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Latest warmed five-door fastback ditches petrol for Audi’s surprisingly sporty hybrid diesel power

Sounds a bit crude for such a good-looking car, but what we have here, mechanically speaking, is the closest product possible to the Audi S6 – also launched this week – without masking it the same.

The S7 has the same chassis and running gear, the same ingenious, clean and powerful mild-hybrid diesel powerplant and much the same dimensions. In fact, if you were looking for a pair of cars to illustrate how car makers can make two distinct models using the same ‘stuff’, this pair of Audis would fill the bill.

True, the old S6 could beat this latest car’s 0-62mph time by half a second. But it also uses much more fuel and creates more CO2

This Sportback is a rakish five-door, a little lower and a little heavier than the S6 four-door but deemed special enough to command an entry price of around £8000 to the good. See the two cars together – as we did on test near Wiesbaden, Germany – and it’s not hard to appreciate the reason for that price disparity: the lower and more graceful S7, with its slightly more confined accommodation, is arguably the best-looking car Audi makes, and looks instantly exotic enough to command a higher price. So it does.

Along with the S6 and SQ5, it commits Audi to a new 48V hybrid 3.0-litre diesel V6 as motive power for its high-performance versions of the A6, an odd-looking move when diesels are declining in popularity, especially in the UK, and no one’s very optimistic about a recovery.

The new set-up consists of a north-south, nose-mounted 3.0-litre V6 equipped with a 48V electrically driven compressor, whose airflow keeps the turbocharger spinning fast to cut spool-up time and reduce accelerator lag. It also incorporates a 48V belt-driven integrated starter-generator that contributes under acceleration to a peak power output of 344bhp and a best torque figure of 516lb ft. Coasting or on the overrun the ISG collects power in a 10Ah battery for later use in acceleration.

Ironically, the new but out-of-favour diesel is much more efficient than the petrol V8 it replaces. Driving through a seven-speed gearbox, the 4.0-litre TFSI engine made more power (444bhp) but less torque (405lb ft). True, the old S6 could beat the latest car’s 0-62mph time (5.1 sec) by half a second and easily match its governed top speed of 155mph. But it also uses much more fuel and creates more CO2. Audi’s efficiency claims for the new unit are real enough; it’s whether the ‘dieselness’ attracts buyers that looks like being the burning issue.

For obvious reasons, there are clear similarities between S6 and S7. In a way, it’s easier to cite the differences. One is access – the S7 is lower and a little harder to get into and out of. It has a convenient boot, though; golfers will rate its big, powered liftback, which provides access to a vast carrying pace.

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Behind the wheel you sit a little lower, but the similarities of the controls and fascia layout are powerful. There’s that same element of surprise when you start the engine: we’re convinced the sound and low-end strength will sell the car to some customers. The low-revs smoothness and strength is a feature we know we’d enjoy with every driven mile, and the engine flexibility is very impressive. Despite the lag-limiting compressor, the throttle response isn’t quite instant – often it’s the eight-speed gearbox sorting ratios that provides a minor delay – but old-school turbo lag is entirely absent.

One notable difference between S6 and S7 – if you, as we did, get the chance to drive the cars together – is that the fastback’s default suspension rates seem a little firmer, which was the case in the previous models. This controls roll a shade better, but the S7 has the same detectable nose-heaviness in hard cornering as its sibling. The steering’s decent, but this isn’t the best balanced big car we’ve ever driven. The ride is composed (insofar as you can make a judgment for the UK on the perfect roads of Germany) and even on 20in wheels the car seems quiet over bumps.

The same caveats apply as to the S6: if you’re not disturbed by the fact that this is a TDI (and there’s no practical or even theoretical reason why you should be), then it’s a good choice. Other cars feel more alive when cornering, but you won’t beat this one for quality or engine note. And for a big and fast car, its economy and touring range are exemplary. The Audi S7 Sportback is a good option, but it’ll be interesting to see how many make it.        

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Audi S7 Sportback

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