The luxury saloon segment here is niche and hence requires carmakers to exercise great care when tackling it. This approach results, more often than not, in cars that are the ultimate combination of driving pleasure and comfort. And this pair, the new BMW 640d Gran Coupé and the Audi A7 3.0 TDI, are two shining examples of how great engineering and design can blend.
Leaner, fitter, stronger-performing and better-looking versions of regular luxury saloons, these cars blend practicality and excitement like no other class of car can. They are more expensive and their cabins are not as large, but they come laden with enough visual appeal and performance to help transform them into something altogether more exciting. These cars work pretty well for the Indian customer too. First, they stand out from the crowd. Then, both these cars offer huge performance, 309bhp for the BMW and 245bhp for the Audi. They are, importantly, both available as diesels (Merc’s segment-defining CLS isn’t), which adds practicality, and both have sufficient passenger and luggage space. But which car is better?
Design and styling
For a start, both cars look absolutely stunning. Both have low-slung profiles, with several inches chopped off their cabin pillars and visually arresting details.
The Gran Coupé is one of the most good looking BMWs ever. The manufacturer has excelled with this car’s execution. The extra space between the wheels and the beautifully arched roof actually help give it an identity of its own. The long and elegant shape also rests on a broad base, and that upward sweeping cut that runs along the bottom of the front door is just right.
Audi’s A7 is also quite a looker. Audi’s big grille almost sweeps the floor, there’s the equivalent of a front spoiler ‘bent’ across the chin and the LED headlights, angled upwards, lend a menacing air. One deft stroke of the designer’s brush also takes the roof to the rear in an elegant arc. That said, from the rear three-quarters, it does appear a little ungainly.
These stunners also have the power to back up the great looks. The BMW’s 2993cc diesel straight six makes 309bhp. The inclusion of twin variable-geometry turbos has only upped the ante for this large-capacity diesel. Rail pressure has been bumped up to 2000bar to help it spin faster, and the result is one of the most un-diesel-like diesels there is. Idle isn’t petrol smooth, though. There is a bit of a buzz from the floor of the car and some mild clatter as well, but wind the motor up, get it spinning in its mid-range, and it takes off brilliantly. Spin it faster and it smoothens up considerably as well. Past 3500rpm, the note from the exhaust turns into a sporty rumble, and if you keep your foot down, the motor keeps spinning harder and harder all the way to 5500rpm. There’s no tail-off in power and responsiveness at the top either. So when you floor the accelerator, the Beamer charges ahead, the auto box flick-flicking you rapidly through its eight gears. Six seconds is all it takes for the 0-100 sprint and 200 takes no more than 22.9; seriously fast for a big diesel car.
The Audi is no slouch either. Its injection pressure is an identical 2000bar and its cubic capacity is similar too. Audi’s V6, however, uses only a single turbo, and that limits its power to 245bhp. There’s less torque and performance, as a result, isn’t as good. It also takes almost five seconds longer to get to 200 than the BMW, and the surge of power isn’t as strong either. Still, there’s much to like about the motor. Idle is relatively silent, the motor spins sweetly in the mid-range, and refinement at high engine speeds is simply stupefying; it just loves sprinting on the highway. Performance is pretty good at lower speeds too, the closely stacked lower gears helping here.
Ride and handling
As proven by both the diesel motors’ performance, these cars can deliver plenty of performance. But what happens when the roads start to bend and twist?
BMW’s rear-wheel-drive Gran Coupé is well up to the job. Based on the exceptional 640d two-door, this car shares some of the coupé’s agility. The electric steering impresses; there is plenty of feel, and even small inputs on the wheel result in precise and well-measured changes in direction.
High-precision brakes, a quick gearbox and decent body control help too. Drive the Gran Coupé harder, however, and you’ll soon discover that doesn’t have all of the coupé’s relative nimbleness. There’s much more mass at work, it’s not as ‘tight’, or as quick to change direction and it feels a bit more fidgety mid-corner too. To make it clear, the two-door is exceptional, the four-door only very good.
The Audi does some things really well too. Straight-line stability on the A7 is stellar, the Quattro system provides huge grip, and the Audi is good around long corners. Tighter bends do catch it out though. There’s a strange reluctance to turn in and the steering feels inert.
The ride quality, however, is quite impressive. Put the car in Comfort mode and it has a genuinely absorbent ride, despite the big wheels and short springs. The BMW – big surprise – rides well too. Set the suspension to Comfort+ (one of five modes) and you get an extra dose of suppleness, the big Gran Coupé gliding over even broken sections of road. But the short springs mean driving over large bumps sometimes result in a loud whack.
These saloons feel special on the inside as well. Slip into the front seat of the BMW and you are greeted by a cabin that’s clearly something a little bit out of the ordinary. The low seating position, slot-like windscreen and stubby pillars make the insides feel very different from a normal saloon. And then there’s the very concept car-like beige and white interior, to which BMW has added a touch of practicality.
The white bits are finished in shiny plastic, so you can wash and wipe away any stains. Otherwise, this is a regular, fully loaded BMW on the inside, complete with full-fat iDrive system and Bang & Olufsen audio.
The A7 has a B&O system too, complete with pop-up tweeters. You need to stoop a bit to get in and the seating position is lower than on regular Audis, but visibility out the front is better than in the BMW. It’s all systems normal here too; this is yet another brilliant Audi interior. The fit and finish is just as stunning as in an A8, you can order every feature imaginable, and Audi has blended dull aluminium, leather, wood and bright, legible instrumentation
with a touch of class.
These cars also have large, hugely comfortable front seats, with acres of space. Space in the rear is another matter. Legroom isn’t much of an issue though, which isn’t surprising considering their overall length. But the tighter-fitting roofs do mean headroom and seat height are adversely affected. The Gran Coupé, for example, has a really comfortable rear seat. It is sufficiently large, support for the thighs is good and the seat back is comfortably raked. But headroom is tight, especially if you are over six feet tall. And getting in and out also takes a bit more effort than with the A7.
The Audi’s back seat isn’t as comfortable, per se, as the BMW’s, but it is easier to access and headroom is less of an issue. It’s also much easier to seat three passengers across the rear bench; the BMW’s protruding air-con vent makes seating three comfortably at the rear nearly impossible. The A7 has an upright backrest, which robs it of a bit of crucial comfort. Both cars also have plenty of luggage space. The BMW has 460 litres and the Audi quite a bit more at 535 litres.
Both the saloons are pretty special cars – they look stunning, are very capable performers and are also sufficiently different from the regular saloons that their respective manufacturers make. So what sets them apart? The BMW is the better driver’s car – the steering, brakes and overall handling trumps the A7. Its interiors also feel a bit more distinctive. It’s got more power and the engine genuinely feels sporty in the way it delivers it. However, the Gran Coupé does cost around Rs 6-8 lakh more than the Audi. But considering this segment caters to those who are looking for that something extra in their rides, its more about how the car makes you feel than how much you pay for it. And when it comes to making you feel special, the Audi loses out to the BMW.