There's an oft-quoted phrase about beauty, and it's one that we feel happy to use when describing the A7. For this writer, its low, long, wide body and athletic broad-shouldered stance are marred by a rear that's droopy and a little bit frumpy. According to everyone else who rode with us, though, I'm crazy and in dire need of an optometrist's appointment.
Either way, it's hard to argue with Audi's mastery of visual embellishment. The 19-inch alloy wheels are impressive in the flesh, and the LED tail lights and driving lights clearly brand the car unmistakably as an Audi, even in the witching hours. The optional (AU$2700) full-LED headlights are energy efficient and cast a bright spear of light into the night. Whilst they don't swivel in unison with one's steering inputs, they do feature cornering lights and the ability to switch automatically between high and low beam, depending on the traffic situation.
Measuring almost five metres long and 1.9m wide, the A7 takes up a serious chunk of road space. Nary a muscle need be flexed to open the A7's rear hatch, as it features an electric mechanism that takes care of all of the opening and closing duties. Within, it's unsurprising that the long boot can swallow up to 535 litres of stuff. Fold down the rear seats, and capacity can be upped to 1390 litres, while under the boot floor is a space-saver spare tyre.
Given the car's dimensions, A7 offers its occupants, both front and rear, ample space to stretch out and relax. Despite the "coupe" roofline, there's still plenty of headroom in the rear. What the A7 lacks, though, is seating for five or, more correctly, seat belts for five. As you can see in our in-depth photo gallery and video review, this isn't because those in the rear are luxuriating in captain's chairs, and nor are passengers wanting for room. A shame, really, as we've seen cars marginally larger than a marmalade jar offer five seat belts.
Those who are legally able to sit in the A7 will enjoy themselves immensely. The seats are comfortable for journeys both long and short, although, given the cornering capabilities of this car, a more body-hugging shape wouldn't go astray. The front seats feature electric adjustment, and there are two available memory settings for the driver's pew. An extra AU$8600 not only upgrades the leather upholstery, but also adds heating and ventilation, memory settings for both front seats and a built-in massager.
Although the steering wheel is only manually adjustable, both its depth and angle can be altered, while the leather covering the wheel feels rich and grippy. Indeed, the various grains of leather used on the armrests and seats, as well as the materials used elsewhere, are of an exceptionally high quality. Married with our car's lovely full-width strip of aluminium, intuitive controls and an otherwise aesthetically pleasing design, the A7 continues Audi's reputation as the mass market car maker with the finest interiors.
With a list price of AU$147,800, prior to on-road costs and rego, we're glad that the A7's standard-feature list is pretty fulsome.
Taken-for-granted features include electric folding mirrors, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensitive wipers, xenon headlights with built-in washers, parking sensors and reversing camera, four-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and push button start, tilt-and-slide sunroof and leather trim.
Options fitted to our car included air suspension (AU$4770), head-up display (AU$3400), metallic paint (AU$2300), adaptive cruise control (AU$3570), night vision (AU$4890) and white interior ambient lighting (AU$800), taking the asking price to at least AU$167,530. Untested extras extend to automatic door closing, blind-spot warning, heated front seats and electric steering wheel adjustment.
During our first two days with the A7, the height-adjustable air suspension system regularly complained of an electrical malady and shut itself down, as well as the active cruise control system. The emergence of this electrical gremlin was particularly frustrating on the highway, where there's the constant urge to explore the copious amounts of performance offered by the V6 petrol engine.
The adaptive cruise system is able to keep a safe distance from the car in front while trying to maintain the driver's desired speed. A windshield-mounted camera and the car's network of four radars, as well as monitoring of the driver's inputs, allows the system to slow the car down on steep hills, when the traffic slows down or someone cuts in. If need be, it can bring the A7 to a complete halt. It will also work happily in stop-start city traffic, leaving the driver with the task of steering the car and restarting the system with the flick of a button or a dab of the gas pedal.
Vision from the infrared camera located in the A7's grille is displayed in high-contrast black and white in between the speedo and the tacho. To help the driver pick out humans from other creatures, the Audi system highlights upright homo sapiens in yellow rectangles.
The head-up display that can appear in the bottom portion of the windscreen is powered by a mini-projector hidden in the dashboard, and can display a digital speedo, as well as a cut-down version of the nav system's turn instructions. Unfortunately, the text and images shown on the display are too sharp for our liking, and our eyes strained to look at the road ahead instead of the head-up display.
