Powerful and distinctive are words that describe the Audi A7's styling, but they're apt also for its performance. Smoothly paired engines and transmissions let it build speed with a tremendous sense of confidence. It's engaging, even before you get to the S7 and RS 7 power rangers.
The standard engine in the A7 is Audi's 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. In the hatchback, it's rated at 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. In practice, it's a gutsy powerplant that's been muted from its first applications. Lots of low-end torque helps it accelerate the A7 to 60 mph in about 5.4 seconds, while it also achieves up to 28 miles per gallon on the EPA's highway cycle. It's that kind of versatility that's flattering to the A7's good looks, and vice versa.
For 2014, Audi's fine 3.0-liter turbodiesel six is the high-economy alternative. Just about as quick as the gas-powered six, the turbodiesel has the typically tight powerband and more noise and vibration. They're more than offset by a sky-high EPA highway number of 38 mpg, and a combined rating of 29 mpg--even with standard all-wheel drive. With so little performance distinction between it and the gas-powered six, the difference comes down more to price and preference. As with the other six-cylinder, stop/start is standard, and can induce a shiver in the cabin as the engine fires back up after a pause. Stop/start can be disabled via a dash-mounted button.
No matter which you choose, the transmission is a top-notch eight-speed automatic outfitted with manual-shift mode, and 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.
The A7 comes standard with Audi Drive Select, which lets drivers choose settings for transmission, steering, and throttle, through four different modes (auto, dynamic, comfort, or individual). It's most obvious in the steering, which weights up dramatically through the different modes, though 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 is on the firm side of comfortable, which could be too firm if your roads aren't in good repair. On 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.
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.
Audi RS 7
For $105,795, the new Audi RS 7 puts the basic A7 into peak performance mode. The same silhouette gets stuffed with a higher-output version of the S7's twin-turbo V-8. Here, output soars to 560 horsepower, and the numbers skew better in all directions. The RS 7 can nail 0-60 mph runs in just 3.7 seconds, with some help from a beefy eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic and retuned all-wheel drive with a rear power bias. The RS 7's top speed is 174 mph.
For a taste of the 560-hp beast on the German autobahn, read MotorAuthority's 2014 Audi RS 7 first drive.