Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS Audi A7
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
- Glorious to behold
- Surprising value
- Great safety kit
- Launching with top-spec petrol only
- Still some options to pick
- Some tech quibbles on launch
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
|Engine Type||1.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
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.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
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
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
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
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
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.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
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.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
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).
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.
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).