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BMW 4 series


Audi A7

Summary

BMW 4 series

BMW's new 4 Series blasted onto the world stage with a chonky schnozz on it that only a mother could love. If BMW didn't want anyone to look at the rest of the car, it did a cracking job of it, because everyone had something to say about the big gnashers now grafted to the 4's front end.

I was nervous about it, too, because the 4 Series has always been so elegant and the current 3 Series - on which it is based - is quite nice to look at. It also threatened to overshadow just how good a car the BMW 4 should be, based as it is on the excellent 3 Series.

And, of course, one also had to wonder if a sports coupe like this would be any good around town. Limited vision? Hard to get in and out of? A true four-seater, or just a squishy 2+2? So many questions. 

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating4 seats

Audi A7

Audi is known as a design-led brand, and arguably no model in the line-up embodies that ethos more than the Audi A7 Sportback.

This all-new version of Audi's largest swoopy five-door hatchback takes the concept of the original first-generation version and, rather than reinventing the idea, reimagines it with a more modern and even more style-focused look, inside and out.

And it's a very convincing execution, indeed.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

BMW 4 series7.8/10

The BMW 420i is a terrific car if you're after a bit of style and sophistication. Not everyone will warm to your car's nose, but if you get it de-chromed, like this white one, it really does look pretty good. It's a car that uses very little fuel, moves along smartly and is brimming with a decent amount of tech, even if it could do with a bit more safety gear at this price. 

I reckon this car is settling well into the automotive landscape and ignoring it because of a few loudmouths think the grille is too big would be a terrible waste.


Audi A78.1/10

The Audi A7 is a really likeable car, one that is heavily focused on style but also emanates substance. The 55 TFSI model will appeal to many, but my initial impression is that the best buy in the range could well be the entry-level 45 TFSI. I can't wait to sample it sometime in 2019.

Audi A7 or Merc CLS? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Design

BMW 4 series

The internet exploded when it became clear the big kidney grille was for real. To be fair, BMW did itself absolutely no favours by ensuring the photos of the 4 Series made the twin grille look Easter Island statue sized. 

And it persisted in doing them naked, without number plates to break up the look. In the flesh, it all works, the nose is striking but not completely overblown. 

BMW coupe elegance reigns supreme in profile, however, with excellent proportions, and even in base form the wheels are the right size. The slim tail-lights and sculpted tail complete the look. It's a car I think most people love looking at. Hardly anyone mentioned the grille.

The cabin is excellent, as are all of the newer BMW interiors. It's not really a base model, given the price, but the mix of Alcantara and synthetic leather is very pleasing. 

The big screens for the media and instruments headline the cabin with high-tech style and while it's not avant-garde, it's sharp and feels premium, which is just as well.


Audi A79/10

If you can't find something interesting about the design of the Audi A7, there's a good chance you're visually impaired.

The original A7 Sportback was perhaps ahead of its time in the way it blended the lines of a coupe with the practicality of a big sedan, and the new second-generation version pushes the envelope even further into the future. The vision, according to chief designer Andreas Koglin, was "a clear form with sharp lines and tight shapes", including the distinguishable 'boat tail' at the rear.

This is a technologically advanced looking car - big, long, sleek and stylish. From the LED headlights (or matrix LED and laser lights - yes, frikkin' lasers that have the same 5500 Kelvin as the sun, according to Audi) and daytime running lights, to the long, lean LED tail-light assembly, there's an illuminated, enlightened air to the A7.

Plus, with the matrix lights, both ends of the car do a sort of disco sequence as part of the start up and shut down procedure for the car.

There are a few carefully balanced lines across the body of the A7 that help catch the light, which is something you can't really say about its closest direct rival, the Mercedes-Benz CLS. It still retains the 'big-metal-small-glasshouse' look of the existing model, but there are definitely more angles and interesting elements to this new-generation car.

