What is it?
It's the Audi A7. Or rather, it will be. At the moment it's still at the show car stage and it's called the Sportback concept.
The Sportback has actually been around for a while. It was unveiled at the Detroit motor show in January 2009 but because the A7 which it will spawn was still at such an early stage of development, it took until December '09 for Audi to let journalists near the concept car again.
If you like the appearance of the Sportback concept, the good news is that the production A7, which will be unveiled late in 2010, will look a lot like it.
According to Audi's head of exterior design, Achim-D Badstubner, the Sportback's shape is as close as concepts get to production sign-off. A few curves will have different radii, the bumpers will be marginally altered after being productionised, and the coupe-like roofline and glass area – the whole swoop from windscreen base to boot lid – will sit 10mm higher.
That coupe-esque roof is the whole purpose of the A7. The Germans don't think hatchbacks are premium, so the A7, like other four and five-door 'coupes' (think Mercedes CLS and 5-series GT) are their efforts to change all that. Audi thinks big two-door coupes (like the CL or 6-Series) are cars for old men, and that four-door coupes are the more youthful, dynamic answer. Cars for people who have kids, rather than empty-nesters.
It is trying to make the hatchback desirable, in short.
To that end, the A7 will sit above the A6 in Audi's range, in truth more in line with an A8. Its mechanical architecture is a slight mix of both – the floor, most crucially, will be from the A6 – but the engines will be mostly common across all three ranges, while the A7's interior will owe more to the new A8 than the A6. Material quality will be the same.
What's it like?
The Sportback is still a concept car, which is massively important to remember when driving it, because frankly it's rubbish. But so is any car, from any manufacturer, that's meant to do nothing but sit on a show stand.
If anything, the Sportback is a wonderful illustration of the effort that goes into engineering a car these days. The Sportback moves under its own 3.0-litre turbodiesel steam but it's noisy, rides terribly and has more squeaks and rattles than Dave's Mouse and Exotic Snake Emporium. The production A7 won't be like that.
There are promising signs too. The new A8's interior looks good, with a particularly swanky boat-throttle aping gearlever, so if the Sportback's nautically inspired wood trim makes it through to production it'll have a proper, jaunty yacht-inspired cabin.
Even in the concept, whose headroom is compromised by 10mm over the standard car, there's decent headroom (the glass roof of the Sportback will be an A7 option, while rear room is fine, though for two only). A third rear seat would mean the roof had to be higher and that, for “a design-led company”, wouldn't do. The boot, thanks to the high beltline, ought to prove adequately accommodating.
The engine and gearbox line-up will most closely mirror the A8's because the A7, like the BMW 5-series GT, is trying to be premium. Expect two and four-wheel-drive versions and, later, certainly an S7, with less probability on an RS7.