2012 Audi A7 Sportback: First Look

  • Competes with: BMW 535i Gran Turismo, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, Porsche Panamera V-6
  • Looks like: An A8 ... after another A8 pancaked it
  • Drivetrain: 310-hp, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Late spring 2011

Based on a new platform Audi says will underpin the next-generation A6, the A7 Sportback puts the automaker on the grand-touring bandwagon (or band-hatchback, as it were) that’s been responsible for such cars as the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo and the Porsche Panamera. The A7, unveiled last July, made its U.S. debut this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Positioned between the A6 and A8, the A7 goes on sale next spring.

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The sole drivetrain will be the 310-horsepower, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 found in the A6 and S4. It gets power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive. The latest versions of Quattro default more power toward the rear, but an optional rear differential can shift power left and right between the rear wheels to enhance handling, much like similar systems from Acura, Nissan and BMW. High-tech options include Google Earth navigation mapping, an integrated onboard Wi-Fi hotspot and the latest generation of Bang & Olufsen audio.

I checked out the A7 at the auto show. From most angles, the car looks handsome, but style trumps substance – and you pay for it inside.

Up front, the A7 has a similarly dominant grille as Audi’s flagship A8. LED daytime running lamps will likely be optional. They arc around the headlights, but they don’t quite chart the angular route as seen in the A8’s LEDs. In back, I see bits and pieces of Maserati GranTurismo and Aston Martin Rapide, but the hatched tail looks a bit bulbous in profile.

Either way, the whole car feels low-slung. From the nose to the windows, everything looks a bit flattened. Indeed, the A7 measures a couple of inches longer and wider than the current A6, but it’s 1.5 inches shorter from ground to roof. The 5 Series GT, probably the A7’s most direct competitor, bears about the same footprint as the A7 but stands 5.5 inches taller.

Get inside, and the dimensions hit home. The A7 has the ingress of a sports car: At 5-foot-11, I needed the driver’s seat adjusted so low it felt like I was falling in. Elevating my seat up would leave my head scraping the ceiling. The two-seat rear bench has similar headroom deprivation, and adults won’t find legroom to spare. The seat sits low to the ground, meaning knees will be dangling in the air.

Sightlines are marginal. The windows are short, the side mirrors are small, and the rear window is raked so steeply it amounts to a slit in the rearview mirror. I sat in a BMW 535i GT (across the show floor) for comparison. The BMW is no greenhouse, but it’s eminently roomier than the A7, with better visibility all around.

U.S. specs for the cargo area are pending, but it looks reasonably large. Like in many hatchbacks, the height of the cargo area is limited by the slope of the hatch. It looks long enough to fit golf bags in that direction rather than horizontally across the back, which will not work whatsoever. The A7’s rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, but there’s also a sizable center pass-through.

Save an array of buttons around the gearshift – including the A8’s latest MMI system, with a touch-sensitive thumb pad to the left of the knob – the cabin has a simple layout, with textured wood inlays instead of the usual glossier trim. Materials are good, but the doors could use some dressing up; their austerity seems intentional, but they feel a bit plain for what probably will be a $70,000 car.

Speaking of which, pricing for the A7 in Germany starts at 51,650 euros. At current exchange rates, that's just over $70,000. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Audi knock the cost down to compete with the $58,300 535i GT xDrive, but we won’t know for sure until we're closer to the car’s on-sale date.


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