There are two exterior types offered for Australia - the S line that you see here is the version that'll be fitted to the two higher grade models, while the entry-grade model gets a less aggressive look to its front and rear bumpers. To my eyes, the base car actually looks more luxurious, where the S line models - when not fitted with the optional black exterior styling pack that deletes the chrome trims outside - have a slightly uneasy look in the grille area. With a black edge to the single frame grille, it looks a touch more convincing.

The A7 is still large, at 4969mm long (-5mm) and riding on a longer 2926mm wheelbase (+12mm), spans 1908mm wide (2118mm including mirrors), but it's also a little bit taller, at 1422mm (+2mm). According to Audi, the interior space has been increased by 21mm in this generation, making for a more luxurious cabin than before.

Things are a little edgier in terms of design in the cockpit, too. Gone is the appealing wraparound dashboard design, with a more driver-focused treatment evident. It looks sharper, more shapely, and has improvements to the usability inside, too.

Practicality

BMW 4 series

As a sports coupe, it's hardly a practical all-rounder but it's not a squishy 2+2 either. The rear seats are sculpted for maximum headroom and have the added bonus of holding onto rear passengers. 

Six footers won't be super-comfortable but it's bearable for short trips. There are two ISOFIX points back there, too. 

The front seats electrically fold out of the way for ingress and egress, but it's not an elegant process.

Front-seat passengers score two cupholders and bottle holders in the doors and a black hole for your phone and its wireless charging pad.

The boot takes an impressive 440 litres and the rear seats split and fold like good little soldiers.


Audi A78/10

According to Audi, the A7's interior is said to offer a "futuristic lounge type ambience". And if your vision of a lounge in the future includes beautiful textile finishes, quality trims, and your choice of three crisp screens to look at and interact with, it certainly lives up to that.

Unlike the existing model, which seemed to draw a bit more inspiration from the world of watercraft, the new model isn't as luxe looking, with a more tech-focused approach inside. The wraparound finish on the dash is gone, and everything is more driver-centric in its orientation - the screens are tilted just enough towards the pilot and the design of the dashboard helps anchor the person in the driver's seat as the most important in the car.

As a driver, I still struggle to come to terms with climate controls that require you to use a screen, and I think it's distracting, too. At least with the Audi screen there's the possibility to slide up or down on the temperature display to make quick changes, rather than having to tap the screen repeatedly.

The haptic feedback on the screens is something that does take a bit of getting used to, because the response time isn't as instant as some regular touchscreen systems, but the menus are all pretty logically laid out.

And of course, all the storage considerations are dealt with, including good cupholders between the seats, decent door pockets, some loose item caddies and so on. In the back there's a flip-down armrest with cupholders, bottle holders in the doors and map pockets on the seat backs. One really neat addition is illuminated seat belt buckles - clever!

Space back there is mostly good, but it's better if you're short. There's enough legroom and shoulder-room for three adults, but anyone taller than me (I'm 182cm) will likely lack some headroom due to the curvaceous roofline.

The boot is good at 535 litres - enough to deal with two golf bags, the brand claims. The shape of the boot means tall items mightn't fit, but the length and width is good, and you get tie-downs with a mesh net to keep things in order. And there's a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor.

Price and features

BMW 4 series

The 420i starts at $71,900. That's a fair bit of money, I think you'll agree.

You get 19-inch wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, LED headlights with auto high beam, head-up display, power front seats, lighting package, auto-parking with reverse assistant, synthetic leather and Alcantara interior, 'Live Cockpit Professional' (fully digital dash), wireless phone charging and digital radio.

The massive 10.25-inch touchscreen may be smaller than the 12.3-inch digital dashboard, but it still looks huge. BMW's Operating System 7.0. is a cracking set-up, and you can control it via either touch or the 'iDrive' rotary dial on the console. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both of them, wireless. You don't read that every day.

You also get 'BMW ConnectedDrive', with some remote services that last for three years. The subscription includes things like the endearingly weird 'Caring Car' and the far less weird real-time traffic information.

