Very smooth, yet distinctive and powerful are observations we might use to describe the style of the 2013 Audi A7 and S7, but that also describes the way they drive. The A7 “wafts” up to speed in a way that most other luxury sedans in this class don't, with a near uninterrupted wave of torque coming from the engine and the transmission always up to task in delivering it smoothly. There's nothing unobtrusive or jarring about the A7, but the S7 makes some room for stronger performance and a little more driver involvement.
In following trends that hold true nearly across the entire auto industry, the A7 gets an engine that's probably smaller than what might have been installed in it a few years ago; yet it's very strong and responsive. The supercharged V-6, dubbed TFSI 3.0, makes 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque and can get the A7 to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. At 18 mpg city, 28 highway, it arguably has V-6 fuel efficiency.
That supercharged V-6 is mated to an 8-speed automatic that we've already sampled in the A8, and it's an excellent companion. The A7 sports manual controls, but we're not sure those are entirely necessary. Audi's complementary system, dubbed Audi Drive Select, cycles through four different modes (Auto, Dynamic, Comfort, or Individual) to control the way the transmission reacts, the steering heft, and throttle sensitivity. While we like the overall feel behind the wheel of the A7, it's not entirely communicative nor is there much feedback coming through the steering wheel. Sport-sedan shoppers may be looking for a more direct experience, but drivers looking for a comfortable ride in a fashionable package will be pleased with the A7 and its sporty potential.
The 2013 Audi A7's ride quality is comfortable, but firm, which means if you live in a suburb with dimpled stretches of well-worn, excessively patched roads you may get a little tired of the action. Over moderate patches, tight roads, and choppy stretches of interstate, we found the ride to be adequate—almost sedate in situations that we'd expect sports cars to work up a sweat. The A7's suspension manages to soak up most imperfections without being too soft or bouncy.
That light feeling and measurable control is thanks to an heavy diet of aluminum in the A7; more than 20 percent of the body is made of the lightweight metal, and the doors, fenders, hood, and rear hatch are all composed of the material. According to Audi, using aluminum instead of steel has resulted in a 15-percent lighter vehicle.
In either version of this sleek five-door you get the latest performance-oriented version of Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system. It normally sends 60 percent of torque to the rear wheels, but it can send more to the front or rear wheels for better traction. It's configured to help optimize cornering and grip—and it's also a good choice for all-weather traction.
To appeal to those more focused enthusiasts, there's the S7, which gets a 420-hp twin-turbo V-8, combined with a seven-speed S tronic transmission and steering-wheel paddle-shifters. It's capable of getting to 60 mph in less than 4.9 seconds, and it includes the adaptive air suspension, with sport tuning, special wheels, and upgraded brakes.
First off, the engine. The twin-turbo eight tucks a pair of turbochargers in the valley between the cylinder banks, with an intercooler riding atop the engine. Audi says it's the most compact engine of its kind in the world—and one of the most efficient since the 420 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque also use cylinder-deactivation technology to shut off a bank of cylinders under light engine loads. The net is 17/27-mpg gas mileage—and a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, and a top speed of 155 mph. It's a torrid piece under the gun, with immediate and brisk acceleration, and it's a bit indecisive when pulling away from a stop—the coordination of stop/start, a many-geared dual-clutch transmission and a percolating pair of turbos catches the S7 in a stumble every so often.
There's a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission to work over via steering-wheel paddles on the S7. Its flavor of quattro comes standard with a sport differential that locks up more frequently for better power control, while the S7 also gets its own air suspension with variable ride height and distinctive tuning for Drive Select.
The S7 is one application where Drive Select works well enough for us. The three settings give it a wide range of driving personalities—and in Dynamic mode, the suspension height is lowered, and the steering and throttle and transmission respond more quickly. Flick a paddle and the gearbox answers almost immediately, while the throttle picks up without getting overzealous. The S7 tucks into corners with a lighter feel than its 4000-pounds-plus curb weight might predict, and even if it's not a true sportscar and has enough understeer cushion to go around, it's a brilliant road car with multiple and complementary driving modes.
Comfort mode's better for a relaxed interstate cruise, of course, and Auto mode lets the car choose the setting of the now. You can really tweak Drive Select into unhappy settings via the Custom mode. We'd set to Comfort for regular use, and snick into Sport when the right window in traffic appears.