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First impressions last - First drive: Audi A7 Sportback 3.0TDI quattro SE

  • First drive: Audi A7 Sportback 3.0TDI quattro SE - 0
  • First drive: Audi A7 Sportback 3.0TDI quattro SE - 1
  • First drive: Audi A7 Sportback 3.0TDI quattro SE - 2
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It's a lot of money for a family-sized hatchback - but this is no ordinary hatchback.

(Editors note: even though this car is not for sale in the U.S. we thought our readers might like to see what is available on the other side of the pond.)

Considering it’s really little more than an A6 saloon with a hatchback tail grafted on, the A7 has quite a presence. It resonated with a degree of menace as it crunched the gravel of the Octane car park, reminding me of my reaction when I first saw the original Mercedes-Benz CLS: it could be Darth Vader’s wheels.

As Mercedes has relaunched the CLS in much blander style, the field is suddenly open for Audi to exploit – and its USP is that its hatchback tail adds practicality as well as extending the sweeping roofline down to the tail.

Some Audis make a fabulous first impression only to let themselves down on further acquaintance – but that’s not the case here. Inside, as we’ve come to expect of Audis, it’s even more appealing than outside, with a beautifully finished and elegant slimline dashboard, a well-judged driving position and ample cabin space – it is nearly 5m long, after all. The boot’s long too, if slightly on the shallow side, but access is good and if you were after something you can lug wardrobes in, you’d be buying an A6 Avant anyway.

The 242bhp 3.0-litre diesel V6 emits a low-pitched granular hum and never sounds less than sportingly refined even when stretched. Not that you need to stretch it much: there’s plenty of shove from low down and the seven-speed S tronic transmission offers the choice of manual over-ride via paddles or tipping the gear selector, or you can leave it to its own devices and waft along in near-silence. Motorway cruising is achieved with exemplary refinement and we scored fuel economy around the 38mpg mark in mixed driving – not bad for such a large, brisk and luxurious car, if rather short of the claimed 47.1mpg.

All good so far, and we’re at the point where there’s usually a ‘but’ coming. Only not this time, because this Audi has suspension and steering that don’t serve to diminish  its undeniable visual and cruising appeal. Put it up against a BMW 5-series and, yes, you’ll conclude that the Beemer is more of an enthusiast’s tool, with greater keenness for corners and better feedback and balance as you carve through them. But the A7 is pretty good too; a bit more front-heavy and number at the helm, but utterly predictable and – crucially – never annoying.

That’s mainly because Audi has managed to achieve greater consistency in steering response and damping control than we’ve come to expect from its cars. There’s even (whisper it) some subtlety at work here, as though Audi no longer needs to prove the rattle-free build quality of its cars by making sure they ride with a crashing firmness that would have lesser rivals in bits.

There’s some programmability available, so you can tailor damping firmness, steering response, throttle sensitivity and the like, and it’s fine set to Auto. Otherwise it’s worth fiddling with so you get the soft ride with the keen accelerator and leave the steering set to Comfort: the more aggressive setting is disconcertingly artificial, building in weight far too quickly once you’re off-centre.

All the A7’s dynamic appeal is available for much less money in the A6, but we wouldn’t blame you for gunning for this A7 even at £48,010 because it offers such individualistic style. It’s as good to drive as it is to look at.

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