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BMW 4 series


Audi S7

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 S7

If you want something large, fast and comfortable, no one does it better than the Germans, and the latest entrant to the market is Audi’s all-new S7 Sportback.

Using the uber-stylish second-generation A7 as a basis, the new S7 Sportback scores cutting-edge technology and premium appointments befitting a large luxury sedan, but it’s often what’s under the bonnet that will draw buyers in.

This new S7 replaces the old version’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 for a 2.9-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 but, don’t fear, as having fewer cylinders has not dulled its performance or appeal.

As a whole though, does the new Audi S7 Sportback deliver a winning blow?

Safety rating
Engine Type4.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.6L/100km
Seating4 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 S78/10

Audi’s S7 Sportback wraps style, comfort and sportiness in an appealing package that is sure to please onlookers and occupants alike.

The great engine/transmission aside, the S7 Sportback also has cutting-edge technology at a more affordable pricetag, though less-than-comfortable rear-seat space lets it down a little.

We wish the car we sampled didn’t have the all-wheel steering, as we much preferred the more neutral feel of the S6 sedan we also drove but, overall, the S7 Sportback puts forward a strong case for its existence.

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 S710/10

Audi’s second-generation A7 has always been a bit of a looker, but Audi has taken it up another notch in the S7 Sportback.

Differentiating the S7 Sportback is a more aggressive bodykit, complete with larger air intakes up front, blacked out exterior trim, quad-exhaust tips (denoting that it’s an Audi Sport model) and large 21-inch wheels

The S7 doesn’t go too overboard with the aggressive appointments however (that’s what the top-spec RS7 Sportback, due here later this year, is for), but balances its sportiness with a stately aesthetic.

We think the S7 Sportback is stunning, especially the white exterior colour that gives it an almost Stormtrooper-like look, but even our test car, finished in Daytona Grey, while much more subtle, is still easy on the eyes.

We especially like the strong shoulder line, chiselled doors and sloping roofline of the Sportback body style that combine in profile to make the S7 look like a sprinter on the starting blocks ready to pounce.

Inside, the S7 Sportback scores all of Audi’s latest interior technology, including a 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrumentation and dual-screen centre console layout.

The triple screen set-up definitely helps the S7 Sportback feel very cutting-edge from the driver’s seat, especially when you start to play around with the multimedia system that sports haptic feedback when you press the screen.

Everything is laid out in a clear, concise and easy-to-use manner, while the surfaces of the dashboard are covered in soft-touch, premium materials.

If we’re being honest, we'd probably skip the red-leather interior of our test car in favour of something a little more subdued, but to each their own.

We like the integrated air-vents that blend well into the dash, while the sea of black is broken up with some aluminium detailing and different finishes.

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 S78/10

Measuring 4969mm long, 1908mm wide, 1417mm tall and with a 2928mm wheeblase, the S7 Sportback falls well and truly into the large car class.

Up front, the driver and passenger have plenty of room, while the seats and steering wheel are almost infinitely adjustable to find the perfect position.

As you can imagine though, the sloping roofline does eat into the rear-seat headroom a little.

The outboard seats offer plenty of leg- and shoulder-room, but the slanted roof prevents my six-foot-tall frame from sitting up straight comfortably.

Don’t get me wrong, the space is perfectly useable for children or even some smaller adults, but don’t expect to get any basketball players in those seats.

As for the middle seat, only children will find it comfortable due to the protruding transmission tunnel and higher-set seat.

The S7 Sportback’s boot offers at least 535 litres of space and expands to 1380L with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats stowed.

Being a liftback (or Sportback in Audi parlance) means the boot is much more practical than a standard sedan, and with such a large aperture, bigger items such as suitcases or golf clubs won’t be annoying to load and unload.

Bag hooks, storage tie-down points and carbo netting also feature to ensure your goods don’t roll around when the S7 Sportback is in motion.

Storage around the cabin though, could be a little better as the wireless smartphone charger takes up a fair chunk of room in the shallow central storage bin under the front armrest.

The usual storage tray found ahead of the shifter is also absent, due to the dual-screen centre console layout, but two generous cupholders and sizeable door pockets are still available up front.

Second-row passengers get access to a fold-down armrest with shallow storage tray and cupholders, as well as door pockets that can accommodate large bottles.

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 S78/10

Priced at $159,900 before on-road costs, the new S7 Sportback is about $20,000 cheaper than before.

While the $20,000 saving is nice, we’d argue that maybe the $180,000 pricetag for an S7 was a bit high to begin with.

Aside from the new engine (more on that below), the S7 Sportback comes standard with a laundry list of equipment, including keyless entry, push-button start, 21-inch wheels (available in three designs), adaptive air suspension, privacy glass for the rear, electric tailgate with gesture control, soft-close doors, panoramic sunroof and Matrix LED headlights.

As expected of an Audi, the interior is kitted out with leather and soft-touch materials throughout, but it's equipment such as the illuminated seat belt buckles and loose wheel-nut detection that really elevate it above its peers.

The multimedia system is displayed on a 10.1-inch touchscreen and features satellite navigation with real-time traffic alerts, wireless Apple CarPlay support, Android Auto connectivity, Wi-Fi hot-spotting, wireless smartphone charging and digital radio, while the four-zone climate controls are nestled in the lower 8.6-inch screen.

