Your first glance might lead you to believe the 2012 Audi A7 3.0 TFSI Quattro is little more than an answer to the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Except that Audi has taken "fashionably late" to a new level as the CLS is already into its second generation.
But the 2012 Audi A7 adds a new twist to the much-coveted four-door-as-coupe equation. It's actually a five-door hatchback, a relative rarity in the $60,000-plus market where the A7 is set to reside. While hatchbacks are welcomed by practical Europeans, they're usually supreme no-no's here in the U.S.
To complicate matters further, despite the usefulness that comes with the A7's spacious hatchback and folding rear seats, this Audi is only a four-seater.
But let's forget about defining the A7 for a moment. We'd rather tell you how it performed at the test track and on real roads.
Sizing It Up
As its name suggests, the A7 slots in between the A6 and A8. It rides on a 114.7-inch wheelbase which is six inches less than the BMW 535i Gran Turismo. Its overall length of 195.6 inches eclipses the A6 by 2.1 inches, is well shy of the 202.2-inch flagship A8 and is only 1.2 inches shorter than the 535i Gran Turismo. Still, the sleek A7 is about 1.5 inches lower than its A6 and A8 counterparts.
Although the A7 3.0 TFSI Quattro starts at $60,125 (including destination), our Prestige package tester (which adds S-line trim, Audi Navigation Plus with MMI Touch, four-zone climate control, front seat cooling and a Bose audio system, for $6,330) tallied up a final MSRP of $68,630.
T Is For Supercharger
There's only one drivetrain for U.S. A7s. Luckily, it's a good one: The 3.0 TFSI V6 ("T" no longer stands only for turbo in Audi-speak, as this one's supercharged). This direct-injected engine is quickly becoming a favorite, already seen in various power levels in both the A6 and S4. In A7 form it puts out 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. For comparison, the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six in BMW's 535i Gran Turismo produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. All U.S. A7s come with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Without doubt, the 3.0 TFSI is a fantastically flexible piece. The nearly silent supercharger adds urgency yet the smooth flow of power carries all the way to its 6,500-rpm redline. The instant power plus all-wheel-drive grip made for an impressive romp to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds (5.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like at a drag strip). The quarter-mile disappeared in 13.6 seconds at 101.7 mph. Not too shabby for a 4,207-pound car with only 310 hp.
But beyond satisfying the Numbers Nerds, the 3.0 TFSI is one of the world's truly great engines because of the way it delivers its power, which is pretty much everywhere on the tach, with barely a nanosecond of hesitation and aided by the quick-thinking automatic. With a simple prod of your right foot, you're scooting down the road with more than enough verve for just about any passing situation. You might want more power than the A7 delivers, but you certainly don't need more power.
Audi's twin-clutch S tronic gearbox (which won't be available here) would provide quicker shifts and quite likely better fuel economy. The EPA rates the A7 at 18 city/28 highway/22 combined. We averaged 17.4 mpg during varied driving. But this torque-converter automatic is exceptional. Switch the console shifter to Sport mode and upshifts quicken and gears are held longer. Leave it in regular Drive mode and it's as seamless as the finest luxury cars. You can always shift yourself via the console lever, accompanied by throttle blips on downshifts.
Braking from 60 to zero was short and uneventful at only 106 feet, as good as some sports cars.
You're Dead To Me
What isn't exceptional is the A7's electromechanical power steering. Effort can be adjusted via Audi's Drive Select program, which allows you to alter the parameters for three areas: Engine/Drivetrain (throttle response and transmission shift points), Steering (effort) and the Belt Tensioner (seatbelt preload). You can switch between Dynamic, Comfort and Auto modes, as well as a customizable Individual mode. But the problem is that while switching from Comfort to Dynamic adds effort to the steering, it doesn't add even a smidgen more feel.
But a nice aspect of Audi Drive Select is that each time you start the car it reverts to whatever setting the car was last in before you shut down.
You'll note that "suspension" isn't mentioned in conjunction with Audi Drive Select. That's because the A7's multilink front and rear suspension isn't adjustable. A sport suspension is available but our test car was not equipped as such, although as we drove to the test track we figured it did. That's because the $1,200 optional 20-inch wheel/performance summer tire package, size 265/35R20 at all four corners, gives a jittery, harsh ride over sharp bumps that's at odds with nearly every other aspect of the A7's benign demeanor. The other downside to these fancy, multi-spoke wheels is that they're incredibly difficult to clean. The upside? Well, they're super fancy.
While the 20-inch wheels make the A7 feel stiffly sprung in a straight line, it exhibited pronounced body roll and more understeer than expected through our slalom. Its 65.3-mph run put it 3.2 mph quicker than the last Mercedes CLS500 we tested, but well off the pace of that other pricey five-door hatchback, the Porsche Panamera V6, which managed 69.7 mph. And although the quattro system helped the A7 exit the slalom with authority, drop-throttle brought the tail out, making it a handful.
The A7's summer tires coerced 0.88g around the skid pad, little thanks to the light steering which revealed next to nothing about what was going on at the front of the car.
So, handling-wise, the A7 is an odd bag, at least with the optional 20-inch summer tires. It's definitely not sport-sedan sharp and its steering is pretty lifeless, while the ride is a tad more jarring than you'd expect given the car's positioning in the market. You won't avoid twisty two-lanes with the A7, but you probably won't seek any out.
Come On In
It's hard to get everything right every time. The Porsche Panamera stands as a good example of this. But Audi is pretty much spot-on with its interiors. Not only do its designs beg you to come in and stay awhile, but the materials — whether they be leather, wood or metal — have great tactility, while the controls always have perfect detents, from the knobs for the climate control to the buttons for the stereo. And the A7 is no exception. Interesting here are the wraparound dash and totally cool nine-inch display screen that deploys horizontally from the dash.
Not to say everything is perfect. The white lighting of the A7's fuel and coolant gauges are nearly impossible to see in direct sunlight. And it takes two steps to change the climate control's fan speed or mode by pressing a button and turning a knob.
The Price of Style
The Porsche Panamera is ugly because function won over style (and because Porsche insisted its sedan look like a 911). One look at the A7 and it's obvious style won over function. No mystery here, the downside to that radical roofline is compromised rear head room. Anyone taller than 5 feet 8 inches will find their noggin in a territorial dispute with the ceiling. And it's easy to conk your head on the roof as you exit.
We can't argue with the usefulness of a hatchback, though, at any price. The luggage area is a bit narrow but exceptionally deep, and after folding down the rear seats it was no problem to throw in a mountain bike.
Complaining about the 2012 Audi A7's limited rear seat room seems silly, and misses the point of this car. Its seemingly at-odds design aspects didn't deter us one bit from reveling in the A7's potent yet utterly smooth engine, gorgeous interior or striking shape. And we doubt its few faults will bother the 7,000 or so Americans Audi hopes to sell the A7 to each year.
Nope, we still can't tell you exactly what the A7 is, but we're okay with that.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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