|July 13, 2011
Road Test: 2012 Audi A7 3.0TFSI
By: Kris Hansen
ďDude, thatís the most beautiful car Iíve ever seen! Do you mind if I take a photo of it?Ē While my new friend was busy filling up his memory card, I stood back and admired this gorgeous car as well. While not the first A7 I'd ever seen in the metal, it was the first one which was painted an actual color instead of the ever popular Ice Silver, Savannah Beige, Ibis White, etc. With our A7 Prestige S line exterior swathed in Garnet Red, the A7's crisp lines popped off of the body, and darker color enhanced some of the subtle design elements. It really looked great in Garnet, and as it turned out, this would not be the last time people went out of their way to photograph this car. People are irresistably drawn to the A7 by it's looks, and we can't blame them.
Drama and sensational design are somewhat of a new phenomenon at Audi, where the modus operandi used to be more about understated yet functional luxury, safety, all weather surefootedness. That seemingly ended when the absolutely gorgeous A5/S5 pair were launched in 2007, and now with this new A7, itís dead, buried and forgotten entirely. The A7 is the car that random strangers want to have photos of. Itís the car that you keep looking over your shoulder at after you parked it. Itís a thing of beauty.
We feel that the A7 is the most deliberately beautiful large car Audi have produced in their rich history. There are design elements which have no purpose other than beauty, such as the gentle flowing line on the dashboard trim, and the way the door handle surrounds match the angular cut to the rear windows. The gentle slope of the roof, the interesting and proportionally perfect rear fenders, the beautifully designed hips all contribute to the overall design. There is little question that people will shop and purchase this car based on looks alone, which is understandable, but is also a shame because the A7ís stunning good looks are only a small portion of what makes the A7 the car to own for 2012.
The A7 is an absolute blast to drive. It has the uncanny ability to coddle while cruising, and throw down and tear up the asphalt when a fun romp up a twisty road is called for. There is so much good going on under the beautifully formed skin of the A7; you owe it to yourself to have a closer look.
Beneath the beautifully sculpted aluminum hood Audi fits a 310hp (325lb/ft) version of their solid 3 liter supercharged and direct fuel injected 4 valves per cylinder gasoline V6 engine in the A7, mated to their 8 speed automatic transmission. We wonít be getting the 7 speed dual clutch S-Tronic transmission in the USA as far as weíve been told, and thatís really OK. The 8 speed Tiptronic transmission is very good, and is much smoother in casual driving than the S-tronic, and it shifts just as fast (weíve driven both). Audi tells us that the TDI will be following in year 2 for the A7, though weíve driven it in Europe with the 3.0TDI, and itís quite simply amazing. Torque junkies, you want the 3.0TDI. Connecting the front and rear axles is an all new Crown Gear center differential. This unit is more compact (lighter) and more efficient than the previous Torsen center differentials, and allows for more rearward bias than before. It's still 100% mechanical, but uses a different arrangement of crown and pinion gears, with the addition of mechanically activated clutchpacks to do it's thing. We've driven the A7 on ice and snow, and can verify that the crown gear center diff works exceedingly well.
Off the line, the A7 launches firmly, certainly fast enough to excite your passengers and others around you. In Tiptronic mode, drivers will want to make quick work with the shifter lever to keep up with the relatively short ratios and quick revving engine. Audi says the A7 3.0TFSI will run to 60 in 5.4 seconds. We didnít put a watch to it, but that seems about right, if maybe a little pessimistic. This car is really quick off the line, and the throttle to smile relationship is very close. Merging onto the highway, passing on 2 lane roads, and just general hooning are easy, and hugely fun.
On the highway, the A7 has more than ample power for cruising at legal and beyond speeds. Because of the smooth and quiet nature of the car, itís all too easy to find yourself clicking along at speeds that the nice man in the Smokey the bear hat might disapprove of. Youíve been warned. And thanks to the longs legs of the 8 speed transmission, at 75, the engine is just barely ticking along above idle, completely silently. If at any point a quick burst of speed is called for, itís just a quick tip of the foot away. With the supercharger requiring no time to build up boost, the 3.0TFSI responds instantly, as does the transmission, and the car builds speed with alarming ease.
