By Chris Haak
Several weeks ago, I was planning a guy’s weekend in the woods near Jim Thorpe, PA with some college buddies. I packed my sleeping bag, extra clothes, a cooler full of beer and ice, my hiking boots, and my iPad – the basics for a night in the woods. Had things gone as planned, I would have hauled myself and my camping supplies the 100 miles from my house to Jim Thorpe in an Audi Q5 2.0T. Things don’t always work out as planned, though. When I arrived home from the office, there was a gorgeous red A7 waiting for me in my driveway instead. I kept thinking to myself, “the bank made an error in my favor.” Despite the fact that we published Kevin Miller’s review of a nearly-identical A7, a week with an A7 was a delightful turn of events.
It’s not like I was planning on attacking the Rubicon when heading on unpaved roads to the campsite; I’ve taken plenty of front wheel drive cars on the same path over the years without incident (other than having trouble finding enough traction to climb a steep road right at the edge of the campsite; in the past, that has required a running start – not with quattro, though).
At any rate, my camping equipment fit nicely into the A7′s beautifully-finished cargo area. It’s wide and long (six-foot-four Kevin Miller was able to lie down in the back of the A7 that he reviewed), but not deep at all. With the backlight flowing so gradually from the roof to the decklid, it’s nearly horizontal, and rear visibility is compromised by the reflections it captures of the cargo cover (or, if you remove the cover, of your cargo itself). It seems as if Audi should be able to figure out a glass coating or differently-textured/colored parcel shelf material to eliminate some of that glare during the day. It’s not an issue at night.
Audi has earned a well-deserved reputation for leading-edge interior design and materials over the past several years. To me, the A7 further raises the bar. Aside from the console between the rear seats being constructed of hard plastic – which would be somewhat unremarkable had there been obvious hard plastic elsewhere in the car (but there wasn’t), the A7′s interior surprises and delights. There wasn’t much that I didn’t like inside the car, but there were two things that I really, really liked.
The first of those was the outstanding wood on the test car’s dash, console, and door panels. One of three wood choices available in the A7, the textured ash wood refreshingly feels exactly like wood should. It’s much more akin to fine cabinetry than to a car’s interior. For goodness sakes, why does every other automaker do everything possible to their wood so that it doesn’t look like it came from a tree? This stuff does, and you can see and feel the grain almost as if you’re looking at a perfectly-finished, satin baseball bat.
Another favorite interior feature is the impressive technology supporting navigation and entertainment. There is a full-color LCD information display nestled between the tach and speedometer, and it’s easy to scroll among its various functions using a thumb wheel on the left-hand spoke of the steering wheel. What really sets the A7′s technology apart, though, is the giant LCD navigation/multifunction display that remains stowed inside the dash until called upon. When it is, it slides horizontally toward the rear seat, then flips upward, but all in a single, smooth, silent motion. The screen itself has a very high resolution and class-leading navigation and entertainment connectivity.
Rather than suffering the indignity of fingerprints on a touchscreen display, Audi fitted the A7 with its new MMI Touch input system. There’s a small touchpad to the left of the gearshift that allows the driver to “write” letters and numbers when entering an address. New users will certainly find a learning curve, and because it’s a capacitive touchpad, it probably won’t work with gloved hands (though I didn’t try it with gloves). As you “write” on the pad, your actual chicken scratch is displayed on the navigation display, as well as the car’s interpretation of your inputs. There is also the more traditional MMI knob, which can be used to enter addresses. You can even use the A7 as a mobile hotspot. (Data charges apply, natch.)
The MMI Touch pad is impressive, but perhaps even more impressive is the Google Earth integration into the navigation system. If you subscribe to a T-Mobile data plan for the A7, the car is capable of using that data connection to download Google satellite images that are overlaid with the navigation system. The Google maps have an impressive level of detail, even to the point that you can practically see individual trees on the display. Google integration goes a bit further by allowing you to search Google for address information, rather than relying solely on the car’s own built-in POI database. I found that feature to be effective and fast.
Front seat accommodations are first class, with long-haul seat comfort, decent support, and high-quality, premium materials. There’s decent legroom for my six-foot-four self, and even adequate headroom up front. Visibility for the driver is a bit compromised by the low roof, high beltline, and the cargo cover’s reflective tendencies, but it’s something you eventually grow accustomed to. In the back, there’s not a ton of headroom, and no center-rear seating position. One oddity is that, despite having pushbutton start, you must fish the key out of your pocket to press the unlock button to get into the car. It seems that you need to step up to the Convenience Key option to get that functionality, which is a very odd omission, since some low-buck Nissans have it standard.
