It's only just arrived, and the new 2012 Audi A7 reminds us of a trusted old friend. That's quite a compliment.
The five-door is fresh on the scene, with gorgeously sleek sheetmetal hiding an advanced supercharged engine and all-wheel drive. Inside, there is a four-place cabin loaded with luxury and some of the industry's most innovative technology. Impressive, but that isn't what sets the Audi apart.
While most original designs require time for familiarization, the A7 seems to be an exception. Unlike most cars that cross our paths, this new luxury hatchback welcomes occupants into one of the warmest and most inviting passenger cabins we have encountered in years. Even though it is thoroughly modern and sophisticated, all controls are intuitively placed and their operation is second nature. Everything, from throttle and steering response to passenger space and cargo utility, works exactly as one would expect it to.
This may sound crazy, but after just two minutes behind the wheel, we are as comfortable as if we were entering the tenth year of a long relationship...
Audi first teased us with its Sportback Concept in January 2009. Eighteen months later, the German automaker rolled out the production-ready A7 at the 2010 Paris Motor Show before it finally debuted for the U.S. market at the 2011 New York Auto Show just a couple of months ago.
The 2012 Audi A7 Sportback is an all-new five-door hatchback (though the automaker's marketers conveniently call it a sedan) sharing modular architecture with its sibling, the new 2012 Audi A6 four-door sedan. Priced below the automaker's flagship A8, but above the A6, the A7 competes directly against the five-door BMW 5 Series GT. Some will argue that the Porsche Panamera, another European five-door from parent company Volkswagen, is in the same arena.
The base price of the 2012 Audi A7 3.0 TFSI is $59,250. That's a nudge more than the base price of the BMW 535i xDrive Gran Turismo ($58,800) but significantly less than the entry-level all-wheel-drive Porsche Panamera 4 ($78,900), and it comes standard with all-wheel drive. Our test car arrived configured with Moonlight Blue Metallic paint ($475) over black leather upholstery. Major options included the Prestige package ($6,330), which adds the S-line exterior, navigation, Audi Connect, four-zone climate control, Bose audio upgrade, adaptive headlights, smart key, parking sensors and more. Audi Side Assist ($500) and destination ($875) brought our bottom line to $67,430. That price aligns well with a nicely equipped BMW 5 Series GT, but we all know that nobody is touching a Porsche Panamera for less than $85,000.
As the automaker's first larger coupe since the departure of the Audi 100 Coupé S in the 1970s, the A7 is one svelte piece of machinery. The fastback is graceful from nearly every angle, even if the rear half seems to carry the bulk of the weight (park the A7 next to the BMW and Porsche, and you will quickly dismiss any reservations you have about styling). The front fascia isn't as aggressive as the nose of the new A6, but the rear and tail treatment takes the booty prize thanks to its wide flanks, larger taillamps and well integrated dual exhaust pipes.
Speaking of awards, the A7 deserves heaps of accolades for its cabin. The interior is unbelievably alluring, thanks to well-executed design and top-rate materials - an Audi signature these days. Seats and door panels are upholstered in soft perforated leather and the natural hides are contrasted with real wood trim, with exquisitely exposed grain, bordered by strips of aluminum (just try to sit in the front seat of the Audi A7 and not rub your fingers across the texture).
Three-zone climate control is standard, but our A7 arrived with a four-zone upgrade and front seat ventilation (heated front seats are standard) keeping us cool and comfortable whether sitting behind the thick four-spoke leather steering wheel or in the front passenger seat. Audi's five-door does not stake claim to the roomiest occupant compartment, but our six-foot two-inch frame found the front seats very accommodating, even though we would have welcomed a bit more side bolster. The rear seats, on the other hand, were a bit less accommodating than the fronts thanks to limited head and toe room, but most adults will find them above average for most trips. Behind the rear seats is a generous luggage area hidden by a two-piece cover. In the rare situation more space is needed, both rear seats fold down (60:40 split with a ski pass-through) to reveal cargo space that would make most big crossovers envious.
The cabin of the A7 features more electronic goodies than a Best Buy Memorial Day sale. In addition to the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) with hideaway 6.5-inch screen high on the dashboard, there is a smaller five-inch multi-function display between the tachometer and speedometer. Onboard entertainment includes standard SIRIUS Satellite Radio (with a three-month free subscription), single in-dash CD and the Audi music interface offering iPod, USB and AUX inputs. Our Bose upgrade (a Bang & Olufsen Advanced system is available too) was bundled with surround sound and HD Radio - Bluetooth phone connectivity is also standard. If we have any serious ergonomic gripes, it's that the start button is on the passsenger's side of the center console – an odd location often obscured by the gearshift lever.
Our Prestige model included Audi Connect (bundled with a complimentary six-month free T-Mobile subscription). In a nutshell, the vehicle is subscribed to a cellular service company providing Internet WiFi for up to eight devices within the cabin (e.g., mobile phone, laptops and iPad). Plus, the service provides data for real-time moving Google Maps, search engine functions and more. We found the system very convenient, as it proactively linked with all of our devices after the initial setup was complete - more than one passenger was startled when their mobile phone requested to "connect" with the Audi's strong WiFi signal.
