When Audi decided to enter the ‘four-door coupe’ market held by the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, the automaker did the unthinkable. Instead of producing a conventional four door vehicle with a trunk, Audi produced a five-door. Yes, the dreaded ‘H’ word; a hatchback.
|1. The S7 is equipped with a 4.0L turbocharged V8 that produces 420 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque.
2. Sending power to the quattro all-wheel drive system is a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
3. Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
4. Priced from $78,800, our loaded up test car came in at $94,570.
A lot of Americans have yet to warm up to the idea that a hatchback can be anything other than cheap transportation. There is a reason why Mercedes-Benz keeps the B-Class out of the US market and why the BMW 318ti never had a successor (though in that car’s case the styling might be more to blame). Simply put, premium hatchbacks don’t sell. As proof, Audi’s own A3 was outsold by the more expensive, less practical BMW 1-series coupe/convertible last year.
HIGH PRICED HATCHBACK STYLE
But like Porsche did with the Panamera, Audi went ahead and created a high price, high class five-door anyway; the A7. And you know what? They may have been onto something. Last year with only a single engine option, the A7 outsold the pricier Mercedes-Benz CLS. This year, however, there is a new contender to challenge the Audi and Mercedes. BMW has entered the four-door coupe market with its 6 Series Gran Coupe. So, to remain on top, Audi is adding not one, but two new models to the A7 lineup. First, there is the S7 featured here, and later in the year there will be an AMG-fighting, 560 hp RS7.
Like the recently introduced Audi S6 and S8, the S7 utilizes Audi’s new 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 engine that produces 420 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Like any good Audi, power is sent to the all-wheel drive quattro system via a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. The turbo V8 uses cylinder on demand technology that will shut off part of the engine under light loads to save fuel. This gives the S7 an official consumption rating of 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. After a week driving the vehicle we achieved an average of 18.6 mpg.
MORE POWER IS ALWAYS WELCOME
With 420 prancing ponies waiting to be unleashed, the S7 is a rocket. Even though it weighs 4,508 lbs., the S7 can reach 60 mph from a standstill in 4.5 seconds. But the power is not linear in its progression. The throttle is heavily delayed in response off the line, and once the engine does wake up, it feels like its producing all 420 hp right now as it launches you into the stratosphere. This forward thrust feels incredible when on boost as the car riffles through the gears quickly and quietly; too quietly in fact. Unfortunately the S7 lacks enough engine sound to back its performance. True, this isn’t a sports car, but a bit more V8 rumble wouldn’t hurt.
Audi does offer a setting to make the engine louder, but the difference is barely audible.
With all this speed, corners approach quickly. The S7 just laughs them off though thanks to wide, 265/35R20 summer tires and, of course, Audi’s trick torque-vectoring ‘Sport’ rear differential. Point this car at a corner, hit the gas and the sport differentiate will sort its way out of the bend. That said, even with the active rear differential, the S7 lacks the sports car reflexes of the smaller S4. Chalk it up to a heavier curb weight or a more mature target audience, but the vehicle is more GT cruiser than back-road terror.
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SEDATE DRIVING PROVES DIFFICULT
It’s surprising then that when it comes to relaxed driving the S7 falters, if only slightly. Even in comfort mode, the transmission is far from smooth and can be found clunking around hunting for gears. When taking your family to the local mall, the constant head bobbing caused by the jerky transmission will make other drivers think you are trying to re-enact the Bohemian Rhapsody scene from Wayne’s World.
Another gripe we couldn’t help but note was that the crash detection warning goes off more often than Gordon Ramsey during a taping of Hell’s Kitchen.
The S7 is equipped with an air suspension that has the Audi sit 10 millimeters lower than the regular A7. Not only does this improve handling, but the lower stance makes the S7 look more purposeful. It also receives a revised front grille, side sills and rear bumper as well as the addition of aluminum colored side mirrors, quad exhaust tips and gorgeous 20-inch wheels.
From the front and side, these changes have transformed the already good looking A7 into a sexy beast. The LED headlights and big rims really set the whole design off.
INTERIOR AS BEAUTIFUL AS EXTERIOR
Inside, it’s easy to agree that Audi has detailed the S7 properly for a vehicle costing close to $100,000. Our tester came with quilted white leather seats. Beautiful, yes; and they’re comfortable too, though we suspect keeping them clean might be less enjoyable than sitting in them.
The dashboard and center console have real carbon fiber trim, which seems to be a theme these days for any vehicle featuring a sporty demeanor. Like any Audi, the thick rimmed steering wheel itself is a great design, and feedback through it lets you know what the car is doing at all times. Still, it is not as responsive or communicative as the S4’s steering, but again, this car is more of a cruiser.
All of the other buttons and dials are premium feeling and you get the sense this car is special. But if that is not enough, Audi takes things one step further. Opt for the nearly $6,000 Bang & Olufsen sound system and the front tweeters become motorized, popping out of the dashboard every time the stereo is turned on. If that is still not enough over-the-top engineering wizardry, the infotainment screen also does a motorized dance on vehicle start-up. Sure both are unnecessarily complex items just waiting to malfunction, but touches like these remind you that you are in something high class and distinguished.
But wait, Audi is not done yet. To impress upon fellow country club members that the S7 is not some cheap hatchback, high-tech features like night vision and factory-installed wireless Internet are even available.
See Also: 2012 Audi A7 Prestige Review
And finally, there’s the rear liftgate. It adds a dose of practicality not found on its competitors and allows the Audi to hold 24.5 cu-ft of cargo. As well, there are convenient tie-down loops within the cargo hold to ensure larger items do not smash the sidewall trim to pieces. With 37-inches of legroom, the rear seats can accommodate two adults (the car is only a four-seater), but it’s not exactly spacious. There is a surprising amount of headroom back here though considering the sloping roof line.
The S7 starts at a price of $78,800, which is slightly higher than the Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 4MATIC but significantly cheaper than the BMW 650i Gran Coupe xDrive. After adding options like the Innovation package, 20-inch wheels, LED headlights, and the destination charge, our test car came in at $94,570.
Like the 650i Gran Coupe and CLS550, this is more of a stylish, fast luxury car than a sporty special. That said, by using ‘A’ for regular models and ‘S’ for upgraded models, Audi does a great job differentiating its trim and price levels. It makes the S7 seem more unique, though if you want real performance, that RS7 will arrive soon.
In the mean time, the A7 family continues to outsell both the CLS and the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe in the United States. So it appears a luxury hatchback can sell in America. It just has to be unique, look good and go fast.