New Audi A7 (2018) loses conservative styling

The most amazing part of the new Audi A7 Sportback – a car not short of ‘you’re kidding, can it really?’ features – is that you can actually tell it’s new. Check out that craggy 3D lightsaber stretching across the low-lying hatchback’s tapered rump. That’s almost controversial.

Now move forward. Take in the rest of the new Audi A7. It’s based on the A8 and Q7’s building blocks, but gives us a good idea what the next A6 will look like. The LEDs illuminate in animated flourishes when the car’s unlocked. There are slashes in the flanks, and a wider, flatter grille than George Foreman’s family barbeque. This is an Audi you might notice, even when it isn’t chasing you down a motorway at a distance measurable only with an electron microscope.

Not a moment too soon, either. Audi’s design boss, Mark Lichte, has previously admitted to Top Gear that the old Russian-doll uniform approach was fine when Audi was an underdog, but now it’s up there with BMW and Mercedes. Same again design won’t really do, because people have short attention spans. These cars need to be prouder of the numerous technovations squeezed under the finely creased skin. And the A7 has – technical term here – oodles.

Based on the same underpinnings as the latest A8 limo and sharing much of its stunning touchscreen cockpit, the A7 has many of the same superpowers. It’ll be able to remotely park itself without you on board, and drive itself in traffic when its ‘level-three’ autonomy comes on stream in 2018. Its on-board 48-volt electrical system also means the engine can switch off at coast, while kinetic energy is harvested as you slow down.

When it goes on sale in February 2018, however, the eyes-off-the-road self-drive abilities won’t be available, and neither will they be downloadable via over-the-air updates. Why? Because Audi bullishly tells Top Gear that “our customers aren’t guinea pigs”. Ten internet points to anyone who guesses which carmaker that’s a thinly disguised swipe at…

For the longer, more capacious Audi A7 Sportback Mk2 (there’s more knee and headroom inside, but the thing is almost five metres long and two metres wide as a result), Audi’s headline act isn’t suspension that predicts the bumps ahead (a trick saved for new A8s), but instead, its most computerised steering system yet.

You turn the wheel, a computer works out the appropriate amount to twist the front wheels – a system we’ve really not been fans of in other Audis – and this time, the rears join in to slice 1.1m from the turning circle, or make high-speed lane changes less clenchy.

Like the SQ7 it’s related to, the new Audi A7 also has 48V electricity on board so the engine can utterly shut off when coasting, but all your screens and clever steering won’t black out. Meanwhile, the stop-start system now kills the engine as soon as the car’s speed drops below 20kph, in a bid to save even more fuel and urban emissions.

Speaking of which, we should talk engines. And we’d like to, but Audi’s being terribly coy. Apparently, four-cylinder turbo petrol and diesel versions will arrive in due course, but the launch engine being focused on is a ‘sonorously understated’ 3.0-litre V6 petrol good for 250kW and 500Nm. It pushes the A7 to 100kph in 5.3 seconds, and a predictable 250km/h limiter.

Healthy figures, but sadly it also comes attached to a stupid number: namely, Audi’s needlessly obtuse new power-class badging regime. ‘Audi A7 55 TFSI’ is what’ll be emblazoned on the V6 A7’s suave-looking rear. Hmm. Maybe we’ll get used to it.

In the meantime, does the A7’s radical-for-Audi restyle push your ‘want one’ buttons, or are you holding out for the new Mercedes CLS instead?

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