Audi A7 — Great looks with dynamics to match

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
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. 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. The Mercedes CLS550 has the same swept-back styling, but has a traditional trunk.
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 engine choice, a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, we can only compare it to the six-cylinder versions of the BMW and Porsche. The Mercedes comes only with a twin-turbocharged V-8.
The V-6 makes a very energetic 310-horsepower driving all four wheels (Quattro in Audi-speak) mated to a state-of-the-art eight-speed Tiptronic 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 engine, which, as measured by Audi, can accomplish 0-to-60 in a quick 5.4 seconds. And it matches up extremely well with the six-cylinder offerings available this year in the Panamera and the 5-Series GT.
The engine works well with the eight-speed gearbox offering instantaneous power with instantaneous downshifts at any speed and any point in the rev band. Audi, it seems, has squeezed the most performance possible from its 310 horses and 325 pound-feet of torque.
Letting the A7 do its thing on our favorite five-mile twisting blacktop proved rewarding. The sport suspension kept the sedan planted on the hard turns. But for most drivers, it’s not about running fast and hard, but about everyday driving, and for those chores the Audi has a wonderful driving demeanor and a silky smooth ride.
To top off the attractive performance numbers, the A7 can stop in a very short 110 feet from 60 to 0 as measured by a major car magazine.
The A7 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. Form over function is an automotive staple these days.
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. The four-place sedan interior is wonderfully spacious and comfortable. German auto magazine Auto Bild, with a panel of 10 design experts judging, named it winner of its annual design competition.
The A7 also comes with the menacing big-mouth seven-strake grille used on other models to great affect including the A8. It gives the car an imposing look
To carry off the coupe theme, the A7 has frameless door windows, sheetmetal-mounted mirrors and thick C-pillars. We think it trumps the similarly styled Porsche Panamera and BMW 5 Series GT; neither of which is a dog.
Our test car’s optional 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels and optional metallic paint job added to the Audi’s head-turning appearance. For an even bolder statement, 20-inch sport wheels are available.
And although it seems the hatchback design has not been an overwhelming success in the U.S., we like it for its practicality measured by a 25-cubic-foot cargo area. The rear seatbacks fold 60/40 for storing longer items.    
It’s amazing how far German engineering has come since the first joystick-controlled switchgear came on the scene more than a decade ago. While the Audi is feature intensive, it is relatively simple to comprehend.
Audi’s latest MMI Plus Interface has one of the industry’s most unique features, 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.
A highlight of the navigation system is a new feature with Google earth mapping. 
The center console controller is intuitive, and while a perusal of the owner’s manual is recommended one can handily catch on to the basic audio and climate controls without consultation with the book.
The head-turning styling and practicality of a hatchback design comes with a price when compared to the similarly sized A6 sedan. The A7 starts at $60,125 including destination charge while the 2012 A6 3.0-liter quattro begins at just under $51,000.
The A7 is available in three trim levels, Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. As you might expect, the standard equipment list is long and comprehensive. But be advised that there are numerous attractive option choices and if your check list becomes too long, the base price can rapidly escalate into 70 grand territory. For example, our test car with the aforementioned $60,125 base price carried a bottom line of $68,830.
 Another A7 we drove had a bottom line price of $80,130 included the Prestige package ($6,330) featuring the advanced navigation MMI touch system with Google Earth. A flawless Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system ($5,900) subbed for an already top notch Bose system. And a $5,800 innovation package served up adaptive cruise control, head up display and night vision among other tech safety items. Yet inexplicably there was no blind spot warning system.  
We are, indeed, Audi fans, and the A7 only elevated our already high regard for the brand. It is to us the epitome of the ultimate luxury sedan despite its few shortcomings.
Base price: $61,225; as driven, $68,830
Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V-6
Horsepower: 310 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 325 foot-pounds @ 2,900 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 114.7 inches
Length: 195.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,094 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 25 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19.8 gallons (premium)
EPA rating" 28 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 5.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 5-Series GT, Porsche Panamera, Mercedes CLS550
The Good:
• Gorgeous head-turning styling
• Responsive engine
• Stylish, quality interior
• Ample cargo space
The Bad:
• Tight rear-seat headroom
The Ugly:
• About 10-thousand more than comparable A6 sedan