ever fade.

Visual cues to the facelifted Audis are mild. New headlights and tail-lights – LED at both ends, with ‘dynamic’ indicators on most models, and super-tech Matrix LED units optional up front – are what people will notice first, followed by a standard S-Line exterior package, even on the entry-level A6. But it’s the fresh multimedia and mechanical reshuffle that legitimately sets the 2015 range apart.

For $79,900, the base A6 gets a completely new drivetrain. Gone is the old 132kW 2.0-litre turbopetrol four with Multitronic CVT, replaced by a new 140kW/320Nm 1.8-litre turbo-petrol tied to a new-gen seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. It’s a sweet and efficient engine and Audi claims it will hit 100km/h in 7.9sec, which is impressive for a big front-driver that consumes just 5.7L/100km.

It’s quite a capable drive, too, with a quiet, reasonably absorbent ride on 18-inch wheels, and decent adhesion, but this is no driver’s car. Steering that feels distant from the action, combined with a relatively inert chassis, means the base A6 is more about driveway presence than driver appeal.

Move up the ladder and things quickly improve. The heavily re-engineered 3.0-litre TDI V6, now with 160kW/500Nm like the super-frugal ‘TDI Ultra’ European version, gets all-wheel drive for strong off-the-line performance and a sizeable dynamic gain. With 60 percent of drive fed to the rear, the quattro A6 and A7 TDIs ($99,900 and $115,400) are far more involving to drive than the 1.8, and they’re quick, with 0-100 in 6.6sec, backed by 5.1L/100km.

But by far our favourite variant is the 3.0-litre bi-turbo TDI quattro ($124,900 for the A6, $144,900 for the A7). Punching out 235kW and a chunky 650Nm from 1400- 2800rpm, the bi-turbo TDI is a closet performance car. And if you also tick adaptive air suspension ($4160) and the sports rear differential ($2245), it’s a seriously compelling piece of dynamic excellence. There’s even an active exhaust that fills the otherwise hushed cabin with a rumbling growl (if you nudge the auto into Sport mode) to accompany its 5.0sec 0-100km/h time.

The new entry-level 1.8-litre A6 may be comparatively uninspiring, but from a nonenthusiast’s perspective, it’s a far from stingy entry ticket to classy, four-ringed luxury. 0

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi A6 1.8TFSI 1798cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 140kW @ 4200-6200rpm 320Nm @ 1400-4100rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1570kg 7.9sec (claimed) 5.7L/100km $79,900 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Base A6’s front seats, uninspiring front-drive dynamics and ageing looks Build quality and finish; excellent biturbo diesel; rapid S6/S7; slick 1.8T

Art to heart

THE frameless-doored A7 and S7 Sportbacks command a substantial premium over the A6s on which they’re based, and weigh slightly more too, but as a piece of slick automotive sculpture, that sheetmetal appeal is hard to ignore. The turbo-V8 S7 now produces 331kW, good for 4.6sec to 100km/h, and while it remains unbeaten for performance, presence and appointments, a smartly optioned bi-turbo A7 3.0 TDI is almost as good for tens of thousands less.