The 4 Series is available in eight colours. 'Alpine White' is the only freebie while 'Black Sapphire', 'Arctic Race Blue', 'Portimao Blue', 'San Remo Green' and 'Mineral White' are $1538 each (or part of the 'Visibility Package'). 'Tanzanite Blue' and 'Dravit Grey' are a hefty $2962.

My car for the week had the $6300 Visibility Package (metallic paintwork, sunroof, BMW Laserlight, Ambient Light, which is worth it for the amazing Laserlights alone), the $2860 'Comfort Package' (lumbar support, electric boot, heated front seats, 'Comfort Access' with 'BMW Digital Key') and an $800 black pack. All this took the price to $81,860.


Audi A79/10

There are three models in the range, and considering the most natural competitors to the Audi A7 - the Mercedes-Benz CLS (from $136,900) and the BMW 6 series GT (from $123,500) - there's an argument that this car is something of a bargain. Ahem. 'Bargain' is relative, clearly.

The entry-level model is the 45 TFSI, which lists at $113,900 plus on-road costs. That's pretty close to the existing starting point for the A7, but now there's a bit more gear included as standard. It doesn't arrive until around the middle of 2019, though.

This model is comprehensively kitted out, with standard inclusions consisting of 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension, Audi's 'progressive steering' system, LED headlights with high-beam assist, an electronic tailgate with smart opening, keyless entry and push-button start, 'Valcona' leather trim and sports front seats, electric front seat adjustment and front seat heating and three-zone climate control air conditioning.

Other goodies include an LED interior ambient lighting package, head-up display, Audi's 12.3-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' digital driver information display, a 10.1-inch media screen and 8.6-inch control touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, and wireless smartphone charging.

Next up the model range is the 55 TFSI, which has a list price of $131,900 before on-road costs - which is the exact same price, and carries the exact same level of standard specification, as the diesel-powered 50 TDI model (also due mid-2019). This splits the difference between the existing models, but still undercuts the rivals by a good margin.

Over the entry-grade model, the 50 TDI and 55 TFSI models bring matrix LED headlights (with light animation), a different 20-inch wheel design, the S line exterior styling pack - essentially a body kit with new front and rear bumpers incorporating mesh-look diffusers and new side sills, plus S line badging.

These two models also get different interior styling, too, with S line embossed leather seats, illuminated door sill trims, a flat-bottom leather wheel with paddle shifters, dark brushed aluminium inlays, stainless steel faced pedals, black headlining, piped floor mats, electric steering column adjustment and a Bang & Olufsen 3D 705-watt sound system with 16 speakers and subwoofer.

There's a lot of safety kit included at each price point, too - see the section below for a breakdown.

Audi has tried to simplify things in terms of optional gear - apparently its customers said there was too much complexity when it came to electing bits and bobs, so the company's local arm has just one optional package... and a few other items it says are very much "buyer specific".

The 'Premium Plus' package costs $6500 for the 45 TFSI and $8000 for the other two models (and you get air suspension included in those grades). Across all grades the pack adds 21-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear glass, a panoramic glass roof, an extended upholstery package, four-zone climate control with rear touch control panel, plus a colour interior lighting package with up to 30 colours.

Other options include metallic paint (up to $2200), a four-wheel steering system ($4200) and laser headlights ($2500).

Engine & trans

BMW 4 series

The 420i’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, codenamed B48, spins up 135kW/300Nm. Driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, you'll go from zip to the 100km/h mark in 7.5 seconds, which is brisk, if not staggering.


Audi A78/10

All three drivetrains offered in the A7 have some form of mild hybridisation. The entry-level 45 TFSI engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo producing 180kW of power (at 5000-6000rpm) and 370Nm of torque (1600-4500rpm). It has a 0-100km/h claim of 6.8 seconds, and employs a seven-speed dual-clutch auto with quattro all-wheel drive. It employs a 12-volt mild-hybrid system to assist with stop-start traffic and uses brake regeneration, too.

