Audi has not made any radical new advancements in terms of tech features on the A7. There is a version that includes pedestrian detection — basically, the car will stop automatically if someone is foolish to jump in front of you. The detection shows the person in the HUD right above the steering wheel. On our A7, there were a few interesting tech extras. One is that the rain-sensing wipers actually work — during a storm, they would start slowly and then work faster as the rain picked up. Many newer models, including most Buicks, have rain sensors, but they sometimes get fooled. (Extra trivia note: Rain sensors use a camera that measures optical interference to turn on the wipers.)
Adding Google Earth to the A7 is a remarkable new enhancement. In the slide-up 8-inch LCD viewer, which you control with a knob near the flour-mounted shifter (it’s not touch enabled), you can enable Google Earth to see a satellite rendering of your surroundings. In major cities, you’ll see buildings and other points-of-interest. This way, you can inspect your destination and even find a parking garage or front entrance. One option in the system allows you to quickly see the destination, and there’s a touchpad near the shifter that you can use to move around the map.
The nav interface also allows you to view Panoramia photos linked to a destination, so you can see photos from other users that are relative to your current location, along the route, or at the destination. The car has a T-Mobile 3G connection for pulling in this data, and you can tap into the 3G using your phone, a tablet, or a laptop over the built-in Audi Connect Wi-Fi hotspot. Unfortunately, by choosing T-Mobile, the coverage in our area was skimpy at best, and we never did get anything more than a 2G connection, even though AT&T and Sprint both have readily available 3G.
Navigating on the A7 is a notch better than most luxury cars. For one thing, the voice controls actually work. You can speak a city name and the A7 recognizes what you are saying and offers to make that the destination. The voice used for turn-by-turn navigation sounds a bit too much like a nerdy school principal for our tastes.
In comparing the A7 sound system to the A8, we found that the audio clarity is actually similar, and the subwoofer in the A7 thumped louder, but we didn’t feel quite as enveloped in sound. In fact, the A7 sound system from Bose was not exactly an overall highlight, even if it still beats many of the sedans we’ve tested from American car makers. The BMW 7 series, re-designed Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Audi A8 all sounded better than the A7.
Bluetooth, as always in Audi cars, worked flawlessly. We could even switch seamlessly between a Jabra Freeway speakerphone to the built-in speakerphone, both using an iPhone, without any problems. Audio playback also worked perfectly when we used the 30-pin connector located in a compartment between the seats. We did not see a setting to stream Bluetooth audio, however. There’s a six-disc CD changer in the glove box, plus the CD/DVD slot in the stereo. Our A7 test car also included satellite radio. Overall, the media options are all top notch.
So what’s missing? When we say there are no really impressive tech advancements, we mean that the A7 we tested had no adaptive cruise control for adjusting speed automatically based on the car in front of you. It has no lane departure warning, and no extra enhancements we have not seen in other luxury cars. The A7 does have sensors for warning you about objects nearby, blind spot detectors, and a crisp back-up camera that worked well even in rainy conditions. There’s another interesting perk: a switch for raising and lowering the rear spoiler.
The LED lighting in the front and rear is also a good safety addition — it means you can see much better at night both for highway driving and for backing up in the driveway. Two switches for rear-seat control allow you to disable not only the windows but the doors for kids in the back. One other oddity: the A7 we drove is actually a hatchback in that, when you open the trunk, the rear area opens up. This means you could conceivably haul a few 2 x 4 boards around or a really long pole. Whether you’d want to do that in a car suited for business use is debatable.
One other note: The A7 uses the latest Audio Quattro AWD and matched the handing of the A8. The only difference we noted, since we drove the A7 on loose mud instead of heavier snow, is that the A8 seemed a bit more secure on a slippery road than the A7 in tight situations, such as a few quick steering adjustments.
You might wonder where the A7 fits compared to previous car tests. That’s a tough one to explain, because the new A7 is an anomaly. It has luxury car roots, being the second-best model in the Audi line-up. Yet, it has a sports car heart, where you feel more inclined to drive fast than to cruise around a lake in summer. Our road rage incident made us wonder if the styling is a little over the top — the car definitely sticks out in a crowd. It’s easy to mistake it for a Jaguar, especially considering how the Audi A8 has a purposefully understated business-car design.
In the end, we felt the A7 will be just as hard to give up driving as the A8. There’s a pang of “no more quick accelerations from every stop sign” and “no more easy phone connectivity” after testing the A7. We still prefer the M37x interior, the BMW 7 sound system, and the Volvo S60’s high-tech features. We also wonder if the upcoming Mercedes-Benz CLS leap-frogs right past the A7 and the A8. But the A7 beats all previous tests in terms of spirited driving, especially around corners. Only the A8 is a clearly superior car in every way.