By Kris Hansen
Thank goodness for snow tires. There is about a foot of snow on the ground, and we’re winding our way over a tight mountain road, putting the very big and very powerful Audi S7 very sideways, and having an absolute ball in the process. Who would have imagined that a big luxury car with such explosive power would be so adept at cutting loose and making big turns in deep powder?
We’ve had some interesting drives through the years, but one of the most challenging we’ve done is trying to drive a very powerful car in deep snow. Even though our loaners are usually fitted with snow tires, we’re still talking about very wide tires in most cases, so extreme restraint is always in order with the more powerful models.
Such was the case with this staggeringly beautiful S7, in Estoril Blue over Lunar Silver Valcona quilted leather seats. Having just come off of our sessions with the A6 and A7 TDI models, which were very sedate and easy to drive in all conditions, we found that the S7 could be a bit more of a handful if too much of its explosive power was asked for in slippery conditions. This is of course, something we decided we needed to do often, to try to tame the beast, as it was.
In no way did we find that the S7 was difficult to drive, especially if we were very gentle with the power (infrequent), and kept in the Drive Select’s comfort mode, which helps the engine remain calmer than in Dynamic mode (also infrequent). The ESP programming is very good, also worked well to reign in the power when the going got rough (we usually turned it off). But if we got carried away, it was very easy for the car to completely overpower the tires’ precious grip on the frozen road surfaces. This is a car, keep in mind, that has little difficulty getting sideways on dry roads, so you can imagine how hard the car has to work to stay composed on snow.
Our test route took us over some significant mountains, with tight winding roads, and we found that with the ESP turned to “sport mode” (the closest thing to OFF that it has), the S7 was very controllable and did enjoy hanging its tail WAY out when asked to. The rear sports differential helped tremendously in this as well, completely negating any trace of understeer and in fact making oversteer even more controllable. The S7 has a way of convincing you that Audi have managed to defeat physics, it is so composed and effortless to drive, in all conditions.
We found the electronically boosted steering to be very good, with the usual amount of feedback one expects from a car such as this, and a true feel for what the tires are doing. Contrary to some reports we’ve read, you can feel through the steering wheel when the front tires have lost grip.
Our test occurred during a particularly nasty stretch of weather in Vermont, but even at -10f, this car heats up nicely, and is perfectly wonderful to drive. We experienced no strange operation even after digging the car out from a large snowfall. One interesting thing we found with the S7 that we really liked the air suspension. At first blush one might be tempted to think that air springs would not be sporty enough, but in the winter, we found that the comfort mode was wonderful, not only for providing a more supple ride than the steel spring versions, but also in allowing for more suspension travel, which helps the tires stay on the ground, maintaining traction at all times. Also of great benefit is the “raise mode” which helps the S7 plow through deep snow with ease.
On deserted back roads, we explored the S7’s handling limits, and discovered that the big car does not mind being manhandled. Thanks to the monstrous torque from the 4.0 biturbo engine, the S7 can be flung around turns completely sideways, in complete control. We found that we could steer as much with the throttle as we could with the wonderfully sculpted and perfectly sized 3 spoke steering wheel.
Through all of our snow driving, the S7 continued to coddle and luxuriate on its occupants. The cabin is a lovely place to spend any amount of time, with beautifully finished leather seats, wood and aluminum trim, all executed to the high standard Audi fit and finish levels. The quilted leather heated sports seats are some of the most supple we’ve ever experienced in any car. The Bose audio system is very good, perhaps not quite on par with the Bang and Oulfsen system, but a relative bargain. We are fans of the MMI system in the current big cars, and like how nicely the screen tucks away into the dash when not neededThe S7 is also blessed with Audi’s new favorite high luxe touch, indirect LED accent lighting throughout the cabin. All 4 doors have strips of the lighting, which creates a soothing environment for nighttime drives, while not overwhelming the driver with too much light.
Our test car also was fitted with Audi’s Driver Assistance package, which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre Sense Plus (basically senses that you are about to hit something, and slams on the brakes..), Active Lane Assist, which will help you stay in your lane, should you be distracted from driving somehow , and corner view front and rear cameras. Most of these features are wonderful, though when the car is covered in ice and snow, they are rendered inoperable due to the cameras and RADAR sensors becoming obscured. When they work, they are great, though our only gripe with Adaptive Cruise is we wish the minimum following distance could be reduced, as the allowable gap is big enough that people always slide in, triggering the Pre Sense in some cases.
Also fitted to this particular car was Audi’s full LED headlights, which are just flat out awesome. In snow, and other foul weather, these lights work better than almost all others, with minimal dazzle, and sharp enough beams to cut through the precip and illuminate the road perfectly.
With such incredible performance and supreme luxury, the S7 is now our favorite mode of snow travel.
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