The new 2016 Audi S7 is just as appealing to drive as the mechanically identical S6, but twice as appealing to behold.
The Audi A7 is a style-setter, a unique, shapely version of the A6 sedan that’s meant to go up against the original German “four-door luxury coupe,” the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Arguably better looking than the CLS, it’s a distinctive design draped over the solid, if uninspiring, mechanicals of the A6.
And so it follows that the hotter version of that sedan, the S6, also leads to a hotter version of the car’s more stylish offering, called the S7. Featuring the same hot twin-turbo V-8, suspension upgrades, seating improvements and cosmetic tweaks as the S6, the S7 gets some mild updates for 2016, as well (compare the 2015 and 2016 models here).
Suffice it to say, if you like the S6, you’re going to like the S7. Despite them being mechanically identical, though, the two cars have a different feel to them. But other than being much more stylish, is there another reason to opt for an S7 over the excellent S6? And how does it stack up against the equally pricey and capable Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe?
Car styling is often a cycle of a few trendsetting models appearing on the market, then everyone else quickly moving to mimic their style. The A7/S7 is one of those trendsetters, featuring a gorgeous, unique shape that quickly found its way to other cars’ bodies; elements of it appeared in everything from the Toyota Avalon to the Chrysler 200.
The modifications that turn the A7 into the S7 are similar to those that made the A6 into the S6: more aggressive front and rear bumpers, deeper side sills, larger wheels and tires, and subtle badging. Those are the only clues that this is the hot version of the A7.
Changes for the 2016 model year are also subtle: a wider grille and new headlights and taillights are the only exterior differences from the 2015 model. It’s sleeker and less bulbous than the Mercedes-Benz CLS, and it gives the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe a run for its money in the looks department.
Although the S7 looks decently different from the S6, the two cars share all their mechanical bits under the skin. As such, it drives almost exactly like the S6. The S7 starts with the replacement of the A7’s standard supercharged V-6 with a 450-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine. That engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.
It’s a wonderfully tractable engine that’s able to cruise down freeways at a loping, easygoing pace or blast you through canyon roads at frenetic velocities — and it’s switchable in its temperament at the touch of a button.
Well, not actually the touch of one button — not anymore. Audi has strangely eliminated the “Audi Drive Select” button on the dashboard that used to allow you to cycle between drive modes. Now you have to use the Audi Multi Media Interface controller to find and change the setting from Comfort to Sport in the system’s on-screen menus. The transmission can be shifted into Sport mode by itself with just a tap on the gear selector, but that changes only the transmission behavior.
With everything in Sport mode, the S7 is enormous fun. The engine delivers tremendous acceleration when called upon, accompanied by a sonorous exhaust note that will find you stabbing the go pedal just to hear the noises it makes. The wider track (the width between the car’s wheels, left to right) creates a much better sense of security and solidity, exhibiting excellent body control. There’s none of the body roll the A7 exhibits when you make quick directional changes, and none of the floatiness that makes that car such a comfortable cruiser.
Part of that can be attributed to the S7’s standard summer performance tires. (If you want all-season ability, you’ll have to invest in winter tires later on — or make a deal with your dealership to equip it with all-season tires initially as part of the transaction, if they’re willing.) What you’re left with is a feeling of control, but not necessarily one of precision. Steering feedback is still a step below competitors’ levels, and even switching into Sport mode doesn’t help this; all it does is increase the amount of effort required for steering input. It doesn’t improve feedback at all.
Ride quality is excellent in any of the S7’s modes, with even the firmest setting coming across as perfectly comfortable for passengers. The car is an excellent answer for drivers who want excitement in their commute, but aren’t ready to pony up for the truly hairy-chested RS models — in either image or price.
The S7 has three main competitors, all from German luxury brands. Two cars were created to compete with it, both of which their makers call coupes despite them having four full doors and a trunk. The BMW 650 Gran Coupe is a stretched 6 Series coupe that’s had two more doors added to it, but it looks good despite this. Powered by a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8, it nearly matches the power available from the S7 but starts roughly $7,000-$10,000 higher depending on whether you specify all-wheel drive or not.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is a V-8-powered version of that company’s four-door luxury coupe, and while it’s a little less expensive and less powerful than the S7, stepping up to the fire-breathing CLS63 AMG is a hundred-thousand-dollar proposition before you even add any options.
The S7’s third competitor is the Porsche Panamera, a four-door coupe that comes in a bewildering array of styles and even two wheelbase lengths. At a starting price comparable to the S7, the base version is short on horsepower — only 310 from its V-6 engine. As a four-door that’s much more dedicated to being a sports car, though, it can hold its own against the S7, given it’s more than 500 pounds lighter.
The EPA rates the S7 at 17/27/21 mpg city/highway/combined. It’s a rather respectable rating given the big engine and the vehicle’s speedy capabilities. It’s slightly better than the Mercedes in this regard: The CLS550 is rated 17/26/21 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 17/25/20 mpg with all-wheel drive. The BMW 650 Gran Coupe is rated 17/25/20 mpg with rear-drive and 15/24/18 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The only competitor to beat the S7 is the Panamera, which in all-wheel-drive trim manages 18/27/21 mpg, matching the S6 and beating the S7 by 1 mpg in the city.
Sitting in and piloting the S7 feels almost exactly like piloting the S6, with one notable exception — headroom and visibility are notably worse than in the more upright sedan. This is the price one pays for the S7’s much more aggressive style. Headroom is at a premium, with my very short hair brushing against the headliner despite my comfortable sport seat being in the lowest position.