The 3.0TFSI is an incredibly flexible engine. Trundling around slow streets, itís silent, and smooth. The supercharger is completely inaudible in the A7. When the opportunity comes to open the taps, the engine is force fed a large helping of air and fuel, and the car lunges forward rapidly. Because the 8 speed transmissionís ratios are so close, on hard launches we found it best to leave the transmission in D (or S) and let it manage the shifting itself, which it does incredibly well in most cases. On winding roads where the transmission would want to shift up for fuel economy, we chose to use the Tiptronic mode to keep the engine in the meat of its power, and to keep the transmission from needing to shift down every time we wanted more go.
The A7 is surprisingly nimble on tight roads, mostly thanks to perfect suspension tuning (never too firm, never too soft), excellent brakes, and abundant torque. With the stability control left on, the A7 will take the normal predictable stance, where the tendency is for gentile understeer. Our preference with these cars is always to turn the stability control off, which lets the car rotate a bit more than it is allowed to by the ESP. Thanks to the crown gear center differential, which is normally split 60/40 (rear/front), but can go to 85/70 when needed, the cars feel a lot more lively. Also new for the A7 is what Audi calls Torque Vectoring, which uses the carís ESP and ABS system to monitor for tire slippage at the inside of the turn, then using small applications of brakes to divert the torque across the differential to the outside of the turn. This ends up being similar in practice to Audiís optional sports differential, which uses clutch packs and hydraulics to accomplish the task. The end result of either system is, the car understeers much less, and feels much more rear drive biased, and supremely good handling characteristics.
With either system, the grip levels the A7 can achieve are substantial, especially for a large car. Certainly the 19 inch wheels and summer tires help a lot in the grip levels. We took it to one of our favorite tight and twisty mountain roads, just to see what the A7 would be like in that environment. We were not disappointed in the least. Not only was the car hysterically fun to fling around these tight up and down hill turns, it completely masked the fact that weather has not been kind to this road, which has become quite rough over the years. The A7 was able to absorb these bumps, while maintaining itís composure at all times, and all speeds.
Steering feel is very good considering the front suspension design and construction, which does isolate the tires from the car a bit, not to mention the variable ratio servotronic steering. With the standard Audi Drive select, drivers have the option of comfort or dynamic steering, and engine/transmission behaivor.
When Dynamic mode is selected, the steering becomes heavier, and more direct feeling. Feedback is still very good though, and when the front tires begin to lose their touch with the pavement, it can be felt through the wheel, and the driver knows when to make adjustments. In this regard, the A7 truly is a driver's car. It is a very driveable car, meaning, the driver is not just directing the car around bends.
The exhaust note is considerably muted in this application. Compared to the S4 or the S5 Cabriolet which share the 3.0TFSI, the A7 3.0TFSI has more of a deep murmur emitting from the exhaust. Itís our feeling that this mellow note is actually more in line with the luxury/sport nature of this car. We were never left feeling annoyed by any excessive engine noises from the A7, there is no drone, and no raspiness to speak of. This is a car that one can spend many hours driving and arrive completely relaxed, and in many cases, rejuvenated.
The supremely elegant design of the A7 continues into the cabin as well. We love the new 2 tier wrap around dash design, which takes its queues from the A8 while remaining true to its design. The A7 shares its basic dash layout with the also all new A6, though the A7 receives a sweeping trim piece which meets the passenger side vent, and unique door panels with the aforementioned door handle surrounds which mimic the dramatic upswept line of the rear quarter windows. The A7 interior is a decidedly luxurious place to be. All control surfaces are soft to the touch, even the knurled knobs for the MMI controls, and the aluminum trim on the gearshift.
After a bit of experimenting, we decided we liked the looks of the dash more when the MMI screen was kept in its stowed position, which is a single button push away if needed. The overall feel of the dash is that it is compact and sporty looking. The instruments are taken directly out of the A8, and they are simply awesome. The A7 also has the option for a heads up display, which functions incredibly well, but comes at the expense of the reduction in some of the aesthetic beauty of the interior Ė the pod which houses the projector unit for the HUD is a bit awkward looking to us compared to the elegant design of the instrument cluster cover.