The high-spec petrol is the 55 TFSI, a 3.0-litre V6 producing 250kW (at 5000-6400rpm) and 500Nm (1370-4500rpm). The 0-100 claim is 5.3sec, and it also uses a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. It has a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that uses a larger capacity battery and a belt-driven starter generator that recuperates energy in stop start traffic and, according to Audi, can also allow the car to coast for up to 40 seconds at speeds of 55-160km/h.

The same 48-volt tech is used for the only diesel model in the range, the 50 TDI. This powertrain uses a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine producing 210kW (3500-4000rpm) and 620Nm (2250-3000rpm), and unlike the petrols, it has an eight-speed automatic (not a dual-clutch). The claim for acceleration is 5.7sec from 0-100km/h.

Fuel consumption

BMW 4 series

BMW's official combined-cycle figures seem to be slowly moving towards reality. The 420i's sticker figure of 6.4L/100km was met with an indicated 6.8L/100km, which was excellent going for almost exclusively suburban and urban running. 

It's a solid result, but being a BMW, it's premium unleaded only for its 59-litre tank.

With my generally unsympathetic (but not psychopathic) right foot, that means a real-world range of over 800km between fills.


Audi A78/10

The mild hybrid tech in each of the A7 models help it offer miserly fuel consumption.

The 45 TFSI model claims 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres; the 55 TFSI model just a touch more, at 7.3L/100km. And as you might expect, the 50 TDI diesel model is the most efficient, using a claimed 6.0L/100km.

We only drove the 55 TFSI on test, and the dashboard indicated display of 9.1L/100km seemed pretty respectable.

Driving

BMW 4 series

One of the main things that sets a BMW sedan or sedan-based coupe apart is that they're good everywhere, except perhaps in quicksand. 

As the platform has matured and BMW's persistence with run-flat tyres has yielded improvements in tyre construction, the 3/4 Series platform (and many others - the internal name for the platform is CLAR) has once again become the benchmark for ride and handling.

For some people reading this, that's a lot of blah blah blah but the main point is, it's a terrific thing to drive whether you're dawdling along in traffic, dealing with traffic calming or bombing down your favourite deserted road.

The Bridgestone tyres on the 420i aren't as ultimately grippy and sticky as the alternative rubber on the 430i but they work well in town and are quiet on the 80km/h roads so prevalent in Sydney. 

The steering is absolutely lovely, providing just the right weight at any given speed and throwing in the road feel to inspire confidence.

Ride around town is compliant but with the whiff of fun if you decide to push things outside of the city. 

Its capabilities are still more than worthwhile day-to-day, however, because the way it handles the need to duck in and out of spaces in traffic is extremely handy.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is as smooth as rival Audi's. It doesn't sound like much (with a few vestigial pops in Sport mode) but it's certainly got the power to get you out of sticky situations and a transmission that's willing to play ball, whether in Sport or Normal.

Without the adaptive suspension of its 430i and M 440i brethren, this is a very smooth, easygoing sports coupe, with just enough sportiness to keep you interested, if you're that way inclined.


Audi A78/10

A lot of the time when we go on new car launches the test drive route is planned to highlight handling dynamism, with less focus on the day-to-day drudgery most of us will actually encounter.

The launch of the Audi A7 was primarily of that design, too, but (thankfully?) there was some disgusting traffic to deal with on our in and out of Brisbane, where it was clear the A7 is superbly comfortable.

Well, that is, if you get the air suspension system. The ride was impressively cushioned, untroubled by sharp edges and road joins, and the suspension eliminated pothole effects, too. All the cars I drove on the launch were the 55 TFSI model, and all had the air suspension - the cynic in me thinks there's probably a reason for that, and I'd love to sample one without it.

This stint of stop-start driving saw the engine cut out at speeds up to 22km/h when you're decelerating, allowing us to coast to a stop without the engine burning fuel.

