As you drive along the smooth, winding roads that trace the rocky shoreline, the clear waters off the coast of Sardinia glisten in myriad shades of emerald and aquamarine. Costa Smeralda is known for its raw beauty and the nice twisty roads were just the bonus I needed. Speaking of a bonus, the car I was driving—the new Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI—was also a bit of that. It’s a new segment for Audi, and so it seems to have pulled out all the stops for this one.
It was the second time for me on these roads; I was previously here to test the VW Polo. When I touched down at the Olbia airport on the north-eastern side of the Italian island, I already knew what to expect. I had also attended the world debut of the A7 in Munich a few weeks earlier, so it seemed unlikely that the car too would hold any surprises for me. But after I began driving, I realized that since the setting was familiar, I could simply follow the navigation commands, and for a change, concentrate on the car itself from word go.
And that’s when some of the surprises began to unravel. The A7 is a sports car in its handling, a coupe in its looks, and a sedan in its cabin space and driving appeal. It boasts the very latest from Audi by way of technology, and is brimming with features such as a great active cruise control, Audi’s drive select, which allows you to change the suspension, throttle and steering settings that affect the driving character of the car, and a head-up display—which projects images from navigation, the night-time infrared camera and even your speed on the windshield—so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. Of course, BMW did this ages ago, so it’s nothing new.
Audi: The rear of this version is very different from any of Audi’s sports sedan or coupe versions.
The car appears low-slung but you don’t feel this when you actually sit inside it. It drives very well, and is very responsive and taut. That’s a feature one expects from German cars, but the A7 delivered on this expectation with interest. The 3-litre diesel engine is more than ample, and very responsive, with hardly any trace of turbo-lag. I also tested the 3.0 TFSI—or turbocharged petrol, with Quattro or an all-wheel drive. The Quattro system made the car even more delightful, as it gripped the corners and afforded quick overtaking.
The part that does flummox me somewhat is the design itself. Audi designer Wolfgang Egger, who spent a great deal of time on making the car’s rear unique, says it’s his favourite part of the design. I agree—the rear is very different from any sports sedan or coupe I’ve seen in the recent past. It’s classic, modern and very sexy, all at once. But the front of the car—while also extremely attractive— makes the A7 look too much like its stable mates. The Audi family look is one thing, but the front of the car could easily be mistaken for the A5 at first glance, or the A8 with its similar LED daytime running lights pattern. So unless I was an Audi connoisseur or found these cars parked next to each other, I could mistake the A7 for one of its siblings in my rear-view mirror. That said, the car’s side profile and rear do make up for this.
Officially, Audi says it’s studying the feasibility of launching the car in India, but I can tell you that A7 is destined for India. It’s not for everyone, and will be expensive, as a direct import, but it has the goods to take on the Mercedes Benz CLS, Porsche 4-door Panamera, and BMW’s 5 Series GT.
Audi has got the product right, but it is on thin ice on price as the A7 is expected to sit between the A6 (Rs 40-50 lakh) and A8 (Rs 1.10 crore) sedans. So the A7 may not turn into a volumes model for the Bavarian company worldwide.
THE YETI ARRIVES, FINALLY
I have also had a chance to test the made-in-India Skoda Yeti, and feel it could create a whole new segment here in India. I first drove the Yeti in mid-2009, right after its world debut. It was first shown in India at the January 2010 Auto Expo, and has since been showcased at Skoda dealerships all over the country.
Skoda took its own sweet time bringing us the car, but finally it is ready for launch in November.
Some people may not appreciate its small size, as it straddles the large hatchback and SUV segments, but I feel that is perfect for our chaotic traffic conditions and bad roads. The Yeti is a sensible urban size, but gives you plenty to do once you leave the urban setting behind. The car’s four-wheel system is remarkable in that it can supply up to 90% power to the front or rear, or divide it up equally depending on the surface and traction needed for the road surface you are on.
Skoda: Yeti will open up the mini SUV-cum-family car segment.
So what are the problems, you ask? Well, Skoda has disappointed by not bringing in the 1.2 TSI petrol engine. The small engine was a revelation on this relatively bigger car when I drove it last year, and given that it could mean a lower entry price tag, I am surprised. The other letdown is the lack of an automatic transmission variant—something many would have looked for. What you do get is a 2-litre common rail diesel engine with a 6-speed manual transmission. Skoda says it will launch petrol and auto versions later.
I expect Skoda to sizzle things a bit by bringing the base trim called Ambiente at around Rs 14 lakh, and the Elegance or higher trim for close to Rs 15.5 lakh. So if you ask me, the Yeti will indeed open up its own segment of mini SUV-cum-family car. Now I hope the Japanese and Koreans do try to match that, since it will mean better cars for us!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com