The Powers That Be at AutoGuide.com like us to start our reviews with driving impressions – you know, the part where the reader is in the driver’s seat. The action. And when it comes to the Audi A7 TDI, which has a powerful 3.0-liter diesel V6 up front and quattro all-wheel-drive underneath, there’s certainly plenty of action about which to talk.
|Engine: 3.0L Turbocharged Diesel V6.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy: 24 MPG city, 38 MPG highway, 30.4 MPG observed.
Price: Starts at $67,795 or $81,395 as tested.
But as much as we love the way the A7 TDI drives, what really captivates us is the way it looks. The sweep of its fastback rear recall great European sports cars of the 1960s — the Lamborghini Espada, the Jaguar E-Type, the Jensen Interceptor. Our job was to drive the A7, and yet we found we could while away the hours just standing there and looking at it.
But duty called. Under the A7’s hood is the same 3.0-liter turbo diesel V6 that powers the Q5, Q7, A6 and A8. Using one engine for such a broad variety of cars may seem unusual, but this powerplant shrugs off weight and is happy to pull just about any size of car. That’s the beauty of diesel.
Sleek and Quick
The 240 hp TDI certainly has no problem with the A7: According to Audi, the A7 TDI’s 0-60 time is 5.5 seconds, just a tenth slower than the gasoline-powered A7 3.0 TFSI with its three-liter supercharged six. It helps that the diesel car weighs only 66 lbs more than the gasser. But 0-60 times tell only part of the story. From a dead stop, the A7 moves off smartly, if not particularly urgently, but that changes just a split second later. By the time the tach sweeps past 1,750 RPM, the turbo is doing its thing and the engine is putting out its full 428 lb-ft of torque. That’s 1960s muscle-car territory, and the resulting acceleration feels a bit like you’ve been hit in the back by a small planet. Once on the boil, the engine delivers hand-of-God acceleration accompanied by a decidedly unholy wail. Audi mates the diesel to its eight-speed Tiptronic automatic, but the paddle shifters might as well be ornamental: No matter what gear you’re in, the A7 TDI goes like a jet.
The only thing more incredible than the way the diesel A7 accelerates is the way it doesn’t consume fuel. EPA estimates are 24 MPG city and 38 MPG highway, an improvement of six MPG and 10 MPG respectively over the A7 3.0 TFSI (Audi speak for a 3.0-liter supercharged gasoline V6). And despite our liberal and repeated use of the A7 TDI’s prodigious power, we averaged a Toyota Corolla-like 30.4 MPG. Had we not spent so much time pounding on the accelerator, we probably would have done better… then again, at 30 MPG, you can afford to pound on the accelerator all you want.
Diesel fill-ups are usually more costly than gas, but since the A7 3.0 TFI requires premium fuel, there’s not that much of a difference; in fact, we tested the A7 TDI in Los Angeles, where diesel is actually cheaper than high-test. Sure, diesel stations can be harder to find, but the A7’s massive 19.8-gallon fuel tank means you don’t have to fill up very often.
Nimble With a Hint of Push
On the open road, the A7 is pure bliss. Like other quattro cars, it offers grip for days, which will eventually give way to gentle understeer if the car is pushed hard enough. Stay on the safe side of the traction curve and the A7’s chassis will reward you with sharp turn-in, minimal body roll and lovely put-it-where-you-want-it handling, while the engine offers a seemingly limitless supply of torque. If you’re running by the numbers, you’ll use the paddles to upshift early and keep the engine in its low-end torque band, which is the opposite of what you’d do with a gasoline engine. We chose to let the engine rev so as to enjoy its weird and wonderful soundtrack.
And what of the rest of the A7? Well, there are things we like and things we don’t. The interior is on our “like” list, with leather, metal, and exposed-grain wood trim all present and accounted for. Audi’s dial-controlled infotainment and navigation system (called MMI, for MultiMedia Interface) takes some getting used to, but we’ve tested enough Audis to have learned our way around the system. Still, it takes more attention to operate than it ought to. Our test car had the optional Bang & Olufsen stereo, which adds an eye-watering $5,900 to the price. Then again, if a stereo was ever worth six grand, this is it. We love the little tweeters that pop up from the dash when you start the car, and the crisp sound is about as good as it gets on four wheels — but be warned, turning the system up to full volume is not recommended for the faint of spirit. That said, we’re pretty sure the right to crank the B&O is protected by the Second Amendment.
Audi “Googles” Itself
Our car was also equipped with MMI Navigation Plus, which features 3G Internet connectivity for Google-enabled searches and Google Maps satellite overlays on the map screen, which is very cool. There’s also a touch-pad on which you can trace letters rather than selecting them with the dial controller. It’s an innovative way to enter a destination, and while I initially poo-pooed it as useless show-off technology, it turned out to be pretty useful for entering addresses. One problem is that the touch-pad also works to select radio presets, so if your hand happens to accidentally brush against it – say, when reaching for the shifter – the radio station changes. Annoying.
Back seat access is one of the A7’s problems. That lovely sweeping roofline limits headroom, and even short passengers will have to duck to get in. (We won’t criticize too harshly, since Audi offers the A6, which is basically the same car with a traditional sedan roofline.) But the shape does pay dividends in cargo space because the A7’s huge hatch opens up to reveal 24.5 cubic feet of space, with an opening big enough to drop a piano in.
Most Audi cars are a terrific bargain, with starting prices far below Mercedes and BMW and features such as genuine leather upholstery as standard. The A7 is the exception to this rule: For once, Audi is charging what it’s worth. The TDI engine is only available on mid-level Premium Plus and top-of-the-range Prestige models where pricing starts at $67,795. That’s a reasonable $2,400 premium over the gas-powered A7 3.0 TFSI. The A7 offers no shortage of extra-cost options; our Prestige tester lists for $81,395, and it’s possible to option one up to nearly 90 grand. If those numbers are too much, consider the A6 TDI, which is priced about $9,400 less. It has everything we love about the A7 TDI except the styling. Would we pay an extra ten large for the A7’s looks? You know something, we just might.
The A7 is big and beautiful, svelte and sexy, fast and fantastic — and with a diesel engine under the hood, it gets the sort of fuel economy you’d expect from an inexpensive compact sedan. What’s not to like?