Once we exited the city limits and found ourselves on the roads of Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious, the chance presented itself to push the A7 in some bendy bits. With the dynamic drive mode selected, the transmission in sport mode, and about a hundred corners to contend with, the big German luxury hatch showed its skills.

The air suspension kept the circa-1815kg model relatively flat in the bends, but the front seats lacked adequate side bolster support despite being called 'sports' seats. Obviously physics were at play here.

The steering was more eager in the four-wheel steer version we sampled, and that's definitely an option for the enthusiastic owner to consider. Otherwise, the steering was accurate, if devoid of meaningful feel.

And while the engine was strong in its response and the transmission clever in its shift speed and intelligence, it became clear that this was a car that seemed more adept at open road cruising than bruising a series of hairpins. It didn't disappoint in terms of dynamics - it just felt its size.

Eventually when we reached an open road, the effortlessness of the A7 came to the fore. Comfort mode engaged, it paced along beautifully, the adaptive cruise taking its surroundings in nicely. There is a touch of wind noise and the suspension can be loud when you encounter pockmarked sections, but it doesn't feel flustered at speed.

One of the nice elements of the A7's smarts is that it will pulse the accelerator pedal to warn you that you could be saving fuel - say you're approaching an 80km/h zone, and you're driving at 100km/h, the throttle will throb to let you know you could ease off. Neat.

At the end of our day of driving, I was left with the impression that the Audi A7 is more than capable as a luxury saloon, one that was relaxing to drive - even when we encountered a five km traffic jam on the way back into Brisbane. It feels well engineered, without excessive gimmickry and with enough genuine quality to leave you feeling pampered.

Safety

BMW 4 series

The 4 Series comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, reverse cross-traffic alert and reversing camera.

The 4 Series hasn't been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and the 3's five-star rating can only be a guide because of the very different structure of the 4. 

Sports cars rarely fare well in the sometimes complex rules so carmakers tend to keep them away from the clutches of crash testers.


Audi A78/10

The Audi A7 doesn't have a five-star safety rating from either ANCAP or Euro NCAP. It's hard to see it not getting that rating, if it were to be tested, because every trim grade has an array of high-tech safety equipment.

The A7 is fitted with a surround-view camera system (360 degree camera) and there are front, side and rear parking sensors, as well as Audi's version of auto emergency braking (AEB) which it calls 'pre sense' - and it operates up to 250km/h.

There's also a reverse AEB system, lane keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert (front and rear), and there's adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist (allowing semi-autonomous driving up to 60km/h), a system that'll stop the car if it doesn't think you can make a gap in the traffic (Intersection Assist) and a system that prevents you from opening your door into the path of cyclists, pedestrians or oncoming traffic.

There are dual ISOFIX child seat restraints in the back, as well as three top-tether attachments. The A7 has dual front airbags, side airbags front and rear, and curtain airbags (Audi claims a total of 10, but by most other makers' counts, that'd be eight).

Ownership

BMW 4 series

BMW offers a ho-hum length of three years and 100,000km of warranty coverage. Mercedes has gone to five years so one wonders why BMW (and Audi) hasn't joined its German rival.

Servicing is entirely reasonable at $1650 for a five-year/80,000km package that covers the 12 month/16,000km servicing regime. 

At $330 per service, it includes things many carmakers don't, such as brake fluid and spark plugs. 

You can go full noise with the 'Plus Package', which costs $4500 and chucks in brake pads, rotors and even windscreen-wiper replacement. That doesn't seem like terribly good value to me unless you drive like a lunatic.


Audi A77/10

As with all Audi models, there's a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty offered. Mainstream brands seem to be pushing to five years' warranty, while the premium makers lag behind.

The company also offers a three-year pre-purchase capped price service plan called the 'Audi Genuine Care Service Plan', which you can bundle into your finance package. Exact pricing isn't known yet, but you can expect it to average out at about $650 for every 12 month/15,000km service (based on the previous generation model).