While we prefer physical buttons to a purely touchscreen set-up, Audi’s implementation is fantastic thanks to the haptic feedback from the screens, which mimic a button press.

We also like that there is a dedicated volume-control knob, meaning you aren’t fumbling around with the touchscreen while driving to turn down the music.

The S7 Sportback also features Audi’s signature 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit panel, which is still the best application of a digital instrumentation.

We’ve gone into detail about why we love it so much in the past, but a quick recap is that it's super-easy to use, can be customised to show whatever you want to see, and is clear in its layout.

Despite the long list of equipment, there are still a few items left on the options list.

Some, such as ceramic brakes and a Dynamic Package, are aimed to improve performance around the bends, so it’s nice that the extras aimed at a particular type of customer are not bundled into the asking price for everyone.

Likewise, there are also comfort- and style-orientated choices such as carbon interior, DVD player (in 2020?), heated rear seats and a premium sound system, but with the latter costing $11,700, the S7 Sportback’s price can quickly balloon.

Eight exterior colours are also available, each a no-cost choice.

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 S78/10

Powering the new S7 Sportback is a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V6, punching out 331kW/600Nm, which is paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends drive to the road via Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system.

The result is a zero-to-100km/h acceleration time of 4.6 seconds.

Keen-eyed Audi fans might note that those are the exact same engine and outputs as the RS5 Sportback, RS5 Coupe and RS4 Avant, and they’d be right, however, Audi has added the 48-volt mild-hybrid and an electric powered compressor (EPC) to reduce turbo lag in the S7 Sportback.

It’s a similar system first employed in the SQ7 large SUV, and basically means that the EPC is spooling up the turbo at low engine speeds for better off-the-line performance.

The mild-hybrid technology no doubt helps shift the S7 Sportback’s 2040kg weight with peak power now available earlier on in the rev range (from 5700rpm), while maximum torque is available from 1900rpm.

Compared to the older car, the new S7 Sportback matches its predecessor in power, but ups torque by 50Nm despite losing the old car’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine.

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 S77/10

Official fuel economy figures for the S7 Sportback are 8.5 litres per 100km, but in our brief time with the car we managed 13.6L/100km, mainly due to the inner-city and country B-road driving.

The 48-volt mild-hybrid system works to reduce fuel usage, by as much as 0.4L/100km according to Audi, and allows the car to coast with the engine off between speeds of 55km/h and 160km/h for up to 40 seconds.

The start/stop system also aids in reducing fuel usage.

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 S77/10

Audi’s formula for a go-fast vehicle has always been simple – quattro all-wheel-drive for grip, potent engine for speed – and the new S7 Sportback remains true to that formula.

We are big fans of the 2.9-lite twin-turbo V6 engine, which is matched wonderfully with a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission.

The S7 Sportback always seems to have plenty to give no matter where you are in the rev range, and the transmission isn’t bogged down with slow gear changes up or down.

Though it’s hard to tell how much the EPC helps in getting the S7 up to speed, if you have you window down and accelerate hard from a standstill, you can hear the electronics whirring away.

The standard air suspension also does a wonderful job at absorbing road imperfections in comfort, while it can be switched over to dynamic for a more sporting characteristic.

Grip is plentiful thanks to 255/35 tyres and the quattro all-wheel-drive system but, as with other Audis, the S7 Sportback tends towards understeer when pushed hard around a corner.

Being such a long and wide model, you definitely feel the S7 Sportback’s size on the road, especially when navigating through quick direction changes, but this is where the $7700 Dynamic Package comes into play.

It adds a sports differential, variable ratio steering and all-wheel steering, all aimed at sharpening the S7 up in the bends.

Our test car was fitted with the option pack, but it left us a little cold.

The all-wheel steering especially, made the S7 Sportback’s handling feel too artificial for our tastes, and we were never able to gauge where the rear end wanted to go in a corner.

If we were buying one, we’d leave the Dynamic Package option box unticked.

Bringing the S7 Sportback to a stop are big 400/350mm brake rotors front/rear, with six-piston callipers in the front.

Ceramic brakes with grey-painted callipers can be optioned for $18,000, but the standard stoppers do a fine job scrubbing speed in the S7 Sportback.

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 S79/10

Audi’s S7 Sportback was awarded a maximum five-star safety rating by ANCAP based on crash-testing done by Euro NCAP in 2018.

The S7 scored 93 and 85 per cent in the adult- and child-occupant protection tests, while the vulnerable road user and safety assist categories yielded an 81 and 78 per cent score respectively.

Standard safety equipment includes tyre pressure monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, driver attention alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, surround-view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and a head-up display.

The AEB system is operational from 10-85km/h according to ANCAP’s documentation, and comes with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

Noticeably absent from the safety list is traffic-sign recognition, though the satellite navigation will give the speed-limit readout based on GPS data.

The S7 Sportback is also fitted with an exit warning system to warn passengers of any incoming cyclists or cars to prevent opening a door into strife.

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 S77/10

Like all new Audi models, the S7 Sportback comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with three years roadside assist.

Audi’s warranty still lags behind Mercedes-Benz and Genesis, two premium marques that offer a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on their models.

Scheduled service intervals are every 15,000km/12 months, whichever comes first.

A three- or five-year service plan is available for the S7 Sportback, priced at $2350 and $4110 respectively.