2012 Audi A7 Sportback

To this day, I still think the first-generation Mercedes CLS is one of the sexiest cars I’ve ever laid on eyes on. While the term “four-door coupe” goes against the very definition of what a coupe is, Mercedes broke the rules in all the right places with the CLS.

Late last year, the next-generation, 2012 Mercedes CLS was revealed. Strangely enough, Mercedes ruined it! The new CLS is no longer sinister. I don’t hear a growling noise in my head anymore when I see one. What I see now are bizarre, chunky fender arches and hugely over-styled doors.

Someone at Audi must’ve predicted the forthcoming demise of the CLS, because just about the time the new, much worse, CLS was debuting, Audi revealed its own entry into the four-door coupe segment – The A7 Sportback. And just like that, the four-door coupe segment has a four-ringed leader.

Rolling sculpture

The A7 is art, sitting on 19-inch Goodyears. It would look just as appropriate sitting in your garage as it would in the Guggenheim. It’s elegant, it’s low slung, it’s long, it’s sleek. As with other Audi’s, there’s something about the A7’s beauty that even the most expensive camera can’t capture. Only when you’re standing in front of it will the words “Wow” escape your mouth.

While the “cat’s eye” LED daytime running lights and the extremely clean lines of the profile all compete for your attention, the sloping, abrupt rear-end may make the car’s posterior the best view of all. Whatever the view, the A7 certainly got plenty of looks and compliments throughout my week with it.

If you read car reviews with any frequency, you’re probably thoroughly tired of automotive journalists trumpeting the exceptional quality and design of Audi interiors. If that’s the case, just skip ahead, because I’m about to dole out more of the same – with one exception.

Yes, the inside of the A7 is a really nice place to be. High quality leather, wood, aluminum and plastic trim are everywhere you touch. A high-resolution, 6.5” LCD screen rises out of the dash to display the satellite navigation, as well as the MMI interface for most of the systems in the car.

Unfortunately, this particular A7 had developed an occasional rattle in the dash, just above the gauges. With a little less than 5,000 miles on the clock, that’s disheartening. Keep in mind, however, that 1,000 journalist miles is probably the equivalent of about 10,000 every day miles. Delicate drivers, we are not.

The driver’s seat itself is very supportive and comfortable, and is heated and cooled. Though I felt like fans inside the seat were a little on the loud side and not-all-that efficient at, well, cooling.

While I never spent any time in the back seat myself, I never heard any complaints from my passengers. They’ve got their own climate controls as well as a fold-down center armrest with cup holders. Keep in mind, however, you’ve only got room for two back there in this grand tourer.

Moving even further back in the car, the trunk is not the deepest, but it certainly is long. You won’t be putting sheets of plywood back there, but it will take all the luggage you can throw in it.

Tons of Tech

Along with a comfortable interior, you’ve got quite a bit of technology. This A7 represents the first car I’ve ever tested that comes with an in-car, WiFi hotspot. Simply put, it’s a pretty awesome feature. Connecting a Macbook Pro to the A7’s WiFi signal was simple and data speeds were good. Now we’ll all be distracted by texting AND updating our Facebook page while doing 75mph.

Controlling another sort of speed is the standard, Audi Drive Select system. This system adapts the throttle response, transmission shifting points and steering weight based on the mode you set it in. In dynamic mode, the throttle response is at its’ most aggressive, the transmission will hold a gear higher into the rev-range and the steering will be weighted a bit heavier. In comfort mode, it’s just the opposite. When set in automatic, sensors in the car will continually adjust all those systems to provide what it feels is optimum performance for the current road conditions.

Other available A7 gizmos include radar-controlled, adaptive cruise control and “Side Assist” blind spot monitoring system. If that isn’t enough safety related technology for you, the A7 is also available with a heads up display and a night-vision sensor that can detect pedestrians from 1000 feet away. No word yet on when they’ll start adding weapons systems.

Charged 6

Normally, when we talk about supercharging, we’re usually driving something with a loud, fire-breathing V8 motor. Under the hood of the A7, we’ve got a supercharged, direct-injected V6 motor, good for 310hp. It’s a slightly down-rated version of the motor you find in Audi’s S4 sport sedan.

If the thought of only 6-cylinders in a big luxury sedan makes you furrow your brow, not-so-fast. Along with that 310hp are 325 pound-feet of torque. That provides a V8-like kick in the pants. Not once during the week did I feel like I was down on power, whether the A7 was passing on the highway, climbing a steep grade or embarrassing the guy in the BMW.

More importantly, the supercharged V6 does all this with none of the lag as you might experience with turbos. At the same time, the A7 also manages to return nearly 30mpg during civilized, highway cruising.

One of the reasons for that good fuel economy is the 8-speed automatic transmission. While Audi’s tiptronic 8-speed is not dual clutch-fast, it is “get me to the church on time” quick. During spirited test runs, getting from 5th gear to 3rd gear in a hurry was not a problem. Selecting your own gears can be done via sport mode on the shifter itself, or if you opt for the Sport Package, you’ll have a pair of paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel.

Not the S7

If you’re looking for something that has the ability to attack the corners full on one minute, and be an elegant, grand tourer the next, the A7 might not be for you.

While the A7 will take a corner at speed without much drama, the car starts getting a little roly-poly once your driving style approaches what your mother might call “crazy.” In other words, when things start getting fun.

At high speed, the front end will, predictably, start to understeer a little and resist turning in. Body-roll will also pop up during a quick corner. Additionally, after one particular 20-minute session of sport driving, I started experiencing some noticeable brake fade.

None of this comes as a surprise, however, because we aren’t driving the sportier S7, we’re driving the A7. Considering how the A7 is intended to handle and ride, it does so in high fashion. The suspension is tuned for a compromise between comfort and handling. Even with the fantastic-looking, optional 20-inch wheels, the ride is not overly harsh.

If performance is more your thing, wait until 2012 when you can buy the Audi S7. Not only will the S7 be packing a sportier suspension and better brakes, but the heart of that beast will be a new, 4.0L V8 that should be good for around 425hp.

Auto Therapy

When it comes to cars, the really good ones don’t just drive well and look fantastic, they make me feel something: excited, amazed, overwhelmed.

The morning the A7 was to be dropped off, I woke up feeling something between “bleh” and “ugh.” Life had been throwing me a few curve balls lately and things seemed less than sunny.

I happened to be looking out the window when the A7 rolled up outside my apartment. Even though I’d seen one before at an auto show, the words “Holy,” followed by an expletive, came out of my mouth. That beautiful thing was mine for the week?? I couldn’t run down the stairs fast enough to get the keys. Christmas in July, indeed.

I don’t think I stopped smiling much during the first few hours behind the wheel.

The big, four-ringed coupe had made me feel…better.

2012 Audi A7 – $59,250
-Prestige trim – $6,330
-20” wheels w/ summer tires – $1,200
-Audi Side assist – $500
-Moonlight blue metallic paint – $475
Destination – $875
TOTAL – $68,630