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From Auto Week

Audi's answer

A7 takes on 'four-door coupe' market


Audi is promising that its new A7 will set the standard for performance, elegance and quality in the fast-emerging luxury "four-door coupe" market when it is launched in June 2010 as part of an ambitious new-model program aimed at garnering a 50 percent increase in company sales within the next seven years.

Planned to slot between the strong-selling A6 and the range-topping A8, it will face tough competition from the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the BMW 8-series (carrying cues from the well-received CS concept shown at the 2007 Shanghai auto show) and next year's Jaguar XJ replacement. The A7 will be armed with an array of technology and what design boss Stefan Sielaff describes as a new direction in design and interior materials.

A document obtained by AutoWeek indicates that Audi is planning a hardtop A7 and a soft-top convertible. Though producing a four-door open-top will be an engineering challenge, insiders say that Audi bosses would like it to be the first carmaker to offer a modern-day four-door convertible.

Audi is also preparing S7 and RS7 versions, the latter of which will get a version of the RS6's twin-turbocharged 5.2-liter V10 engine delivering 600 hp to quattro all-wheel drive and a new torque-vectoring system.

At the other end of the spectrum, Audi engineers are developing a hybrid-drive system for a low-emissions version of the A7. To be unveiled on the Audi Q5 next year, Audi's hybrid system uses lithium-ion batteries from Japanese specialist Sanyo and will run in combination with either a gasoline V6 or a diesel engine.

The A7 forms part of a new-model program that Audi boss Rupert Stadler is banking on to achieve up to 1.5 million sales annually by 2015, up from a record 964,151 in 2007. The increase is planned to come not only from newer versions of existing offerings but also from supplementary models. From 23 models today, Audi plans to expand to 40.

Although the A7 is expected to account for only 40,000 sales per year, Audi sees its new upmarket model as an important image booster. "The segment for four-door coupes is growing, most significantly in North America. It is not something that can be ignored," says Stadler.

The A7 is not Audi's first attempt at a four-door coupe. Under a cloak of secrecy, its designers prepared a proposal for the A5 featuring a four-door layout earlier this decade, but that was ultimately ditched in favor of a more traditional two-door model. The lessons learned on that car have been put to good use, however.

Underpinning the upmarket Audi is a new platform that will form the basis of the next A6. Based around the MLP (modular long platform) unveiled on the A5 last year, it concentrates weight within the wheelbase for optimal weight distribution.

Unlike the seventh-generation A6, which will retain a conventionally sprung front and rear suspension, the A7 runs on air springs to match the ride characteristics of the CLS. "It's an inherently sporty car, but we've also focused on comfort," says an AutoWeek source.

Audi plans two direct-injection gasoline V6 engines for the A7: a 204-hp naturally aspirated 2.8-liter and a 300-hp supercharged 3.0-liter. Above them will be a 394-hp turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 in the S7 and the aforementioned V10 powering the RS7. The S7 is due in November 2010, followed by the RS7 in June 2012. Gearbox options will include a standard six-speed manual, a seven-speed double-clutch unit and a new eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive will be standard for U.S. models, using the quattro system boasting a 40/60 torque split in combination with a new torque-vectoring system to appear in the S4 that is due in October.

Audi has put considerable effort into ensuring that the A7's cabin is a cut above the four-door coupe competition. Along with sporty new design language and high-quality materials, the Audi will receive a second-generation version of the MMI (Multi Media Interface) controller in combination with a new speech-recognition system called a "real breakthrough" by development boss Michael Dick.

Despite the car's ample 16-foot length, Audi plans to offer the A7 exclusively with a four-seat layout.

"Customers seeking greater practicality already have the choice between the A6 and the larger A8, so we don't see it as a drawback," Dick said.

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While the car is beautiful and I particularly like the V10, why do they call it a "coupe". By definition (Mirriam Webster's Desk Dictionary and M.W.'s New International Dictionary), a coupe is defined as "a 2 door automobile with an enclosed body". While it is certainly sportier in appearance than the current 6and 8 series, it is not a coupe (nor is the MB CLS a coupe). In "the good old days" we called them a 4 door hardtop (not as sexy as a coupe?).
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