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Audi A7 3.0 TDI Quattro SE S-tronic

With a marketing strategy that has seen the ultimate in product placement, Audi has elevated its status in the world of luxury refined motoring. And in the delectable shape of the A7 Quattro it boasts one of the finest saloons a lot of money can buy, as Gi’s correspondent Anthony Ffrench-Constant reports

At the time of writing, the Royal Wedding is still a week away. But, by the time you read this, the pomp, circumstance and Kleenex will have all been packed away until it’s Harry’s turn, and the only thing fascinating about the myriad fascinators inevitably on display remains the question of how it’s humanly possible to spend so much on a scant fistful of feathers that resembles nothing so much as a freshly shot crow.

Giggling in church is utterly addictive, and the opportunity to have a seriously good belly laugh over the hats has always been the best thing about attending a wedding. Let’s hope the friends of the Windsors did not disappoint.

One of the more fascinating aspects to the build-up, however, has been the incendiary grump of one particular national newspaper at the news that one of those friends, Audi’s head of public relations in the UK, secured himself a berth at the wedding breakfast.

Somewhat disingenuously sidestepping the fact that having spent a small fortune over the years in sponsoring their annual charity polo matches and a slightly larger fortune in donations to said charities Audi’s PR boss has inevitably become quite matey with the Princes, what ruffled the feathers of this particularly right wing branch of the Fourth Estate appears to be the news that most of the royal family currently biff about in Audis and that, though they do pay for them, they receive – gasp – a discount. Outrageous…

Same as it ever was; Audi has long pandered to celebrities and VIPs with favourable lease or purchase terms and there’s absolutely no doubt that the resultant ‘halo’ effect has much to do with the company’s UK sales currently going through the roof. Man Does Job, shock, horror…

Indeed, one can only speculate as to just how hard the likes of luxury rivals BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar (anyone remember Jaguar?) are now kicking themselves that, when it comes to putting noteworthy bums on seats, Audi appears to have cornered the market. Because, let’s face, if you’re a premium segment car manufacturer these days, you really do need an edge…

After decades of carefully crafted Ultimate Driving Machine marketing, BMW opted for the ‘radical design’ route under Wisconsin wunderkind Chris Bangle, who baffled all and sundry with talk of ‘paradigm shifts’ whilst describing creased bodywork as ‘flame surfacing’ and (best of all) daytime running lights as ‘optical wave guides’.

With most of the results now resembling upturned, clinker-built boats with interiors exuding more than a whiff of the brash American, this approach has not found universal favour. Such remains the power of the brand, however, that it doesn’t seem to matter to most blue and white propeller aspirants, who’ll still buy anything thus badged that’ll take polish.

BMW’s argument that ‘something had to change’ appears to cut no ice with Mercedes, which, rather, has simply focused on putting back a deal of the money they so blatantly sucked out of the build process a few years back, to remarkably good effect.

Jaguar, meanwhile, under designer Ian Callum, has proved immensely successful at melding the startlingly new with enough styling tradition to both attract a new, younger breed and keep its ageing, diehard customer base happy, and seems now to lack only a marketing budget the size of Audi in the UK.

All of which leaves Audi very much in the driving seat with cars which – despite the unnecessarily brash Big Grille which still reminds me of an inflatable doll wearing chrome lipstick – remain relatively discreet and ideally anonymous in comparison to most of the competition. Let’s face it, a second glance is the last thing any royal would wish for when out and about incognito…

Now, accepting that the happy couple will have been cramped by ceremony into relying on horsepower of a somewhat more traditional nature, Audi’s only opportunity to shine on the day itself must have come in the guise of the going away car. And with new models currently thicker on the ground that ticks on a sheepdog, the newlyweds will have hardly been hampered by choice.

Easily the classiest small car around at the moment (amazing what a difference a simple lick of contrasting paint to the roofline makes); the A1 might make an appropriately parsimonious statement. However, though a recent slog to Newcastle revealed it to be surprisingly comfortable over a long haul, I doubt the A1 would boast the luggage capacity appropriate to a freshly shackled bride.

Besides which, given the persistent insistence of the sat’ nav’ in the specimen I drove that the Tyne be crossed via the wholly pedestrian Millennium bridge, the risk of first night marriage consummation failure is, perhaps, too great.

The most recent addition to the Audi fleet and seven years in the making, the largely flawless A6’s only failing is that it seeks to appeal to the broadest possible customer spectrum by being so utterly anonymous that it is, frankly, almost too anonymous. A perfectly decent drive albeit, it’s far more of a technological tour de force than anything of a thrill to helm, having rifled the A8’s onboard equipment parts bin so rigorously that the only reason to now buy the latter is a requirement for greater cabin space.

So with Prince Charles already ensconced in an A8, and the disappointing A5 Sportback serving as proof that even Audi can, on occasion, find itself with sand in the Vaseline, my prediction is that it was an A7 in which the newlyweds finally slunk away from Buck House.

Its looks marred only by the size of that front grille, the A7 is the best looking car Audi has produced since the entirely handsome A5, and is notably gorgeous when viewed from anywhere astern. On board, all is exactly where you left it in your last Audi, which means it’s extremely well screwed together, good looking, ergonomically excellent and properly comfortable. The only glitch being the propensity for a pale beige coloured parcel shelf to reflect so strongly in the steeply raked rear screen that you absolutely cannot see out by day…

As with the more recent A6, technology is all important, and the A7 may be loaded to the gunwales with diverse multimedia interface systems which, with such goodies as the inclusion of web links to Google, will turn the car into little short of a fully-functioning mobile office. Personally, I can think of little worse than escaping the office to go for a drive in a car which doubles as an office, but many will surely find such a facility invaluable. Audi does tend to overload its press cars with toys; in the case of the 3.0 TDI Quattro SE S tronic I drove, to the tune of some £25,775 over the basic asking price of £47,200. You pays yer money….

A head-up display which fills the base of the windscreen with information such as speed and navigation instructions annoyed me terribly until I discovered how to switch it off. At which point I missed it so much I promptly reinstated it. Suggesting that you can, however, have too much of a good thing, a fiddly seat massage control system proved even more annoying, relentlessly pummelling my already perfectly comfortable anatomy every time I tried to merely adjust the lumbar support.

Most expensive by far of the options fitted was a Bang & Olufsen sound system which demands a wallet-fleecing £6300 for the privilege of watching the tweeters ooze ICBM-like from the dash top every time you start the car. Granted, the sound is wonderful, but no more so than the far less pricey Mark Levinson systems of Lexus fame.

If, as is now often averred, we’re becoming increasingly more interested in on-board ‘infotainment’ than we are the actual driving experience, then it’s high time many of these expensive options were fitted as standard in premium models such as this. And, buying an A7, I’d be particularly miffed to discover that the £590 delivery and number plate charge includes only ‘half a tank of fuel’. Now that’s just petty.

With 367 lb.ft of torque summoning 62mph in just 6.3 seconds, it goes without saying that Audi’s silky 3.0 V6 turbodiesel provides pretty much all the thrust you could ever wish for, and the 7-speed automatic transmission is slush personified. However, despite the fitted option of adaptive suspension, the straight line ride is too tough to be deemed appropriate to a cabin which aspires to these high levels of comfort.

Protestations of over tough ride quality remain the norm in the case of most Audi’s, and the company seems reluctant to pander to (presumably largely British) requests to soften their approach on this front. A pity, since it often mars the increasingly sublime Audi experience.

Still, if leaving the Palace in an A7 constitutes the bumpiest ride the royal marriage will suffer, then all bodes well for their future.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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