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This review is in the March 2014 issue received this week. (correction)
The text is below:
Road Test 3.0 TDI V6
The low-slung, sleekly raked Audi A7, derived from the excellent A6 sedan, belongs to that class of coupe-like four-door sedans that are sometimes called personal luxury cars. That often means there's more emphasis on styling than on practicality. That said, with its large, power-assisted hatchback and generous interior proportions, the A7 actually does provide a healthy dollop of practicality. And unlike such direct competitors as the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLS, the Audi seats five people instead of four, at least in a pinch.
We tested the A7 with its ultra-smooth eight-speed automatic transmission and its new 240-hp turbodiesel V6, which is possibly the nicest, perkiest, most unobtrusive diesel engine we've experienced. Besides having plenty of grunt, the A7 returned an average of 28 mpg, a fine showing for a car this size. A long cruising range -- 565 miles in mixed driving and close to 800 on the highway -- is another plus.
Combining luxury, sound driving dynamics, an impeccably furnished cabin, and that superior fuel economy, the A7 finished our testing with a score of 95, ranking among the best cars we've tested.
Performance is abundant, with a hefty forward surge that's almost always on tap. Handling is responsive and secure, if not as overtly sporty as, say, a Porsche Panamera. The ride is also very good, steady, and compliant, although the low-profile 20-inch tires, a $1,200 option, make the ride firmer than we'd like.
Interior finish, seat comfort, and driver accommodations are first class. Access, however, isn't as good as in the A6 because the doors are smaller and the ride height is lower. The rear seat is a lot roomier than in most competitors, though not as hospitable as the A6's.
Among the few shortcomings are the controls, which take some getting used to. Front and side visibility is surprisingly good, but the "sporty" styling hurts rear visibility. While the A7 is generally very quiet, a low-level diesel thrum audible at idle robs some refinement.
And there's no getting around the fact that the A7 experience doesn't come cheap. Even our "base" Premium Plus model cost almost $71,000, with just a couple of modest options thrown in. That's about $15,000 more than a nicely-equipped A6 with a gas engine.
Why buy one:
Enjoyable to drive
Diesel-powered TDI delivers both performance and good fuel economy
Impeccably finished interior
Seats five people, while most direct competitors seat only four
Why not buy one:
Limited rear visibility and no rear wiper
TDI version emits some diesel clatter at idle, and it has slightly nose-heavy handling compared with a gas-powered version
Tesla Model S
BMW 5 Series GT
Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon
Best version/options to get:
We'd buy the diesel-powered TDI version. There's nothing wrong with the standard 3.0T supercharged V6, which is impressive, but the TDI brings such a rewarding combination of performance and fuel economy.
Even the entry-level Premium Plus model comes well-equipped; it includes extensive standard features like leather upholstery, heated seats, a power tailgate, and navigation system. Blind-spot monitoring, called "Audi Side Assist," is an option that's worth considering. The optional 20-inch wheels may look great but don't do any favors for the ride or noise isolation.
The Driving Experience
Handling: The A7 feels quite responsive, changing direction eagerly and with only modest body lean. Still, it's not really a sports car. Steering, while linear and well-weighted, is a bit short on feedback. And when upping the ante, the A7 shows some nose heaviness and a certain reluctance to be hurried.
The Audi Drive Select feature allows you to use the central command screen to select various modes, such as Comfort and Dynamic, which change the steering effort, throttle response, and transmission shift points. We found that the Auto setting worked just fine.
On the track the Audi proved balanced and enjoyable. At its cornering limits it adjusted its line in a gradual and controlled way. However, in our avoidance maneuver the rear wheels could slide out a bit, which limited its performance and chipped away some at driver confidence.
Powertrain: The A7 is available with two engines: a 310-hp, 3.0-liter, supercharged gasoline V6 or 240-hp 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V6, which adds $2,400 to the sticker price. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and both come only with Audi's "quattro" all-wheel-drive system.
High-performance S7 models have a 420-hp, 4.0-liter, turbocharged V8 and S tronic seven-speed sequential dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The limited-production (and super-fast) RS 7 has a 560-hp, 4.0-liter, turbocharged V8 with a seven-speed sequential dual-clutch transmission. No manual is available.
Our tested A7 diesel's 240 horsepower might not sound like a lot, but thanks to an abundance of torque (a whopping 428 lb-ft) the acceleration thrust handily shoves you back into your seat. You especially feel this motivation when merging or passing. Acceleration runs at our track returned an impressively quick 6.6 second sprint from 0-to-60 mph.
Bountiful performance is nice, but you buy a diesel for fuel economy and here the A7 TDI shines, returning 28 mpg overall and 41 mpg on the highway in our tests. That's on par with compact sedans that don't have nearly as much power or space as this car.
