The 2012 Audi A7 is an all-new model. It's being touted by Audi as the next step in the evolution of the automobile, being a sedan that looks like a coupe with the functionality of a wagon thanks to its fastback fifth door. But it's more like the evolution of the 2007 Audi A5 Sportback. Actually, Mercedes first presented the style with the 2004 CLS, which for 2012 will enter its second generation already.
The A7 is a new competitor of the Jaguar XF or Porsche Panamera, as those three cars are the same wheelbase and overall length, within one inch. The Mercedes CLS, making it four strong luxury performance coupe sedans, is a couple inches smaller.
Other fastback four-doors are the bulkier Acura ZDX, although it's considered more of a crossover sedan; and the reviled new BMW 5 Series GT. Neither have been very successful for reasons having to do with looks and function.
With its cargo area and access, the Audi A7 stretches between the Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes, and the ZDX. Audi apparently believes it's not the big cargo concept that doesn't work, it's the execution, and that they can do it better. Success is a matter of styling and choice of compromises among sleekness, power, price, and functionality.
The silhouette of the A7 is sleek, more like the Jaguar XF than any of the other four-door coupes. From the rear, the stretching roofline and glass of the A7 give it a retro look, like some of the fastback sports cars of the 1950s.
The A7 interior is lovely, the dashboard wrapping around the driver and into the front doors, the beautiful instrument panel perfectly framed by the three-spoke sport steering wheel.
The A7 is a four-seat car. There's acceptable legroom in the rear seats. The 60/40 rear seatback flips down to a flat floor, and opens up the rear for cargo carrying that rivals a station wagon, accessible under the fifth door, the liftback. It's super quiet underway.
We love the Google Earth navigation screen in the A7, which makes a fantastic map to follow, on a big pop-up screen. As for the navigation system itself, the good news is it will allow you to set a destination while the car is moving, but we found it's accuracy lacking.
In the drivetrain department, the Audi A7 totally pulls it off. It uses a fast and silky 3.0-liter supercharged V6 mated to a seamless 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and using Audi's legendary quattro all-wheel drive. The Audi A7 rates an EPA-estimated 18 city and 28 highway miles per gallon, although premium fuel is required for the high-compression engine.
Audi Drive Select allows the driver to choose one of four modes: comfort, auto, dynamic and individual. These modes adjust the transmission, power steering and engine to modify shift points, steering boost and throttle characteristics.
We found the ride was smooth and comfortable at all times, even on our test model with 20-inch wheels and a sport suspension. And the more we challenged our A7 in corners, the better it felt. However, we found the 20-inch tires sensitive to road surfaces, the car tending to move around at 70 mph. This may have been due to the optional low-profile 20-inch tires on our car or the new electromechanical power steering system. The standard (Premium) model may be better in this regard.
The Audi grille just seems to get bigger and bigger, although it's probably not. But with the A7, the stylish horizontal headlamps (xenon standard, LED optional), along with the large horizontal air intakes underneath the headlamps, balance the grille and minimize its boxiness. It's the same nose as on the A8. The matching upswept angles of the headlamps and air intakes, on the corners of the rounded nose, suggest motion, if not flight. They make that big and busy front end work.
The standard xenon headlight system is called all-weather lighting, including lights that replace fog lamps that would otherwise be mounted in the air intakes. The standard daytime running lights are LED. Audi claims that the optional LED lighting, as on our Prestige test model or as a stand-alone option, makes night look like daylight, but we couldn't quite see that. The lights were indeed excellent, but they were excellent headlamps lighting the darkness, not erasing it.
The silhouette of the Audi A7 is sleek, more like the Jaguar XF than any of the other four-door coupes; the Mercedes CLS remains the boldest and most striking. The coefficient of drag is a neat 0.30 Cd. From the rear, the stretching roofline and glass of the A7 give it a retro look, like some of the fastback sports cars of the 1950s, maybe an AC Aceca Coupe. We're not knocking it, but we're not sure we like it that much, although others do; and we're not sure it carries the car. It almost looks as if it was added on to an Audi sedan, like the A7 was designed nose-to-tail, rather than all at once. But at the least, it's clearly a different Audi.
There's an integrated rear spoiler that automatically raises at 80 mph and retracts at 50; or it can be deployed manually.
The stylish interior is lovely, as one should expect from a car of this caliber. The dashboard suggests a wide horizontal arc, wrapping around the driver and into the front doors. There are two types of standard perforated leather, called Milano or Valcona, with aluminum-look trim. The standard wood trim is ash, with dark walnut or brushed aluminum optional.
The beautiful instrument panel stands out before the driver's eyes, perfectly framed by the three-spoke sport steering wheel with spokes at 3 and 9 o'clock. The white-on-black numbers on the tachometer and speedometer are crystal clear. Between them there's a digital display with all the right information, that allows you to switch between “short-term memory” or “long-term memory,” for example with fuel mileage. The excellent thing about this display is that all the information is there at all times: no scrolling. It all fits without being crowded. And it's readable in the sun.
The A7 is only a four-seat car, not five. There's acceptable legroom in the rear, 37.0 inches, and spacious cargo room of 24.5 cubic feet behind the seats, accessible under the fifth door, the liftback. The 60/40 rear seatback flips down to a flat floor, and opens up the rear for cargo carrying that rivals a station wagon.
