If the all-new A7 seems surprisingly familiar for a car recently overhauled from bumper to bumper, it should. Interestingly, the A7 shares many of the same features of the A8 we reviewed a few months ago, yet has a distinctly different purpose in life. The A8 uses some of the most advanced technology available to ease you around corners using an adaptive suspension and make potholes much less infuriating, in addition to a host of other creature comforts like front speakers that rise out of the dashboard. The Audi A7 is more focused on the thrill of driving. The intent here is luxury, speed, and a sporty drive for every condition.
First, a note about the styling. This sedan is roughly 55 inches tall, which you’ll notice right away. Like the Jaguar, the car looks longer than the A8 because of its low profile, but seating is actually a bit less spacious — especially in the back. Headroom for the driver is okay — fortunately, you can adjust the seat quite low. The sunroof, which normally lowers the overall cab space for tall drivers, actually adds some extra room as long as you keep the cover open.
Driving the 2012 Audi A7 is an experience every car lover should have at least once. The acceleration is not exactly like a sportscar — not too long ago, we drove the 2012 Ford Mustang 302 Boss and still remember the tire squeal. Yet, like most European sedans, you will appreciate the initial punch and the passing ability in third and fourth gear.
It’s a little astounding on the A7 — once you are up to about 60MPH on the highway — that there is still so much power available, even though the V6 engine has just over 300 horsepower and is not in the same league as, say, the Cadillac CTS-V. (Next week, we’re reviewing the new Camaro SS Convertible pony car that has over 400 horsepower.)
The engine whir on the A7 makes you appreciate the engineering that went into this new design, as the vehicle passes through the upper gears and you barely notice the automatic shifting. Of course, you can also use a manual shift mode, which is easy to access on the floor-mounted shifter. The A7 allows you to switch between drive modes, such as comfort and dynamic, to control whether the shifting is smooth or provides a bit more punch. The A7 model we tested is the supercharged version, which adds some quick acceleration — about 6 seconds going from 0 to 60.
The interior of our A7 looked luxurious but not over-stated. There’s a spider-web pattern on some panels that adds some extra flare, but we still prefer the cockpit of the Infiniti M37x in terms of overall styling.
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.