The A7 is not only tremendously fun to drive, its fun just to sit in and play with. Aside from the standard keyless go, the A7 also is equipped with a 3G hotspot for mobile internet, which we found to be excellent, even in fringe areas. We were able to stream our favorite web radio show over an ipod touch, and then via Bluetooth, broadcast it back through the carís Bose audio system. It was an uber nerd moment we realize, but itís another thing that makes the A7 the car to own for 2012. You can pair a Bluetooth audio player like the Ipod Touch (or Iphone, etc) to the A7, and play ANY audio via the carís sound system (while simultaneously mating a Bluetooth phone separately). Sound quality is identical to plugging it in via the AMI. Also thanks to the 3G internet connection, the A7 is capable of overlaying Google Earth over the top of the SAT NAV maps, which is pretty cool, since it will show you EXACTLY whatís in the area around you. The maps update fast enough (obviously depending on the internet connection speed), and the MMI system scrolls the maps very smoothly as you drive along.
Other interesting bits of technology on the A7 are the lights. Our car had the Xenon Plus adaptive lights, and they were the best HID type lights we've seen so far. We were sure they were full LED till we did some digging. The headlights are amazingly bright and well focused, both low and high beams. They change their aim as the steering wheel is turned, and they dip extra low when the fog light button is pushed. The taillights are LEDs, with a long thin strip atop the hatch as the high mount brake light. Both the front marker LEDS and the tail lights have a distinctive swoop pattern.
As far as techno-gadgetry goes, the A7 has it all, and it all works very well indeed. Inside, the A7 has ambient lighting throughout. Each door panel has a small strip light, as do the footwells, door sills, and overhead. There are LEDs in places you'd never expect to see one.
The seats are beautifully rounded at the tops, and are very comfortable. Our tester was fitted with the heated and ventilated seats, which added to the comfort. This particular car did not have the multi-adjustable seats, which meant no extra thigh support, but that was OK, as we find the seat bottoms to be long enough for the most part. The headrests are nicely adjustable as well, both vertically, and horizontally. Our car also had the 4 zone climate control, a plus for back seat passengers.
We found the back seats to be comfortable, but for taller passengers, headroom was a bit of a compromise. Not that there wasnít enough, rather, back seat headroom is created by pushing the headliner high up to the roof, which creates a big hump in the headliner just aft of where the sunroof mechanism is. Because of that hump, tall back seat riders feel as if their head is in a hole somewhat. This is a minor gripe, but itís there. Also know, the back seat is for 2 only. The center piece is a plastic tray of sorts, much like the one in the S5 coupe, which is required because the A7 has no center seatbelt.
Because of the enormous rear hatch, loading the A7ís cargo area is very easy. The trunk is very deep, if somewhat narrow. We could easily fit our largest suitcase, and our golf clubs were gobbled up drama free. If the cargo area covers were removed (easily done with a tug of 2 rubber knobs) the capacity is all that much more. The back seat is a 60/40 folding arrangement (with a generous passthrough), perfect for skis, or other long items, while still retaining room for passengers. This is good, because Audi say there will be no A6 Avant for 2012, which means the A7 will have to fit that position for some shoppers.
The car is not without faults unfortunately. The rear window is almost always full of the reflection from the white covering of the rear parcel shelf. We removed this cover and drove around, and found the view out the back window to be substantially better, thanks to the elimination of the white glare. The other issue we had was also reflection related, this time it was that the instrument cluster was reflected high up on the windshield at night. Weíve never seen this on any other Audi that we can recall, and it seems like if Audi extended the instrument cluster cover even slightly, that would eliminate this reflection. And thatís it. 2 little reflections on the inside glass are the only bad thing we found about this car.
Weíre huge fans of the A7. Itís gorgeous on the outside and the inside, itís phenomenally good to drive, and itís incredibly clever and useful. In our opinion, itís the car to own for 2012.