Opening up a new perspective

During the past several years, Audi has become quite adroit at filling its new-product pipeline with an assortment of impressively rendered vehicles. One of the latest to hit showrooms here in the U.S. is arguably its most ambitious: the 2012 Audi A7. Sharing a good bit of its basic engineering with the also-new-for-2012 Audi A6 and blending elements of a coupe, sedan and wagon, this striking five-door GT matches its elegantly aggressive appearance with a solid measure of practicality and the added security of the firm's Quattro all-wheel-drive system -- all available in Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige trim grades. Despite its genuinely laudable attributes, this Audi does face a unique challenge, as Americans have never fully embraced the concept of a luxury liftback to the same extent as their European counterparts. However, the introduction of vehicles like its prime rival, the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, and the considerably pricier Porsche Panamera have fostered a mini growth spurt in this nascent premium niche; and the 2012 Audi A7 appears fully ready and more than capable of grabbing its own sizable slice of the action.

Definitely worth a tryIf you're intrigued by the concept of mixing basic Audi ethos with the style, practicality and handling advantages of an all-wheel-drive liftback GT, the new Audi A7 has plenty to offer.

Probably should pass it by
If you're sold on a sweeping roofline, but require five-passenger capability and/or a hatch with a greater amount of rear headroom, the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo and Porsche Panamera are both better alternatives.

Shaping the body beautiful

Introduced in Europe last year, the new Audi A7 is a real-world incarnation of the Audi Sportback Concept first seen at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. Smooth, sleek (0.30 coefficient of drag) and substantial, the A7 embraces the automaker's latest styling cues, complementing its flowing roofline with a signature monoform grille and LED-enhanced front/rear lighting elements, all stylishly linked by a rising shoulder "tornado line." The look is properly set off by powerful wheel arches that get filled with 18-inch to 20-inch alloy wheels and suitably proportioned tires, depending on trim and option choices; plus a functional auto-deploying rear spoiler that pops up at 80 mph and retracts back down at 50 mph. The Prestige Package also brings S-line exterior enhancements that endow the Audi A7 with a touch of stealthy aggression thanks to slightly edgier front/rear fascia contouring, extended side sills, rear-bumper air inlet grilles and a platinum-gray rear diffuser insert.

A domain of distinction

Audi is universally acknowledged for having some of the best interiors in contemporary autodom, and the new A7 runs true to form. Its wraparound dash features an eye-catching and highly-legible 3D main instrument cluster with a multi-mode driver information center. Also in this superbly finished house are an array of finger-friendly function switches bolstered by Audi's MMI setup that includes a centrally mounted 8.0-inch hideaway screen and multi-mode interface controller. In addition to firmish but well-formed individual seats for four, the A7 Premium's long standards list also includes supple leather upholstery, Ash wood accent trim, 12-way power heated front buckets, tri-zone auto climate control, a power sunroof, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with Audi Music Interface and SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, Keyless Go and front/front-side/side-curtain/front knee airbags. 

Moving up to Premium Plus richens the A7's cabin mix with items like a voice-activated navigation system that includes Google Earth real-time maps/traffic plus the enhanced MMI touch setup, a six-month subscription to Audi Connect, a CD Changer, HD Radio and an upsized driver information display while the Prestige model adds power to the tilt/telescoping steering column, four-zone A/C, a Bose premium surround sound audio system, ventilated front seats, Advanced Key and LED ambient lighting. 

The A7's aft quarters are scaled to comfortably carry two average-size adults; however, those of the taller persuasion will find that legroom is considerably more abundant than headroom. When cargo takes priority, the 60/40 split rear seatback folds nearly flat, more than doubling the A7's already cavernous 24.5-cu ft trunk space. Access is eased by a standard programmable power liftgate.

Going your own way

An impressive number of options and packages allow A7 buyers to add a distinctly personal touch to their vehicles. Highlighting the roster are a pair of Prestige-only groups: the 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System that's similar to the one in the flagship Audi A8 and the Innovation Package that brings full LED headlights, Head-Up Display, Audi's Night Vision Assistant and Side Assist, the accident-mitigating Audi pre-sense plus and Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go. The latter three items also are available as the Driver Assist Package on Premium Plus and Prestige models. In addition to the Sport Packages detailed below, any A7 can be fitted with a Cold Weather Package that adds multi-level heating to the steering wheel and rear seats. Single options include dark walnut or brushed aluminum interior trim, rear-seat thorax airbags, and metallic or pearl paint.

A full measure of refined power

While a performance-focused Audi S7 and even a possible RS7 model will  likely to turn up here in the next year or so, for now, sole engine in the U.S.-spec 2012 Audi A7 is automaker's highly competent 3.0-liter TFSI V6. Incorporating direct fuel injection and variable valve timing abetted by a twin-intercooled supercharger, this silky all-aluminum six cranks out a healthy 310 horsepower at 5,500-6,500 rpm and 325 lb-ft of peak torque from 2,900-4,500 revs. Backed by an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with Dynamic Shift Program, it hustles the 4,210-pound A7 from 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, lets it reach an electronically limited top end of 130 mph and still earns quite respectable 18/28 city/highway mpg marks from the EPA. 

Taking it to the streets

The 2012 Audi A7 quickly proved a solid, well-sorted and confident runningmate that uses its Quattro all-wheel drive and stability/traction controls to deftly cope with everything from leisurely freeway cruise to the challenges of a twisty two-lane backroad. Even without a Sport Package upgrade, the A7's standard Audi Drive Select feature permits four different settings of the steering feel, throttle response and transmission shift mapping that adds a bit more edge to the mix. While there's a bit of artificial feel to the A7's Servotronic electromechanical steering, it's both positive and linear, as are the car's extremely capable ABS disc brakes. The only caveat of note involves a modest ride compliance tradeoff that accompanies selecting a Sport Package -- particularly the 20-inch version that brings grippier and more-responsive but somewhat harsher and noisier 35-series summer rubber.

Favorite features

Audi Connect 
This industry-first introduces a bevy of real-time enhancements that include Google Earth navigation with voice activation and local search/mapping functions as well as optional in-car Wi-Fi connectivity that can accommodate up to eight individual devices.

Sport Packages
For those with more enthusiast leanings, the Audi A7 offers two sport packages that bring either 19-inch or 20-inch alloys (wrapped in 255/40 or 265/35 performance tires), a tauter, lowered suspension and a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel with racing-style shifter paddles. Value Assessment

The 2012 Audi A7 3.0T Quattro in Premium trim opens at just over $60,000, a Premium Plus commands close to $63,000 and the Prestige starts slightly beyond the $66,000 mark, figures that make this new Audi quite competitive with the BMW 535ix Gran Turismo. However the tempting selection of available options and packages -- highlighted by the Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System ($5,900) and the Innovation Package ($5,800) -- do raise the prospect of mild-to-modest sticker shock and can boost the bottom line on a loaded A7 Prestige to and through the $80K barrier. Although Audi residuals are solid, they still fall a bit short of BMW levels overall. However, resale valuations on the BMW 535ix and 550ix GT models are currently higher than those of their conventional sedan counterparts. Given that fact, it seems equally probable the same will hold true for the relationship between the Audi A6 and the new Audi A7.

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