2012 Audi A7

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — If we were forced to pick the best brand car-for-car — bottom to top — it would have to be Audi. The German company continually amazes with its quality vehicles from one end of its lineup to the other. Spending several days driving the stylish all-new 2012 Audi A7 fastback sedan only reinforced our opinion of the brand.

Audi has entered the relatively new segment of luxury hatchback sedans that has few members, namely the Porsche Panamera and the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo. Also the swept-back Mercedes CLS can be included because of its similar styling, although it does not have a fifth-door hatch.

In the case of the A7, Audi is once again one up on its immediate rivals in terms of driving dynamics, ride quality and interior refinements.

Since the A7 comes with only one choice, a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 we can only compare it to the six-cylinder versions of the BMW and Porsche. The new A7 makes a very energetic 310-horsepower driving all four wheels (Quattro in Audi-speak) mated to a state-of-the-art eight-speed automatic transmission.

For the power hungry and those who generally scoff at six-cylinder engines Audi will soon offer an eight-cylinder-powered S7 that will compare nicely with the BMW and Porsche V-8’s. In the meantime we had no qualms with the smooth, seamless performance from the Audi six-engine, which, as measured by Audi, can accomplish 0-to-60 in a quick 5.5 seconds. And it matches up extremely well with the six-cylinder offerings available this year in the Panamera and the BMW 5-Series GT.

The Audi is built on the next-generation A6 platform and stretches out 195 inches, good enough for comfortable accommodations for four adults. One minor disclaimer — rear-seat headroom may be on the short side for long torso six-footers because of the slopping roofline designed to give the sedan its coupe-like appearance.

The Audi clearly stands out in two areas — exterior styling and interior ambiance. The A7 carries the next evolution of Audi design as found in the 2011 A8 with short overhangs, an expansive hood and low-slung sporty proportions. German auto magazine Auto Bild, with a panel of 10 design experts judging, named it winner of its annual design competition.

One of the unique features of the well-executed interior is an eight-inch screen that raises from the dashboard — canted toward the driver — when the ignition is switched on. It consolidates audio, navigation and telephone functions in an extremely easy-to-read display.

The A7 has been on sale in Europe for several months and is now reaching U.S. showrooms starting at $60,125.

— Jim Meachen