It's super quiet inside, thanks to lined wheelwells and underbody panels, along with a windshield film and special sealing on the doors and windows.
Visibility out the expansive rear glass is good, when it's not obscured by a persistent broad reflection from the beige interior in our A7, so bad in the sun that we had to back up blind; maybe the reflection won't appear with black interior. The sideview mirrors automatically fold at 45-degree angles when you park, but they don't unfold fast enough when you jump in your car and go, for example out of a parking space along the curb.
Some things we don't buy. Now mirrors that think for you, and sometimes make your driving more hazardous. They point down when you back up, so maybe you won't run over the dog or an untended 3-year-old, but you'll back into the mailbox; now they fold up out of the way so the car parking alongside won't whack them, but you might pull out in front of an oncoming car unless you wait for their little motor that someday might fail to put them back into place.
Frankly, we're tired of re-inventions that don't work. We love the Google Earth navigation screen, which makes a fantastic map to follow, on a nice big pop-up screen. As for the navigation system itself, the good news is it will allow you to set a destination while the car is moving (after you agree that it's dangerous); the bad news is you might as well not bother, because it will get you lost. Just pretend you're in a helicopter, and follow the map.
We gave the navigation system two good chances, and both times it was dead wrong. We were smack dab in front of our destination, a Harbor Freight store correctly entered by its address, and the navigation told us to turn around and keep going, the store was 1.2 miles away. Another time we tested it, fully knowing our way between two places, and it sent us on a preposterous loop that ate up 20 minutes. And the voice recognition was futile: you say Gresham, it hears Rochelle, 3000 miles away.
Since navigation isn't standard on the Premier model, we suggest that's the best buy. Get yourself an inexpensive aftermarket unit in your expensive Audi; we've found they're generally more accurate than the manufacturers' systems costing 10 times as much.
We have other questions about re-invention. Why has Audi decided that turning the radio dial (in this case the MMI dial) clockwise should move the stations back, and not forward as the rest of the world has been doing since radios were invented? Mankind's intuition needs to be corrected by Audi?
Sorry if we've ranted too long about these issues, but that's what left the strongest impression about the interior function. And we haven't even addressed the details of the function of Audi's MMI, or Multi Media Interface system, whereby a mouse-like dial controls the car's functions. You'll find the description in other Audi reviews here. For the A7, Audi says, “logically simple and intuitive operation of fitted vehicle and infotainment components.” We would argue that, but it would take 12 pages. We didn't count the number of pages in the A7 manual that it takes to explain the “logically simple and intuitive operation.”
If one were to describe an ideal powertrain for a car like this, it might be the A7's 3.0-liter supercharged V6, making 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and getting 18 city and 28 highway miles per gallon. It's fast and silky. Now attach the seamless 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters, that you can either play with or forget about. Combine them with the superb Audi quattro all-wheel drive system for all-season traction, and you can't be beat. However, premium fuel is required for the high-compression engine with spark ignition and direct injection.
Acceleration from 0 to 60 is 5.4 seconds, quick as you'd ever need to slip safely onto the freeway. You can't even feel the transmission shifting on the climb up to 60 and beyond, and it will maintain 80 mph uphill without kicking down. The Mercedes CLS offers a big V8 with big horsepower, but that means significantly more money and less fuel mileage.
Then there's Audi Drive Select, a program that allows the driver to choose one of four modes: comfort, auto, dynamic and individual. These modes adjust the transmission, power steering and engine to modify shift points, steering boost and throttle characteristics. With so many options, you can find what makes you happy.
The brakes are powerful with an easy feel requiring no concentration. They'll never be an issue, with gigantic 14-inch front and 13-inch rear rotors.
The ride was smooth and comfortable at all times, but we found the steering a bit disconcerting. We don't mean the cornering, because the more you challenge the A7 in corners the better it feels; our A7 had the 20-inch wheels with 265/35/R20 summer performance tires and a tuned suspension. But lane-changing on the freeway kept us on our toes. The A7 with sport suspension in 20-inch tires is sensitive to road surfaces, and tends to want to move around at 70 mph or even less. Not a weave, not a twitch, more like a drift. The more you drive it, the less you notice it, but the movement requires that you pay attention to your steering. The standard tires may be better in this regard, but we haven't tested them.
The new Servotronic speed-sensitive electromechanical power steering system that Audi calls “highly efficient.” Mechanically, it's most likely true; but when they use adjectives like that, as with the Multi Media Interface, we get leery. It has a quick 15.9:1 ratio, that Audi calls “sporty and direct.”
Since our Prestige had the big wheels and tweaked suspension, we wonder how a simple Premium would move on the freeway. Maybe with less efficiency and directness, which might be a good thing.
The all-new four-seat Audi A7, a five-door fastback, achieves its goal of coupe elegance, sedan convenience and wagon functionality. Its powertrain is superb: fast and silky supercharged V6, seamless 8-speed Tiptronic transmission, and quattro all-wheel drive, with an EPA Combined 23 mpg on premium fuel. Interior is clean and stylish, and ride excellent. The navigation system is dubious, but the base model comes without navigation so it's safe. We found the Multi Media Interface distracting to operate.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Pacific Northwest.