Entertainment and nav
An 8-inch high-resolution display rises theatrically out of the dashboard and is an integral part of Audi's excellent MMI entertainment and navigation system that's standard on the A7.
The main screen is controlled via a dial in the centre console that's flanked by a number of shortcut buttons that make it easy to jump between the navigation, audio, telephone and car configuration screens. Controls on the left spoke of the steering wheel also let the driver control a high-res display nestled in between the speedo and the tacho, which can display the car's trip computer, night-vision camera and nav instructions, as well as control the audio and telephone systems.
The twin SD card slots, CD/DVD drive and USB connector, 20GB of hard disk capacity, provide plenty of music and movie options, including DivX, MP3 and WMA. Bluetooth is present, and can be used for both music streaming and hands-free telephony, while direct iPod/iPhone control requires a separate cable adaptor. The voice control system works well, with a list of available commands displayed on the 8-inch screen.
On paper, the 14-speaker, 600W Bose should have us in raptures. Unfortunately, while it's never poor, it lacks the warmth and clarity of the best systems. Indeed, it had us thinking that the AU$12,350 asking price for the 15-speaker, 1200W Bang & Olufsen sound system would be money well spent, if our experience with the B&O system in the range-topping A8 is anything to go by.
On the road
In the past, Audi has been criticised for both poor ride quality and less-than-engaging handling traits. The A7 — or, at least, our air suspension-equipped model — strikes a brilliant balance, escaping our critical eye largely unscathed. On roads that come close to resembling the lunar landscape, the suspension soaks up most of the impact without shutting down the tyre-to-bum communication channel.
Along with the air suspension's choice of two height settings, the driver can also configure steering and throttle response to their liking. With everything set to the sportiest Dynamic mode, the A7 can be hustled at great speed and a minimum of fuss through even the twistiest mountain pass. There's just a hint of body roll as you head into a corner, but even at butch-clenching speeds, the Audi remains remarkably flat.
There's plenty of power assistance at parking or crawling pace, but it gradually tunes itself down as speed increases, with the steering wheel becoming quite heavy when you're hustling the car through corners. Alas, it doesn't transmit much information from the road to your fingertips. To aid stability at higher speeds, there's a rear spoiler that pops up automatically at 130km/h or at the driver's discretion.
The library-like noise level inside the A7's cabin is only broken by the rumbling of its tyres on the coarse chip roads so beloved by our governments and the muted rush from the 3-litre turbo petrol V6. There's nothing as uncouth as turbocharged whistle or whoosh as you unleash its 220kW of power and 440Nm of torque. This gem of an engine feels almost completely turbo free, regardless of whether you're trying to emulate its zero to 100km/h of 5.6 seconds, or driving rather more responsibly.
To ensure that none of the torque or power is wasted on wheel spin, a rear-biased, four-wheel drive system sends power to the wheels with the most grip. A seven-speed automated dual-clutch transmission — branded S-Tronic by Audi — is standard, and it changes gears both smoothly and at lightning-quick speeds, with revs rising and falling almost instantly. Unlike the similar transmissions that we've tried on smaller Audis, Volkswagens and Skodas, there's less jerkiness and hesitation at speeds below 20km/h, making parking and hill starts considerably smoother and less stressful.
In a bid to boost fuel economy, the A7 automatically turns the motor off when the car comes to a complete halt; the engine quietly fires back into life when you ease off the brake pedal. Combined with the S-Tronic transmission that still isn't as fluid as a regular automatic when taking off from standstill, smooth progress from a dead stop requires a gentle right foot. For roundabouts and the like, the automatic start/stop system can be avoided by applying just enough pressure to hold the car still.
After a day or two, we instinctively began to drive around the system's limitations, but if it proves all too stressful for you, there is a button on the dash to disable this feature. With the system on, our car drank unleaded petrol at the rate of 7.4L/100km on the open highway. Economy dropped to 12.3L/100km in the suburbs, with exclusively inner city driving sending the figure skywards to 20L/100km.
As our words and score attest, we love Audi's A7 and its mix of athleticism, comfort, lovely design and technology. However, the decision to leave out a fifth seat belt, despite there being no design or engineering reason to do so, makes it impossible for us to give the A7 the Editors' Choice badge that it would've otherwise deserved.