A start/stop system shuts off the engine when stopped to save fuel and reduce emissions. The engine restarts with a slight shudder, which is a minor annoyance; you can turn it off if it bugs you.
Power delivery is helped by the slick eight-speed automatic. Shifts are fluid and responsive. It's very well matched to the diesel, one of the best automatic-transmission/diesel engine pairings out there. Since the engine delivers such a wave of torque, sometimes the transmission doesn't even need to downshift to crank up the car's speed.
Audi's "Tiptronic" feature lets you simulate manual shifting by moving the shift lever to the right and toggling the lever back and forth. A Sport mode delays shifts to enhance part-throttle acceleration although that modestly hurts fuel economy.
Offsetting the diesel's fuel economy savings are the initial $2,400 price of the engine, the higher cost of diesel fuel, and the need for rather frequent oil changes: every 5,000 miles is recommended. You also have to add an exhaust-treatment fluid periodically, or else the car will refuse to start. The fluid's cost is fairly minimal.
The A7's base engine is a 310-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V6. Audi badges it a 3.0T, which normally signifies a turbocharged engine, which, strictly speaking, this is not. Nomenclature aside, performance is effortless, with responsive acceleration on demand. Shifts from the eight-speed automatic are quick, smooth, and seamless. Based on our experience with that powertrain in the Audi A6, we'd expect overall fuel economy of about 22 mpg in the A7 with the base gasoline engine.
Ride comfort: The ride is very steady and settled but has an underlying firmness that's most apparent on poor pavement surfaces and on low-speed urban streets. Some of the impacts are amplified by the optional low-profile 20-inch tires.
Noise: Cabin quietness is impressive. Most drivers didn't even notice the diesel aside from minor clatter at idle and at the brief startup with the auto-start feature on. The cabin screens out wind and road noise like a bank vault.
Braking: The A7 produced very short stops on both wet and dry pavement. Pedal modulation was good, with reassuringly linear feedback.
Headlights: Standard HID (xenon) lamps provide a very bright and white light and excellent visibility to the sides of the road, but the low beams lack reach straight ahead where it's most important. High beams maintain the brightness and offer very good forward visibility. LEDs provide the daytime running light function. Adaptive headlamps, which rotate to improve visibility when cornering, are standard with the Prestige trim.
Inside The Cabin
Interior fit and finish: Impeccably finished, the interior strives to be as stylish as its exterior. Our test car's optional "nougat brown" leather seats and large swaths of wood promote that luxury intent. Materials are all high-quality, even the dense low-pile carpet and black woven headliner. Storage cubbies are lined with soft flocking and have slickly operating doors and covers. Most interior panels are padded to the touch; oddly, the glove-box door is not.
Driving position: Most drivers will find it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. Both the driver's seat and the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel have a generous range of adjustment. There's plenty of foot room and a well-designed left foot rest. A well-padded height-adjustable center armrest is another nice touch.
Visibility: Driver visibility is better than you'd expect, given the styling. Windshield and side window area is adequate and narrow windshield and roof pillars help minimize blind zones.
Still, over-the-shoulder vision is blocked by the middle roof pillar, and the view straight back is impeded. Given the slope of its glass, the hatchback should have a rear wiper; plenty of more prosaic hatchbacks do.
A backup camera is standard and works well. Blind spot monitoring, called "Audi Side Assist," is a $600 option. While you can adjust the brightness of the warning lights, you can't set the system to beep a warning if you signal a turn while a car is in your blind zone.
Seat comfort: The multi-adjustable and well padded front seats are very comfortable. Supportive cushions make them welcoming for a long stay. Rear seats are comfortable for two, thanks to supportive, well-contoured cushions and good space. A modest center seat arrived for 2014, upgrading rear seating capacity from two to three, but it's not great for adults. Consider it a place for a child -- or child seat -- instead.
Access: Bending yourself through the short doors and into the low-slung cabin takes some dexterity. Watch out for the frameless windows. You also need to step over a tall sill and duck around the side roof pillar, which prevents you from simply sliding into the front seat.
Gauges and displays: The main gauges are large and brightly backlit. Digital fuel and temperature gauges can be blocked by your hands on the steering wheel.
A good-sized full-color display between the speedometer and tachometer can be configured to show trip/fuel economy information, radio or telephone functions, or to display navigation directions. Moving through the menus with the steering wheel controls is relatively easy and straightforward, helped by simple cues on the display.
Controls: While the A7's controls are complicated -- and numerous -- the array of ***** and buttons are more predictable than some other newfangled systems. Unlike the touch-sensitive capacitive controls used by Cadillacs and Lincolns, the ***** and buttons always respond as you expect.