Thankfully, the five-door's underpinnings are as impressive as its accommodations.
Like other Audi models, the A7 (internal designation Type 4G) is offered with a variety of powerplants burning gasoline or diesel depending on the specific market. Americans have demonstrated a lust for torque with a splash of fuel economy to lessen environmental guilt. With that in mind, Audi North America has made the decision that all 2012 A7 models will arrive with its blown 3.0-liter TFSI V6, an engine shared with the S4, A6, A8 and Q7. It's a fine direct-injected powerplant fitted with a belt-driven supercharger boosting output to 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.
The standard gearbox is an eight-speed Tiptronic, a wet clutch automatic transmission. Also standard is Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which utilizes a center torque-sensing differential (40:60 front-to-rear standard split) and electronically locking front and rear differentials to divide power to the wheels that will use it most effectively and dismiss any concerns about inclement weather. While 18-inch wheels are standard, our test car was fitted with ten-spoke 19-inch alloys, part of the Prestige package, wearing 255/35HR19 all-season Bridgestone Potenza tires.
According to Audi, the A7 3.0T will hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph (the European models are limited to 155 mph). The five-door is hardly a lightweight. In fact, its curb weight is listed at 4,210 pounds despite the fact the hood, roof, fenders and tailgate are aluminum, yet those strong acceleration figures demonstrate the near-perfect marriage between the powerplant, transmission and driveline. And if frugality is your thing, the EPA rates the vehicle at 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined – impressive numbers for a sedan with this mass (our real-world fuel economy aligned perfectly with those figures).
In real-world driving around the busy LA Basin, the cabin of the A7 is whisper silent. Somehow, even with frameless windows, studious aerodynamic engineering and brilliant use of sound deadening material kept the wind, tire and even engine noise outside. The A7 is one of the quietest real-world cars we have ever experienced at any price.
The A7 felt quick on its feet, yet it didn't deliver that instant punch of power expected of a mid-five-second car once it was rolling. Most of the time, the five-door behaved like a well-mannered V6 sedan with a moderate amount of power under our right foot. It didn't bother us, as the pace readily picked up once the accelerator was pressed with authority. (If you're a horsepower junkie, hold your breath for the hot-blooded S7 that should be right around the corner.) Thankfully, when the supercharger is at full spool, all-wheel drive puts the power down completely free of wheelspin regardless of the road surface. It's a godsend when pulling into fast moving traffic from a standstill.
We found ourselves pleased with the standard suspension, as the ride was comfortable without any sense of harshness. While our test model was lacking either sport package option (the 19- and 20-inch wheel/suspension upgrades both arrive with summer-compound tires and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles) and devoid of the optional air suspension with four electronically controlled shock absorbers, it was still more than capable in LA's coastal mountain ranges. With the standard Audi Drive Select set to "Dynamic" (altering throttle and steering response), we had plenty of fun shooting back and forth through the canyons. Overall, cornering is flat and very stable, even on less-than-optimal rubber. Despite the fact that Audi's Servotronic steering is lighter than we'd prefer and the brakes a bit grabby at first application, it only took a short bit of time behind the wheel to become accustomed to both. The new A7, even with the standard suspension tuning, is an athlete.
Let's get back to that earlier comparison between the A7, 5 Series GT and Panamera.
The BMW rolls on a modified 7 Series platform. That translates well for interior room (especially in the massively accommodating second row), but it also means the big five-door Bimmer is 600 pounds heavier than the A7. This penalty stifles the GT's acceleration, fuel economy and overall handling finesse by comparison. Throw in the BMW's awkward styling and our checkbook would open for the A7 under nearly every circumstance.
The Porsche is a different story. The Panamera mirrors the A7 in nearly every dimension and in weight, but its rear seats are more accommodating. The gap opens up on the road, as the ultra-refined Porsche, even in V6 guise, reveals that it is just a four-door 911 in a disguise of controversially bulbous clothing. While the Audi's interior is first-rate, the Panamera is superior when it comes to overall chassis dynamics, handling and road feel. But that should be expected when it arrives burdened with at least a $25,000 premium.
While it was with us for merely a week, Audi's all-new A7 left a wave of compliments in its wake. Even in notoriously car-snobbish LA, passers-by flooded us with questions and friends asked for rides. Instantly recognizable as an Audi - an automaker noted for stunning designs these days - the attractive sheetmetal and luscious interior seemed to push all the right emotional buttons from a distance. Those drawn in closer were sold on the technical wizardry and impeccable cabin appointments.
Most impressive to us was the feeling the 2012 Audi A7 immediately gave to the driver and passengers. Not only was it warm and inviting, but it was intelligent, intuitive and predictable. And, like an old friend, it was very enjoyable just to hang out with.