Audi's new A7 Sportback mixes practicality with sportiness to carve a niche in the four-door coupe segment
Room and vroom: Audi's new A7 Sportback The A7 Sportback's chassis is well-balanced, and its steering response is quick and sharp for a car of its size. ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM

You win some, you lose some. That adage applies well to the new Audi A7 Sportback.

The sleek coupe-like fastback, which is hunkered down like a sumo wrestler, is a more refined, more muscular and more settled alternative to the Mercedes-Benz CLS.

It is not necessarily more beautiful - it is hard to match the CLS' sinewy and impossibly curvy silhouette - but it will have fans among those who prefer a more masculine shape.

Performance-wise, the A7 has a clear edge because it debuts as a 340hp 3-litre V6 - as opposed to the Mercedes' 299hp 2-litre inline-four.

At the helm, the A7 seethes with latent energy, which it unleashes with abandon each time you squeeze the throttle. There is that unmistakable turbo surge, which builds up quickly (often, almost suddenly) to propel the car forward like a giant catapult.

And this is just in the normal drive mode, without paddle intervention.

As it sails past lamp post after lamp post, the car impresses with a ride that is far firmer than the CLS', but is wonderfully settled. You will feel the tarmac blemishes, but they do not intrude much.

The chassis is well-balanced, and steering response is quick and sharp for a car of its size.

The A7 is as large as the CLS, measuring almost 5m long bumper to bumper. But optically, it looks more imposing because of its broad and lowered front end. Inside, it also appears to be a tad more spacious, with an extraordinarily large boot, and plenty of rear legroom.

Add a silkened transmission to the mix and you have an endearing grand tourer that is enjoyable for both the driver and the driven. Although with two fewer cogs than the CLS's nine-speeder, the Audi's gearbox is not lacking. It stays prompt and calm even under duress.

That description fits the entire drivetrain too. With ample reserves afforded by a 3-litre turbo, the Audi A7 has the effortlessness associated with luxury liners.

Ordinary duties are carried out in near silence, while sportier endeavours are accompanied by a low discernible hum. In Singapore, there is rarely a need to go beyond this. There just isn't enough room for the A7 to break into a serious gallop.

For all its rosiness, the A7 comes with some thorns.

Its cabin acoustics betray a hint of wind turbulence, which is typical of wagons and fastbacks of old but a tad unexpected in a modern machine.

This might not have been noticeable in a noisier car, but because the A7 is so quiet elsewhere, the turbulence becomes noticeable.

And the test-car had a couple of electronic glitches along the way. The saving grace is that the car warns you of the failures and would not activate the faulty functions.

The A7 is highly digital like the recently launched A8 limousine. Two large touchscreens dominate the fascia, while a "virtual cockpit" display fills the expansive instrumentation panel.

It is all very slick and business-like, unlike the CLS' softer tone.

For a large carrier with a beefy engine, the A7 averages 12.5 litres per 100km. Not bad for its segment, even if it is nowhere near the 7.3 litres stated in its brochure.

Its shortcomings notwithstanding, the new A7 is still an alluring car for those who want a mix of practicality, sportiness and luxury.