Entertainment and car set-up functions are managed by a large controller **** flat on the center console, flanked by multiple buttons and a volume ****. You need to look down and away from the road to pick the right function, at least until you learn their location by feel. Selections are displayed in large print on a clearly legible center screen. There's also a touchpad that provides direct radio preset selection or allows you to trace out letters with your finger to spell out addresses for the navigation system.
Negotiating the on-screen menus takes some learning, but at least they're logically laid out. Steering wheel controls step and scroll through well-designed menus, letting you control most audio functions with your hands still on the wheel.
Climate controls have their own set of large buttons and *****. Our only complaint there is that they're mounted low on the dashboard.
Electronic connectivity: Pairing a phone is easy and voice quality is quite good. Placing a call with voice controls is also simple.
Plugging an iPhone into the proprietary connector allows for a good music listening experience, with MP3 info fully displayed on the central dash screen. When streaming music from sources like Pandora via your iPhone, however, the content information is truncated. Oddly, playing that same content using Bluetooth works better than when the iPhone is plugged in. You'll also need an extra-cost adapter for newer iPhones. Using an Android device, the screen shows info for MP3 but not streamed content.
Voice commands for music work OK but they're limited. You can only select artists if the music has first been uploaded to the audio system's hard drive, what Audi calls the "jukebox." Selecting radio stations by voice is easy enough but requires adhering to a strict dialogue sequence -- not the most modern approach.
The navigation system works well and its voice-recognition system is better than the audio system's. You can speak a whole address in a simple natural voice rather than breaking it up into clunky individual elements. You can also speak a destination while on the move. Entering information into the system using Audi's MMI touch control panel is very easy. You can use this panel to actually write letters into text fields with your finger. That's easier than using the MMI's awkward central control ****.
Up front there is a single 12-volt socket, an iPhone connector, and two SD card slots but no auxiliary jack or USB port. The rear has two 12-volt power outlets and the hatch area has one more.
You can watch a DVD when the car is parked.
Climate features: A three-zone automatic climate control system is standard. We added the extra-cost Cold Weather Package, which brought heated rear seats.
Cabin storage: Adequate but not generous. In front of the shift lever is a small covered bin that's a good place to lodge a cell phone. The padded and adjustable armrest between the front seats has two shallow compartments. There are also small pockets in all four doors and sleeves behind the front seats. Rear-seat passengers get tiny compartments on the door armrests and some space inside the fold-down center armrest.
Cup holders: Front passengers have two cup holders between the seats. Second-row passengers have a pair in the fold-down center armrest.
Cargo area: The cargo area is nicely finished, matching the high-quality interior. The standard powered hatchback improves cargo flexibility but the relatively shallow cargo area limits the height and size of objects that it will hold. We were able to fit two large upright suitcases and two duffle bags. Removing the two-piece security cover gives a little extra carrying room, letting you squeeze in another duffle. Lowering the 60/40-split rear seatbacks is a better option and also allows sliding in long, low items. A bike fits inside but you'll have to pop off the front wheel.
Spare tire: A temporary spare tire stores under the cargo floor.
Safety belts: All belts are equipped with pretensioners; the front pair also have force limiters.
Air bags: Front-seat occupants are protected by front, side, knee, and curtain air bags that extend to rear-seat passengers. A front-passenger sensing system deactivates the passenger air bag if it detects an occupied child seat there. Side air bags for the rear outboard seats are optional.
Head restraints: The front- and rear-outboard head restraints are tall enough to provide protection even when lowered, but the rear center restraint must be raised to provide adequate protection for an adult.
Crash-avoidance systems: Standard on this vehicle is Audi Pre-sense Basic, Parking system plus with rear-view camera, and Rain/light sensor for automatic windshield wiper and headlight activation.
An optional $2,800 Drivers Assistance Package includes Audi Pre-sense Plus, a forward collision warning system with autonomous braking. Other systems available in this package include Audi side assist, Audi active lane assist, Corner view camera system, and Audi adaptive cruise control with stop & go.
Also optional is Innovation package at a cost of $2,800. It includes a head-up display and the Night vision assistant with pedestrian detection.
Driving with kids: Forward-facing and most rear-facing seats should prove secure when installed with the seat belt. Outboard seats provide easily accessible LATCH anchors, and the parcel shelf has three top-tether anchors.
We do not have enough data to predict reliability, this version is new.
Tested model: 2014 3.0 TDI 4-door hatchback AWD, 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel, 8-speed automatic
Major options: 20-inch wheels, cold weather package, metallic paint.
This road test applies to the current model year of this vehicle.