Two-person rear seat with limited headroom; hefty price premium over related A6 sedan.
There comes a moment when you stop thinking about the 2012 Audi A7 as "just another Audi sedan, but with a weird butt." It's not when you sit in the thoughtfully laid out and beautifully executed cabin. That's standard Audi fare. It's not the first time you tickle the throttle with your foot, releasing the supercharged low-rpm power of the smooth V6 — the same engine as in the new A6. It's not the secure handling, quiet interior, copious gizmos or the Bose stereo that makes even the tinniest satellite channel sound like a live performance at Royal Albert Hall.
No, the moment comes — likely when you get out — when you realize that all of these things are found in a car that breaks the conservative and unyielding styling mold that forges the rest of Audi's sedan lineup. Its face might have the deep Audi grille and increasingly ubiquitous LED running lamps, but it's low and wide like the sexy A5 coupe rather than the staid A8 sedan. That butt may be weird, but there is an elegance to the way the roof line gradually fades away toward the pavement. It's a unique look to be sure, but it also disguises a hatchback trunk more versatile than what's found on your average three-box sedan.
To put it another way, the Audi A7 is the same in so many good ways that check the logical boxes in your head, while it's different enough to play with the strings that dangle from your heart.
The 2012 Audi A7 comes only with the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine available throughout the Audi lineup. Paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, this V6 puts out 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque while sounding fantastic doing it. It's smooth, but with just a hint of snarl. More importantly, that torque provides the sort of punchy power delivery that used to be the exclusive domain of V8-powered luxury cars. Tear away from a traffic light or move out to pass on the freeway and the car's response is immediate and energetic — especially when placed in "Dynamic" mode.
More explanation of Dynamic mode is certainly in order. The A7 comes standard with Audi's Drive Select, which alters throttle response, transmission shift characteristics and steering effort based on four different modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. Steering effort in "Comfort" is rather numb and there's too much play when cruising down the highway. "Dynamic" mode simply feels like a normal car, which is a good thing since previous iterations of Audi's Drive Select could feel overly frenetic in its sportiest setting. Auto alters each aspect depending on driving conditions, while Individual allows you to set each aspect as you choose.
While many other drive settings are adjustable, the A7's suspension is left alone. The ride is well-damped, but there's a fair amount of impact harshness over big bumps and some jittery reactions over smaller ones, although this behavior most likely can be traced to the 20-inch wheels that adorn our Premium trim test car. These wheels may look cool, and with the low-profile 35-series tires help bring the A7 to a stop from 60 mph in an incredible 106 feet, but we'd happily settle for 18- or 19-inch wheels with tires that furnish sidewalls tall enough to absorb impact harshness.
Around corners, the 2012 Audi A7 minimizes roll and remains so responsive that you forget just how big it is (although a trip to the parking lot in front of the grocery store will quickly remind you that it's deceptively enormous). The steering is actually a little slow and lacks feedback — even in Dynamic mode. On the upside, however, it doesn't suffer from the exaggerated speed-sensitive weighting of most other Audis, where a firm on-center feel gives way to dramatically over-boosted assist around slower corners. The A7 feels more natural.
There are no complaints to be made about the A7's firm and supportive seats, even if they lack adjustable thigh support, inflatable side bolsters or the ability to bend and fold in ways that would make Nastia Liukin seem rigid. Those things are nice in the A7's competitors, but we didn't find ourselves missing them and were able to find a comfortable driving position regardless of driver size. We were happy about the presence of heated and cooled front seats, though, and were relieved that activating them is no longer the aggravating two-step, button-pushing and knob-turning process of recent Audis.
The backseat is a different story. Legroom is abundant, which shouldn't be surprising in such a long car. The twin bucket seats are almost as supportive as those up front, but as is common for sedans with coupe-esque roof lines, headroom is squishy for even average-height occupants. It's a bit better than the Mercedes CLS, but if you frequently have passengers, the A7's style may not be worth the compromise.
If you routinely carry bulky items, though, it could be worth it. The trunk is rather narrow, requiring golf bags to go in diagonally, but it's also very long. Remove the solid parcel shelf and the trunk expands to 24.5 cubic feet, which is more than 4 cubes bigger than that of the current sedan trunk champ, the Ford Taurus. Audi hasn't published what maximum capacity is when you lower the backseat, but judging by our eyeballs, it should be plenty useful for impulse buys at Costco (though certainly nowhere close to the capacity or usefulness of a luxury wagon or compact SUV).
On the other end of the function spectrum, the 2012 Audi A7 showcases the improvements Audi has made to its Multi Media Interface (MMI), which controls the countless "infotainment" features. The addition of some steering wheel buttons and an enhanced color screen in the gauge cluster makes it easier to control secondary functions like radio stations and follow navigation commands while keeping your eyes closer to the road and hands on the steering wheel.
The primary MMI buttons have also been rearranged for easier use on the center console, while the new MMI touch panel (included with the navigation system) not only provides a quick way to select radio presets (something previous Audis lacked), but allows you to write out each letter or number in an address using your finger.
Less successful is the tricky new navigation system, which includes map visuals by Google Earth (when equipped with the appropriate data plan). Seeing 3-D images of your location is a whiz-bang trick and maybe could come in handy on occasion, but it's also rather distracting and not as easy to follow as a regular map.
Design/Fit and Finish
For more than a decade now, Audi has been known for producing some of the finest car interiors in the world, consistently setting benchmarks for design, quality and fit and finish. The A7 does not disappoint, and even if its dash design is identical to the new A6, we can't say that's a bad thing. The pop-up and -out MMI display is not only something that'll impress your friends, but it also provides a more harmonious look when you don't need the navigation system and can rely on the radio readout in the gauges.
Who should consider this vehicle
Buying a luxury sedan should always get you noticed a bit, but getting something as unusual as the 2012 Audi A7 is sure to increase the chances even further. Like the Jaguar XF or Mercedes CLS, this Audi makes regular luxury sedans seem a bit boring. Unlike its sleek competition from Jaguar and Mercedes, however, the A7 is actually more practical (as long as backseat space and capacity aren't a priority). Of course, there is a price premium for that style that can't be ignored, but if you're in the market for a midsize luxury sedan, it's definitely worth a look.