German automaker Audi keeps turning out elegant-looking cars, and the newest _ the 2012 A7 _ is no exception.
The mid-size A7 has four doors and well-sized back seat like a sedan. But people typically don't notice because of the car's sleek, deceptively styled, coupe-like body.
Indeed, the coupe shape and side profile of the A7 are similar to that of the pricier, rarified Aston Martin Rapide.
Plus, the A7's 24.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats in the hatch area is the best of any Audi car, save for the wagon version of the A6. There's even more A7 storage space when back seats are folded down.
Best of all, Audi engineers carefully managed the weight of the 16.3-foot-long A7 so its supercharged V-6 can provide strong, sporty performance while keeping fuel usage in check.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices, including destination charge, for the 2012 A7 is $60,125 with 310-horsepower, supercharged and direct-injected V-6 and eight-speed, automatic Tiptronic transmission.
Audi's quattro all-wheel drive comes standard. Notable extras include a navigation system with Google Earth 3-D capacity and a $5,900 Bang & Olufsen sound system with tweeters that rise from the top of the dashboard.
Competitors include the 2011 Mercedes CLS, which has a starting retail price of $76,175 with 382-horsepower V-8, rear-wheel drive and seven-speed, automatic transmission. Another is the 2011 BMW 535i sedan, which has a starting retail price of $50,975 with 300-horsepower, twin-turbo six cylinder, rear-wheel drive and manual transmission.
Arguably, the Audi is the freshest of the bunch in appearance, especially when optional, smart-looking light-emitting diode lights adorn headlamps like high-tech eye shadow.
There's a rear spoiler that's recessed into the trailing edge of the hatchback lid most of the time. It deploys at 80 mph to help reduce rear lift at high speeds.
The A7 tester started smoothly and drove smoothly. Power was strong and refined.
It was as easy to drive the A7 fast, on the open road, as it was to drive it in busy city traffic _ the accelerator pedal responded to even subtle changes of pressure.
Under the long hood is a 3-liter, double overhead cam, supercharged V-6 with Audi's direct gasoline injection system. The combination produces fast, though not brawny, get up and go.
Torque peaks at 325 foot-pounds starting at 2,900 rpm and continuing to 4,500 rpm, and power felt always at the ready.
The engine sounded strong, too, without being overbearing or cheap in tone.
The eight speeds in the transmission are more than the seven in the Mercedes CLS and worked well even in manumatic mode in the tester; I shifted from gear to gear on my own, without needing to use a clutch pedal. Brakes worked fast to slow this speedy car.
But my gasoline mileage was just 18.1 mpg in city and highway travel. This is less than the average of 22 mpg that the federal government estimates (the federal highway rating is 18 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway). And, with the A7 needing premium fuel in its nearly 20-gallon tank, a fill-up can be more than $85 at today's prices.
Audi packs a lot of information into the instrument cluster in front of the driver. But it's done without gimmickry, so there's no overwhelming sense of "what is all this?"
The clear numeric digital display of the car's speed was especially important to see because the A7 is deceptively fast.
The large, 8-inch display monitor in the center of the A7 dashboard, which showed radio stations, phone settings, navigation maps, etc., only came up after the car was turned on. Otherwise, it slid out of sight into a slot at the front of the center stack all by itself. This display projected bright colors and was easy to read. Audi's own Multi-Media interface (MMI) system with a large knob in the center console can take a driver quickly to the proper menu to adjust radio stations, nav settings, etc.
Even more progressive is Audi's fingertip pad that lets a driver "write" phone numbers on a black pad that's next to the gear shift lever in the center console. Handwriting recognition software "reads" numbers so the phone number can be inputted and dialed. It works on navigation commands, too. Audi says this reduces driver distraction.
Back seat legroom of 37 inches is on par with many mid-size sedans, and riders sitting behind me could extend their legs easily. But headroom can be tight back there for 6-footers; the car's roof slopes. There is only room for two in the back seat. Long-legged riders in the front seat will find the A7's seat tracks are long.
Note that the cargo area is shallow.
Many safety features are standard, including 12 air bags, electronic stability control and traction control. Blind spot warning system and rear parking sensors are options.