Both the A6 and A7 share the same drivetrain, chassis and interior, with slightly different bodies, and enter a new age of what Audi calls "future premium." In the years to come, the automaker predicts, luxury will be less about how it makes you look or feel, and more about what conveniences the car can offer.
That philosophy is blatantly clear as soon as you slip into Audi's beautiful redesigned cabin. Plunk down in its 18-way massaging leather seats and you'll immediately notice three large LED screens dominating the interior. Gone are traditional dial instruments, replaced by animations on a massive 12.3-inch IP-spanning full-color display. The center stack, too, is all screen, seemingly inspired by Tesla but with a 10.1-inch upper and 8.6-inch lower screen rather than one that covers the entire console. These two touchscreens, Audi says, replaced a whopping 43 buttons in the previous generation A6 and A7.
Audi clearly put a lot of thought into the MMI to make it as user friendly as possible. Color-keyed icons brighten at the mere hover of a finger so you can see them out of the corner of your eye (at least when it's dark). The screen understands handwriting, and you can even write one letter on top of the next, no need to put one after another, then swipe to delete. Menus have been reorganized into fewer levels. Seven user profiles and 32 shortcuts are available for customization. Pinch to zoom and spread to expand a super-detailed nav map that renders buildings and landscape in 3D. Slide to adjust the climate control. Hold and drag icons like on your smartphone.
It's all incredibly snazzy, but the interfaces ultimately lack the intuitiveness or ease of use of good ol' buttons. This proves especially true when the car and your fingertips are oscillating at different rates over road imperfections. To its credit, though, Audi includes audio clicks and haptic feedback to mimic the auditory and sensory feedback of pushing a button, and it works decently enough. But it also raises the question, why not just have buttons?
The brand's third-gen Audi Connect service seamlessly integrates your smartphone and your car. It remembers where you parked, the location of the next appointment on your calendar, and Yelp-curated highlights along the way. In theory, your phone can guide you from your office to your parking space to your meeting, with directions moving from your car to your phone and back seamlessly, all while recommending a good sushi joint along the way.
Almost everything in the car has been digitized. The door handles are electronic, capable of delaying the door opening for a second or so in case the car detects a speeding bicyclist. The voice command system recognizes natural speech, so there's no need to memorize commands. And of course, there's a constant matrix of 23 sensors ready to stop for pedestrians, alert you to rear-cross traffic, read traffic signs, and talk to stoplights in areas where vehicle-to-infrastructure is available.
And remember those headlight animations? They're part of a range-topping headlight option called "high-definition LED matrix with lasers." Basically, each headlight is comprised of 32 individual LEDs, which are each in turn capable of 64 levels of brightness. When they sense an oncoming car, they dim the LEDs that would blind the approaching driver, but continue to cast a high-beam-level spread everywhere else.
It's a fascinating piece of technology that advances lighting beyond the binary low/high options of lesser lights. The U.S. hasn't legalized them yet because the NHTSA law specifically states headlights must have distinct high and low beams. But the technology comes at a price too, as each headlight is comprised of 200 individual parts. Pity the driver hit who gets the repair bill on the next A6 fender bender.
In fact, the level of digitization is so great that the car seems to have achieved a paradigm of sorts — one that makes the Audi A6 and A7 more iPhone than car. So much so, the driving aspect is practically secondary. Don't get us wrong. The Audi A6 and A7 are superb capsules in which to cover long distances. The seats coddle and the dash looks like a piece of sleek lobby furniture from a high-end Danish hotel. The Bose sounds system is fantastic. But you never escape the feeling that this is a tablet on wheels.
On the road, the steering splits the difference between BMW sportiness and Mercedes-Benz plushness. Its by-wire nature prevents it from reaching true at-one-with-the-car nirvana, but it's at least accurate. Kick it up to "dynamic" mode and both the steering and suspension tighten up. Body roll decreases a bit as road feel improves, but it won't let you forget you're tossing around approximately 4,000 pounds of leather and steel. Germans once offered superlative steering feel that offered justification for higher prices, but nowadays it's not hugely better than that of a Nissan Altima.
A new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 replaces the outgoing supercharged 3.0-liter V6 and loses five horsepower in the process, but you'll never notice. Power may be down to 335 horses, but torque is increased by 44 lb-ft to 369. The exhaust note of the V6 is a bit raspy, but that's a small gripe. The 8-speed Tiptronic has been superseded by a refined 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox that's quick and smooth, banishing the jerkiness of DSGs of old to memory. Zero-to-60 times clock in at 5.1 seconds in the A6, and 5.2 for the heavier A7. Audi says the cars offer a combined 25 mpg, 2 better than the outgoing models.
Perhaps the strongest points of the A6 and A7 are its exterior lines. Conservative or not, the elegance exuded by these machines is at the top of their class. BMWs and Lexuses are too busy, and Mercedes have some arguably awkward proportions these days. Audi, Infiniti and Cadillac remain at the top of the styling hierarchy.
The A7 is particularly stylish, an unassailable and fitting evolution of the fastback sedan shape. Designers have even hidden the rear spoiler cutline underneath the trailing edge of the trunk, not unlike the way Apple designers hide the seams of their latest devices. But at a $68,000 starting price, is it truly worth a $9,100 premium and a slight weight penalty over a similarly equipped A6 at $58,900?
For those seeking the utmost in convenience in a stylish package, perhaps. These days, a tenth of a second saved in a Google search is worth more than a tenth of a second in lap times. By increasingly integrating high technology with on-road sophistication, the A6 and A7 become even better status symbols.