What Car? says...
If you were to choose a power unit for a fast, luxurious four-seat coupé designed to ease you across many miles of country or continent, what would it be? A petrol perhaps, a hybrid, fully electric? Or a diesel? Yes, that’s right, don’t discount out of hand diesel power for the 21st century. The Audi S7 hasn’t, and here’s why its maker has a point.
Despite their recent damnation, modern diesels can be as clean, if not cleaner, than some petrols. That’s because unlike the dirty diesels of old, they employ all manner of clever clean-up acts to remove pollution including particulates and NOx emissions. And, as a rule, they produce fewer greenhouse gasses and are more efficient for anyone doing higher mileages.
The 344bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel in this Audi S7 goes further still. It has some tricks up its sleeve centred around a 48-volt electrical system, which supports mild-hybrid technology to boost both fuel-efficiency and performance. For instance, it allows the engine to switch off completely and coast for periods up to 40sec when you lift off the accelerator.
It also recovers energy during braking, which is energy that would otherwise be lost, and stores it ready for use by an electric compressor (EPC). This works alongside the regular turbocharger and is claimed to boost the S7’s low-rev responsiveness.
So, there’s certainly plenty to get excited about for this four-door performance coupé with a luxury twist, but does it do enough to excite? Can it steal the show from its close rival, the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53?
Read on to find out what the S7 is like, and when you’ve decided whether it is for you or not, head to our What Car? New Car Buying page for the very best hassle free deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
If you’re expecting the V6 fitted to the Audi S7 to be one of those clattery old diesels, think again. From inside you’ll struggle to believe that the warble emanating from behind the scenes is produced by something that sips from the black pumps; it’s actually made by a trick sound actuator in the exhaust, which produces a note more like a V8 petrol than a V6 diesel.
The sound is very pleasant indeed, wholly befitting of the engine’s character. In a straight line the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 is slightly quicker flat-out, but needs revving harder to release its full potential; the S7 produces its prodigious power within a window of 2000rpm to 4000rpm, which makes it more relaxing to drive and arguably faster in the real world. That said, despite the electrical compressor (EPC), the engine still has some initial lag if you’re below 2000rpm, but no more so than the turbocharged engine in the CLS 53.
The S7’s eight-speed automatic gearbox works well with the engine’s laidback delivery. There is a brief initial delay every time you step on the accelerator, but it generally keeps the revs in the ideal operating window, only frustrating by occasionally being too eager to kick down. You can have better control over shifting via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. The brakes are a little grabby around town, but stop you very effectively from high speed.
Is it an overtly sporty coupé? No, not exactly, but then neither are its rivals. With standard four-wheel drive, like the CLS 53, the S7 feels utterly surefooted and manages bends in a calm and calculated manner, and with the optional four-wheel steering fitted it steers a little more sweetly than its S6 saloon relative. The steering still lacks much genuine feel, but it weights up more intuitively than the S6’s, giving a better sense of connection just off centre. We’re yet to try models with the standard steering set-up. If you’re after something with a more playful attitude than the S7 or its immediate rivals, you should look instead at the Mercedes-AMG C 63 Coupé. That’s more in the sports car mould than a gran tourer.
So, as the S7 is aimed at covering big miles comfortably, does it ride well? With adaptive air suspension fitted (standard on Vorsprung trim) and popped in to its softest Comfort setting, the S7 wafts along motorways or back roads with considerable style. It feels firmer around town, though, and quite grisly on really battered sections. That said, it doesn’t thump across potholes as alarmingly as the CLS does. It’s also quieter at motorways speeds than the CLS, with agreeably hushed wind and road noise.
We’re yet to try the standard adaptive suspension set-up.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The S7 comes with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit as standard, which replaces traditional analogue dials with a 12.3in screen. It’s excellent, being highly configurable and showing a wealth of useful information just below your sightline. In fact, it makes the optional head-up display (standard on Vorsprung trim) a worthwhile extra but hardly an absolute must.
Look to the left and you’ll find the infotainment screens. The top one is 10.1in, and covers things such as the radio, navigation and smartphone links (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard). Just below that sits another 8.6in touchscreen dedicated to climate controls and convenience features.
The menus are a little convoluted, so it takes time to work out where everything is, but generally it reacts quickly to commands. Both screens provide haptic feedback to confirm when you’ve touched an icon, but you still have to glance away from the road to hit the icon in the first place, and that’s our biggest bugbear; it’s so much more distracting to use on the move than Mercedes’ Comand system.
The rest of the driving position is good. The supportive sports seats come with electric adjustment (including memory recall and lumbar adjustment) and Vorsprung models have a powered steering column, too.
Visibility is about as good as it gets forwards, with thinner front pillars than its rivals. Being a coupé, with narrow side and rear windows, means the view backwards over your shoulder is rather less clear — but you get parking sensors front and rear and a rear-view camera to help guide you. Bright LED headlights illuminate the way ahead after dark, and are adaptive if you opt for the Vorsprung trim.
It’s an Audi, so don’t think for a moment that the S7 isn’t deluxe inside. The standard leather-covered seats fit well with the host of other high-grade materials, and everything feels beautifully constructed. That said, it is a little soulless compared with the flamboyance of the CLS 53’s interior.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Despite its sporty and intimate feel inside, leg room in the front of the S7 is fine for six-footers and head room is okay unless you’re extremely tall. Most will find it easy enough to get and out of the rear, too, and – if you’ve parked too close to someone and don’t think you’ll have the space to open the door wide enough, rolling down the windows leaves no frame to obstruct your route out of the car.
Once inside, the S7 offers similar room to the CLS 53 — both leg and head room are fine for two tall folks. You will struggle to get three passengers abreast in the back, though, unless all of them are kids.
Moving to the S7’s boot, there’s a wide-opening tailgate so it’s a breeze to load even very bulky items — you can’t do the same through the CLS 53’s narrower opening. The S7’s relatively gargantuan trunk takes up to eight carry-on suitcases, which is one more than the CLS 53 can handle. A couple of sets of golf clubs will prove no issue, either.
If you need even more room, then 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats come as standard, allowing you to fit longer loads when required.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Audi S7 considerably undercuts the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 as a cash buy. Expect similar resale values to the CLS 53, too, which should also bestow it with competitive PCP repayments. The S7 really shows the CLS 53 up when it comes to fuel consumption, too — being a diesel you can expect it to return several MPG more than its petrol rivals. Company car users will still find it in the top bracket for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax., though.
The standard S7 comes very well equipped, with 20in alloy wheels, privacy glass, keyless start, leather seats (heated in the front), and all those infotainment and visibility aids we’ve mentioned previously.
If you need more things to play with, the Vorsprung trim adds 21in alloys, keyless entry, heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, soft-close doors, adaptive cruise control and black ash interior wood trim plus the air suspension and four-wheel steering we mentioned earlier. You can add the latter two to any S7 by opting for the Dynamic pack, which also adds a traction-enhancing sports rear differential.
Safety kit includes automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and on Vorsprung trim, extras such as blind spot monitoring and traffic sign recognition. The S7 hasn’t been crash tested by EuroNCAP, but it’s based on the Audi A6, which got a five-star rating. Meanwhile, EuroNCAP rates the CLS alongside the E-Class on which it is based, and both share a five-star rating accordingly.
Audi finished 20th out of 31 manufacturers in our 2018 What Car? Reliability Survey. That puts it behind BMW, but ahead of Mercedes-Benz.