Rearward and side visibility suffers, as well; you’ll rely on the blind spot warning system more than you might normally while changing lanes or backing up.
Aside from the sacrifice of headroom for style, the S7’s interior is just as lovely as ever. The optional tuxedo-pinstriped wood looks amazing, and all the interior bits are fastened and glued together with a solidity and precision that other automakers have been trying to emulate for years. One never gets into an expensive Audi and wonders where their hard-earned money has been spent; it’s right there on display, and you can reach out and touch it.
Mercedes-Benz has just about caught up to Audi in terms of interior opulence. The CLS550 is just as nice inside, but the 650 Gran Coupe looks Spartan and less special in this company, with hard interior plastics and shapes that don’t convey as much luxury feel as either the Audi or the Benz. The Porsche is very comfortable and highly styled, with an interior that’s more spaceship than automobile. It too, though, is well put together and feels expensive.
In terms of room, the Audi has a decent amount of it up front but less in back. Not only is headroom even more compromised for backseat passengers, there isn’t as much legroom as one might hope for in a car this large. Still, the S7 is listed as having the most rear legroom of these four competitors.
That becomes obvious when you try out the BMW’s backseat. It truly is a slightly stretched coupe, not a dedicated sedan, and there’s a notable lack of legroom. The Benz feels more tolerable despite being worst by the numbers in nearly every category, as that swooping roofline cuts into comfort. The Panamera is unique; despite having the longest optional wheelbase, it has by far the least rear legroom — yet it comes with the most rear headroom of any of these competitors.
If you really want the look of the Panamera with superior legroom, opt for the Executive model, which adds several inches to the wheelbase and nearly 5 inches to the rear legroom, making for a truly unique limousine experience. Of course, that option will add more than $40,000 to the cost of your Panamera, making it something of a questionable value.
Electronics news for 2016 has to do with the new Audi Multi Media Interface system. It’s an updated multimedia package that’s faster, has better graphics resolution and finally features USB ports (two of them) instead of Audi’s proprietary connectors for smartphones. The new MMI retains the same operational feel as the old one, in which four buttons that correspond to the four corners of the screen surround a rotary knob. It’s easy to use on the fly and doesn’t require you to look at your hand at all.
The new system’s speed is visibly improved (not that the old one felt slow), and features like real-time Google Maps for the navigation system seem much more fluid. Mercedes’ Comand system also works well, with its controller knob that mimics the way the BMW iDrive controller functions. The Porsche system is less intuitive, but Porsche also tends to duplicate functions with dedicated hard buttons, which is why the Panamera’s dashboard and console are littered with dozens of buttons.
One of the benefits of having a hatchback design like the S7 is the cargo room it provides. The area may be narrow, but the extra height is useful, offering up a whopping 24.5 cubic feet of room. The Porsche Panamera is also a hatchback, providing just 15.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats but a stunning 44.6 cubic feet with the backseat folded. That said, though, that figure makes me question how Porsche is measuring its total cargo room.
The BMW and Mercedes have traditional trunks whose measurements don’t compare evenly with those of hatchbacks (see details). Their trunks provide 16.2 and 15.3 cubic feet, respectively.
The 2016 Audi S7 has not yet been crash-tested.
All these cars have state-of-the-art safety systems, including all the latest: lane departure warning, collision avoidance, automatic cruise control and more — but it comes at a price. Very little of it comes standard on the Audi — all you get is a backup camera, airbags and a collision preparation system. Items like lane keep assist, automatic cruise control with stop-and-go, blind spot warning systems and more are bundled into technology option packages.
It’s no different with any of the S7’s competitors, however. See everything that comes standard on the S7 here.
Like the S6, it’s quite a price jump to go from the A7 to the S7, but that money goes toward significant equipment upgrades. The standard S7 starts at $83,825, including a destination fee, and climbs from there. Any paint color other than black, white or red will cost you $575, while options are bundled into packages such as the Driver Assistance Package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, a corner-view camera and more for $2,450. There’s also a Sport Package that brings electronic steering, a sport differential and sport exhaust for $3,500. Check all the boxes and the S7 can top $103,000.
Competitors are similarly priced, but not exactly the same. The closest may be the BMW 650 Gran Coupe, which comes in rear-wheel-drive form for $91,095 or all-wheel-drive for $94,095. Like the S7, not much comes standard even at that price. Adding all the electronic safety systems and sport packages will quickly bring up the price, easily topping $123,000 for a fully loaded model.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class starts with the V-6 powered CLS400, but that’s more a match for the A7. To go toe-to-toe with the hotter S7, step up to the V-8-powered CLS550, which starts at $74,125 in rear-wheel-drive configuration. It’s $76,625 for all-wheel drive. Loaded up, it comes in just under $100,000 but features some unique options, like an illuminated star logo and active multicontour adjustable seats.
The king of the price range is the Porsche Panamera, which starts at $79,095 for a basic rear-wheel-drive model and can stretch up to nearly $265,000 for an Exclusive Series model. The model most comparable to the Audi S7 is the $83,795 Panamera4 with all-wheel drive, but to get an engine that puts out as much power, you’ll have to pony up for a Panamera 4S and its 420-hp, twin-turbo V-6. It starts at $94,195, but don’t think you’ll pay that much for it, as Porsche options always boost sticker prices quickly. Compare all four competitors here.