While the related Audi A6 is available with or without quattro all wheel drive, and with either the supercharged 3.0 liter TFSI V6 that this car had or the entry level 2.0 liter turbo four, the A7 is available only with the quattro/3.0 TFSI V6 combination in the US for the time being. When the equally stunning S7 sport model arrives on these shores, it will sport Audi’s new 4.0 liter twin turbocharged V8, good for 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Frankly, while an extra 110 horsepower is almost always welcome, it may be superfluous to all but the most die-hard enthusiasts. The 3.0 TFSI engine is an absolute gem (as evidenced by its recent placement on the Ward’s Ten Best Engines list), with smooth, silent operation, strong power off the line, and outstanding fuel economy. The EPA rates this car at 18 city/28 highway, and I had no problem exceeding both. That never happens with me behind the wheel of most cars for some reason. With a lot of highway miles (and nearly 700 total miles) in my week with the A7, overall fuel economy was between 25.6 miles per gallon. I’m sure that some credit goes to the A7′s 8-speed automatic transmission, which literally was always in the right gear.
Despite the A7′s front wheel drive-based chassis, the combination of all wheel drive and low-profile 20″ wheels and summer tires gave me a lot of confidence when carving back roads. Thanks to a rear-biased all wheel drive setup, the A7 seemed to have none of the overt understeering tendencies that have traditionally plagued nose-heavy Audis. Equipped with the Audi Drive Select knob, the A7 driver can choose Comfort, Automatic, or Dynamic modes. Unlike some cars where there’s little perceptible difference among drive modes, Dynamic does indeed sharpen responses – including steering, shifting, suspension, and throttle – to make the car feel much more alive. I kept it in Automatic most of the time because I’m lazy. High-speed stability (and I mean high speed) was impressive, with minimal wind noise and arrow-straight tracking.
Our tester had the $1,500 20″ Sport Package, which gave it the aforementioned 20″ wheels and summer tires. While they certainly boost the car’s looks, nicely filling the wheel openings, they do transmit a surprising amount of road noise into the passenger compartment. On a local highway that is about to be replaced (and is grooved), it was almost impossible to have a handsfree cell phone conversation. Ride quality was fine with the sport package, though, so if you don’t mind a little road noise (or the cost of frequently replacing summer-compound performance tires), by all means, consider the Sport Package. The package also gives sport suspension and a 3-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles behind it.
There were only a few other options fitted to this tester. One was the $3,620 Premium Plus package (which I highly recommend). It includes 19″ wheels (that is, if they’re not replaced by the 20s in the Sport Package), navigation, Audi Connect, parking sensors, rearview camera, HD radio, and the 7″ color driver information system. The other two were Garnet Red pearl effect paint, for $475 and Audi side assist for $500. Remember a time when metallic paint was the same price as the non-metallic variety? At least the $475 is money well spent, because the A7 is absolutely stunning in this color.
While many have criticized the A7 for being too expensive, I think of another similarly-priced car that I’d choose an A7 over almost any day: the Cadillac CTS-V wagon. Hear me out – I know this sounds like a ridiculous comparison. But while the CTS-V outperforms the Audi in almost every quantitative category (at least on dry roads with warm tires), the A7 has a far, far better interior, has a half-decade (if not more) of a head start in terms of interior technology, more comfort, better seats, and all-weather practicality. I drove a CTS-V coupe two weeks ago, and that car’s asking price was $73,380. And believe me, the A7 doesn’t feel like it’s down a full 246 horsepower from the Cadillac, based on the seat of my pants. To top it off, neither brand has fared particularly well from a reliability standpoint over the past few years.
This is not a car for everyone. It’s expensive and less practical than some other cars. But people don’t buy $66,220 cars for their practicality (though it trumps the Panamera in looks, the CLS in practicality, and both in technology, fuel economy, and price). If you’re left-brained, you may want to consider the likes of the A6, which shares much of the A7′s interior and technology, but loses the A7′s style and its $8,000 price premium. But if you want to make a visual statement, with the R8-faced, sleekly-profiled, high-tech A7, you’ll likely be very happy with your choice.
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.