Tussle of four-door coupes – Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz CLSPOSTED BY admin ON 09 July 2012
THE four-door coupe has become an overused cliché to inject sex appeal to carve the image of a traditional three-box sedan as anything but dour.
An exception to this cliché is the Mercedes-Benz CLS, which, after all, was the very model which got the ball rolling in the first place.
For more than half a decade, the CLS had the market all to itself as affluent individuals, looking for all the practicality and comfort of a sedan wrapped in the irresistible shape of a coupe, lapped it up.
Recently, the CLS lineage was succeeded by its second generation, but this time around, Mercedes doesn’t have the market all to itself.
Audi has entered the ring with its striking A7 Sportback, which touts the “four-door coupe” brief, similar market positioning, and brimmed to the roof with toys.
Every king has his reign, but could the new CLS uphold Mercedes’ place in this exclusive market with the dawning of the four rings of Audi?
Normally looks wouldn’t be a defining selling point for a four-door car, but since the whole point of buying a coupe is for its looks, design could make or break either car here.
With its bold new family grille, the CLS looks more distinctive than its predecessor, with futuristic organic looking LED tail light clusters paying homage to the original.
While some labelled its predecessor as “The Flying Banana”, the new CLS’ looks have more aggression with its lean-forward stance and bold lines which swoop from the front wheel arches and clearly define its hips.
The big Audi on the other hand comes off as the most conservative looking of the two.
Clean cut lines and flat surfaces of the A7 feel like an antithesis to the swooping lines and slightly flamboyant styling of the CLS.
Do not think that the A7 looks boring, if anything it is one of the most interesting cars on sale today.
Where the CLS sticks to its founding formula of a sedan layout draped around a coupe silhouette, the A7 bends some norms to its liking.
It looks conventional from the front, but walk around to the sides and the A7’s C-pillars seem to extend all the way past the tail, but end abruptly with a Kammback tail.
The A7 is more of a hatchback rather than a sedan, but don’t let those various design cues put you off – the design works surprisingly well in the metal.
Parked side-by-side, it is the sharp Tectonic looks and ground-hugging stance of the A7 which draws the most attention and commands the most respect.
Perhaps in the world occupied by more business suits rather than socialites, the CLS opinion-dividing looks still come across as a little too adventurous for some.
That said, neither will ever be looked upon as a mongrel at the local golf and country club.
Performance and handling
Another expectation that comes with the “coupe” title is in the area of performance and handling.
Gladly, power and cornering ability is where both the A7 and CLS have in no short supply, though the method of how both cars deploy their power couldn’t be any more different.
The A7 comes with the smaller engine here at 3 litres, but its supercharger manages to screw out 440Nm of torque from as low as 2,900rpm, 70Nm more and 600rpm earlier than what the CLS’ bigger 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated unit could deliver.
Though the CLS only manages to extract two more extra horses than the Audi’s engine, peak power is only reached at a heady 6,500rpm, compared with the Audi’s peak power which is more readily accessible between 5,250rpm and 6,500rpm.
Couple the Audi’s muscular torque punch at low engine revs with its quattro four-wheel drive system and seven-speed dual clutch, and the A7 could easily leave the CLS in the dust with its 0-100km/h time of 5.6 seconds.
The CLS with its lighter rear-wheel drive layout, and seven-speed automatic which is tuned for refinement and comfort, could only manage a respectable acceleration time of 6.1 seconds.
However, should both cars arrive at a corner, it is the grille with the three-pointed star mounted to it that will be emerging ahead.
With its quicker steering rack, the A7 has a sharper turn-in and feels livelier to directional inputs from the steering wheel.
While it is all good news with the front, we can’t say about the manners displayed with the A7’s tail.
It feels strangely aloof in the corners, as if both ends of the chassis aren’t on the same page, its nose bites but you get the distinct feeling that it is dragging its rump.
The CLS on the other hand feels more balanced and surefooted in the corners, it might not have the four-wheel drive traction of the A7, but its chassis gives you more confidence and feels more rewarding.
Though the A7 would leapfrog the CLS in the straights by a small margin, the CLS will deliver the bigger smile on our faces.
Comfort and practicality
Vanity always comes at the expense of practicality, and even though these cars have four doors and plenty of legroom, thanks to their premium executive car underpinnings, they aren’t going to be the ideal choice for families.
