- Handling of a grand tourer, ride of a luxury car
- Fantastic multi-adjustable seats
- Google Earth's luscious maps
- RS 7: a GT-R for the rest of us
- Rear seats confine knees
- Steers without much feedback
- Cargo space isn't great
The basic 2014 Audi A7 is gorgeous, yes--but you'll swoon from the heady mix of raw sex appeal and torrid performance in the S7 and RS 7.
Automakers have invented the portmanteau "four-door coupe" to describe unusually good-looking sedans with frameless windows. But what happens when they apply it to a hatchback? Then it's just the Audi A7, one of the best-looking vehicles in a set that includes the intensely styled Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and the sleek four-door BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe.
The A7 actually is the most practical of them all--since it's a hatchback, it's more versatile for cargo than the related A6 four-door. It's almost as comfortable, too, in either four- or five-seat configurations. And to our eyes, it's arguably the sexiest car of all these "coupes."
From the front, the A7 strongly resembles the A6 that shares its mechanical layout, its instrument panel, and most of its features. Walk around the A7 and where a trunklid should be lies a hatchback, long and wide, opening up into a shallow cargo floor under the gracefully curved roofline. The grand-tourer outline gets played here for maximum practicality. Subtle details distinguish the base cars from the uber models: chrome grilles become black honeycombs, simple exhausts tap out for diffusers and oval tailpipes, and matte aluminum and carbon replace gloss black trim. The dash is a chorus of cutlines, but Audi's mastery of materials carries it off without a hint of chaos.
This year, the A7 adopts two new models into its breathtakingly pretty lineup, and one finishes that oxygen-extraction process. It's the RS 7, the most powerful Audi you can buy, even more powerful than the V-10 R8 sports car. The $105,795 RS 7 punches out a gulpworthy 560 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8, straps it to an eight-speed, paddle-shifted automatic with an active rear differential and a variable-torque-splitting quattro all-wheel-drive system, to throw down one of the most tastefully tailored gauntlets of all time. It thrives in the same extremely thin air as the CLS AMG 63 and M6 Gran Coupe: with 0-60 mph times of 3.7 seconds, it's no longer just a rival for the usual luxury sedans, it'll hound a Corvette Stingray down the straights while evading gas-guzzler taxes through the miracle of cylinder-deactivation technology.
It's not over in the corners, either. The air suspension that's standard can be adjusted into dynamic mode for flatter cornering, and steering can be dialed into a direct-ratio mode, too. (A DRC steel suspension's coming but won't be very common.) All told, the RS 7's rear-biased all-wheel-drive system can't erase its built-in understeer, but it can neutralize it so the RS 7 dives into corners flatly, predictably, at incredibly lofty speeds. We imagine a four-door GT-R might feel like this, if it let its richer instincts take the wheel.
A step down the ladder is where the Audi S7 lives. It shares a similar turbocharged V-8, only it's reduced to 420 hp--but still capable of getting to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. It has a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox coupled to quattro all-wheel drive, and much of the same adept handling, fluid road manners and outstanding acceleration--just not all of the outrageousness.
Further down the scale is an engine that's probably smaller than what might have been installed in it a few years ago. Audi's supercharged V-6 makes 310 horsepower and can get the base A7 to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. At 18 mpg city, 28 highway, it arguably has V-6 fuel efficiency, too, via its standard eight-speed automatic. A few small gripes aside, the A7 is quick, it handles shockingly well for such a large car, exhibiting little of the nose-heavy understeer Audis are often known for in hard driving--yet it still rides comfortably.
Finally, in the fuel-economy race, the new A7 TDI aims to emerge at the top of this segment. The new turbodiesel model earns impressive EPA numbers of 24 mpg city/ 38 highway/ 29 combined. It's offered with standard all-wheel drive and the eight-speed automatic, and with 240 hp and 428 lb-ft torque, it's said to be capable of a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds. Street performance is just as expansive as the supercharged six; the differences come down to price and preference.
No matter which A7 edition is hosting your passengers, they'll all be warmly welcomed. It's a top-notch luxury-car interior, with supremely comfortable front seats, although the back seats are a little tight for lanky adults. The S7 and RS 7 are four-seaters; other versions have five seats, nominally. With the seats down, the Audi A7 and S7 are limited only by the sloping glass in terms of capacity; there's a lot of room here, and a lot of utility--even though the space is a bit shallow.
In addition to the phenomenally good interior appointments, it's technology that also makes the A7 a standout. Most of what's great in the new Audi A8 flagship has been handed down to the lower-priced A7, either on the standard-equipment list or as part of the options list. The A7 comes standard with 12-way power heated front seats, and a choice of trim to go with standard leather. Ventilated seats are an option. The S7 and RS 7 come standard with Valcona leather seats and ambient lighting, while the RS 7 offers up a three-spoke steering wheel; a sport shift knob; and a gorgeous, natty pinstriped black-and-aluminum trim.
A night-vision display, blind-spot assist, and a system that can anticipate a collision all elevate the A7's safety roster above many luxury sedans. But it's the infotainment systems that are truly memorable: they include 3D Google Earth maps with Sirius Traffic updates, Google Voice search, an awesome Bang & Olufsen sound system, Audi Connect (in-car data services with a wireless hotspot), and MMI Touch, which lets you enter destinations, phone numbers, and the like by simply tracing a letter or number at a time on a little scratchpad.