2012 Audi A7
Base price: $59,250
As tested: $68,630
MPG: 18 city/28 highway
- Classic, elegant good looks
- More functionality than a sedan without the bulk of an SUV
- A pure joy to drive
- Ridiculous and frustrating multimedia interface controls
- Does a luxury hatchback answer a question nobody asked?
By Jim Prueter
Audi debuts a luxurious hatchback
The all-new 2012 Audi A7, which has been on sale since April, is one of the best-looking cars on the road today. It’s also roomy inside and wonderful to drive. Based on the Audi A6 platform, the A7 seats four and has a starting price of about $60,000. The main difference is that the A7 is a hatchback rather than a traditional four-door sedan.
For the record, Audi calls the A7 a “tailgate” rather than a hatchback. Manufacturers seem to think consumers find the word “hatchback” objectionable. We don’t count ourselves in that category, but the word “sportback” is probably a more fitting label for this remarkably handsome vehicle.
We’ve seen this body style on luxury vehicles before — namely the BMW 535-GT — but Audi’s execution is far better.
The nearly all-aluminum body A7 is powered by a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine delivering 310-horsepower. It’s also one of the smoothest, quietest engines we’ve tested. For now, at least, it’s the only engine offered. The A7 uses an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission that powers Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system.
That performance comes with significant fuel cost. Audi’s window sticker claimed the car would get 18 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway but the best we could achieve during our weeklong test drive was just over 17 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving, using premium fuel.
Audi employs something they call a “drive select system” to get a silky-smooth ride. Controlled by a button on the center console, the system offers a choice of settings that determine how the vehicle responds. There’s also an automatic setting if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole.
Our test A7 came equipped with the $6,330 Prestige option package that included the S-Line sport suspension, high-tech operating equipment, and gorgeous 20-inch wheels.
There are numerous things to like about the A7’s design, including a massive, seven-strake grille, and a low-profile roofline with blacked-out roof pillars. The fluid design flows through the classic sweptback rear hatch. There’s also a rear spoiler that’s concealed by the rear edge of the hatchback lid. The spoiler deploys when speeds of 80 mph, rising out of the lid to improve vehicle dynamics and stability.
Inside, the A7 closely mimics the layout of Audi’s flagship A8 sedan. Gorgeous displays include an 8-inch pop-up LCD screen used for both navigation and operating controls. The screen hides inside the dashboard when not in use, motoring up into position when called.
Audi also has what’s called a Connect System, basically a portable Wi-Fi network providing headlines, weather, and sports news through the LCD screen. It will even give you Wikipedia pages for nearby landmarks. Audi’s system uses 3G, like a cell phone, rather than Sirius XM Satellite Radio used by other auto manufacturers. The navigation system employs cool-looking Google Earth satellite imagery, a 3-D overhead view that includes streets, buildings, and the landscape.
Sadly, the interface also includes the needlessly frustrating Audi multimedia interface control system. The interface is operated by a center-console mounted rotary dial and a touch pad on which you can spell out words by writing letters with your fingers or even “write” phone numbers with handwriting recognition software. Audi claims this reduces driver distraction, but we found it confusing.
Audi also offers a package designed for safety, offering an adaptive cruise control system that will help prevent you from unintentionally tailgating the motorist in front of you by using radar sensors that reduce your vehicle’s speed if you get too close. Audi’s A7 will also monitor blind spots, warning via LED lights in the exterior mirrors when there are fast-approaching vehicles within 150 feet. The all-new Head Up display shows important driver information such as speed, navigation, and adaptive cruise control. Night Vision Assistant can detect pedestrians approximately 1,000 feet ahead. Once a pedestrian is registered, the system identifies them in yellow. If they move into the anticipated path of the A7, they are highlighted in red and an acoustic alert sounds.
The A7 has a full 24.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the 60/40 forward folding rear seats, tops for any Audi sedan.
Backseat legroom is, at best, average for midsized sedans. Passengers behind this too-tall driver had virtually no room, requiring me to power my seat forward to accommodate them. The sloping roofline compromises headroom.
Standard safety equipment on the A7 includes an anti-theft alarm system, 12 airbags including driver and front passenger airbags, and side airbags, full side curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The A7 has not been crash tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Transportation Administration.
Building a luxury hatchback is a bold move, and perhaps a bit risky, especially given that BMW’s 535 Gran Turismo has been a sales disaster thus far. While not in the same class as Audi and BMW, the Acura ZDX hatchback with a starting price about $15,000 less, has also not done very well. But, for those who aren’t in a position to write an $80,000 check for the A8, but want some of the benefits afforded by a SUV, the elegant good looks in the smartly designed A7 might make it an ideal pick.