The ultimate price of having a rakish and ravishing coupe profile is that both the A7 and CLS are compromised when it comes to everyday usability.
The CLS’ thick A-pillars meant that negotiating tight junctions were tricky, while its narrow rear windows left the job of reversing largely up to guess work.
That said, the A7 isn’t as compromised a package as the CLS.
With its hatchback shape, judging the space you had in the back was slightly easier, and the A7 felt more airy with better forward visibility in the cabin.
Furthermore, where the CLS has a centre console that runs from the dashboard to the back, providing that tight cosseting feel of a coupe, the A7 doesn’t have such a restrictive “aesthetic” addition, thus giving rear seat passengers more legroom.
However, it must be pointed out that the absence of a third set of rear seat belts makes the A7 a four-seater legally rather than strictly one as in the CLS.
Open the boot and the A7 hatchback not only allows for easier loading of luggage, but also gives it far more luggage space than the constrictive boot aperture from the CLS.
Both cars have rear view cameras to aid drivers in manoeuvring, though the A7 does it better by not only displaying a clearer and wider image, but projecting guide lines onto the image.
Strangely enough, while we felt that the A7’s air suspension delivered a smoother ride, being in the CLS felt more soothing and relaxing.
This is probably due to the excellent noise suppression and refinement felt in the Benz, where the A7’s supercharged V6 warbles with a “polite” war cry, the CLS’ naturally aspirated V6 hums and purrs, barely audible or noticeable from behind the wheel.
Though the A7’s cabin is a button-fest of techno-glitz that is great to look at, its myriad of buttons can get confusing and operating its MMI system can get frustrating when you are on the move.
The CLS’ apparent lack of buttons and straightforward menu interfaces makes it easier to operate and navigate.
Also, the CLS’ leather swathed interior and quality switchgear gives it a more luxurious feel than what you would get in the A7.
So, given the directive and budget to blow on these opulent four-door coupes, which of the two should the well-heeled buyer consider?
The A7 would be the instant choice, it is the more practical of the two, and you can get the A7 and still have enough money to buy a Volkswagen Golf and treat yourself to a holiday with the budget for a CLS.
Looking at both on the dealer forecourt, you would immediately think that the CLS is the overpriced option.
That said, the CLS’ price does add a number of features that a normal showroom test drive won’t reveal.
Features such as airbags for your pelvis, night-vision display, drowsiness detection system, radar-limited cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot warning systems, automatic high beam, navigation and ambient lighting with three soothing colour themes all come as standard on the CLS.
Should you prefer driving, and deem those additional features as important in your four-door coupe, then by all means, the CLS is the one to go for.
However, we felt that the additional features, while nice to have and toy around with, weren’t strictly necessary or enough to change the outcome of our earlier verdict.
It would be crude to say that the A7 wins as a value for money proposition, considering its price range, but it succeeds in expanding the traditional four-door coupe recipe, instead of merely following the leader.
And for that, we have to bestow the crown onto the A7 – every king has his reign and this time around, it is the A7’s time.
Specifications of the Audi A7 Sportback 3.0TFSI quattro
Engine: 2,995cc V6 direct-injection, supercharged
Max power: 300hp @ 5,250 – 6,500rpm
Max torque: 440Nm @ 2,900 – 4,500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
Safety features: Eight airbags, ESP with traction control, electronic differential lock, ABS, EBD, brake assist, LED daytime running lights, Isofix child seat anchor points, parking aid plus with park display and reverse camera
Price: RM599,000 OTR without insurance
Specifications of the Mercedes-Benz CLS350
Engine: 3,498cc V6 direct-injection
Max power: 302hp @ 6,500rpm
Max torque: 370Nm @ 3,500 – 5,250rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Acceleration 0 – 100km/h: 6.1 seconds
Safety features: 11 airbags, BAS Plus brake assist, ESP, pre-safe radar assisted braking, night view assist plus night vision, attention assist drowsiness detection system, Distronic Plus radar-guided cruise control, active lane keeping assist, active blind spot assist, intelligent light system, LED daytime running lights, automatic child seat recognition, reverse camera
Price: RM760,888 OTR without insurance