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.
The top-notch eight-speed automatic transmission—essentially the same one that's used in the Audi A8 flagship—is a willing companion. It comes with Tiptronic manual controls, so you can command shifts as you wish. But you might not ever need to do that; the A7 comes with something called Audi Drive Select, which lets you, through four different modes (auto, dynamic, comfort, or individual) control the way the transmission responds, how the steering feels (by adjusting boost), and even how responsive the throttle pedal is. That said, while the A7's tiller is nicely weighted, there's very little if any road feel or feedback through the steering wheel. Sport-sedan fans will no doubt wish for a little more edginess, but those who want a fashionable, comfortable vehicle that also has a sporty side will be delighted.
Ride quality for the 2013 A7 is on the firm side of comfortable—meaning that if you live around excessively patched, potholed roads you might find it too firm; but over tight mountain roads, urban streets, and a particularly coarse, choppy stretch of Interstate, we found the ride to be just fine--almost stoic, in situations that would have some sports cars and sports sedans working up a sweat. Yet its suspension managed to soak up both noisy surfaces and bigger jolts without ever seeming bouncy or too pillowy.
That combination of light driving feel, control, and composure is thanks, in part to the extensive use of aluminum in both the A7's structure and components; more than 20 percent of the body is made of aluminum, and the front fenders, hood, rear hatch, and doors are also made of it. Altogether, that helps the A7 weigh about 15 percent less than a comparable all-steel vehicle, according to Audi.
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.