With head-turning style, exquisite interior trim, sophisticated electronics and speed aplenty, the 2014 Audi S7 is practically the perfect luxury car.
There's no such thing as a truly perfect car. Finding one vehicle that embodies all the qualities and features one would ever need simply isn't possible. But some cars come closer than others — such as this one, the 2014 Audi S7. From the gorgeous lines and powerful V-8 engine to the beautifully crafted interior and standard all-wheel drive — what isn't there to like about this beast? Even the price, just south of $90,000, seems reasonable when compared with far less-well-equipped competitors.
For 2014, Audi hasn't changed much on the S7 (compare the 2013 and 2014 models here). The big news this year was the introduction of the A7 TDI and the more powerful, more expensive, faster RS 7. But for customers who find the RS 7 to demand a little too much coin, is the tamer S7 a better option? And is it a better choice than challengers like the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and BMW 650i Gran Coupe?
Exterior & Styling
It's perhaps the most striking aspect of the whole A7/S7/RS 7 line — that stunning styling. Starting with the low, lidded, sinister headlamps and gaping grille, and stretching to the fastback roofline and squared-off tail, this car is almost universally held up as a benchmark for "doing it right" in automotive sculpture.
I've gazed at the shape long and hard, trying to figure out specifically what makes it so appealing, and I think I've found the answer: It's the character line that actually seems to dip as it continues to the rear of the car. Nearly every other car on the market has an advancing wedge profile, with a low nose and high rear, but the S7 doesn't; it remains low and hunkered-down from tip to tail, giving it a flowing look that implies power and solidity. The deep, deep Estoril Blue Crystal metallic paint of my test car combined with black-accented wheels only added to the elegant look. I'll call it now: The shape alone makes this a future classic.
How It Drives
The S7 has a more powerful engine than the base A7, a twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V-8 churning out 420 horsepower and 406 pounds-feet of torque. It's mated to a standard seven-speed automatic transmission, channeled through all four wheels with Quattro all-wheel drive. This combination is enough to blast the S7 from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, Audi says — much quicker than the lesser, supercharged-V-6-equipped A7's time of 5.4 seconds, but not even close to the fire-breathing RS 7's 3.7 seconds. Yet 4.5 seconds is fast enough for anyone, accompanied by a tremendous roar and eyeball-flattening thrust that's just a stab of the accelerator away.
There's little hesitation as the turbos spool up, but with the driver-adjustable settings for throttle, transmission, steering and suspension, you can dial up a comfy limo-like ride and experience, or you can tune everything to the Sport setting and have yourself a full four-seat, four-door sports coupe.
Ride and handling are outstanding, with body motions that suggest significant sophistication in the S7's suspension. Steering feel is a bit more isolated than in a true sports car, revealing the S7's sedan-based nature, but the adjustability provided by Audi's variable power-steering assist can suitably ramp up the effort you'll need to turn the wheel to a heavier, sportier level. There's even an Individual setting that allows you to adjust various settings to your preferred firmness. Personally, I typically kept the steering feel in Sport, the suspension in Comfort and the powertrain in Normal, which allows for sporty steering with better bump absorption on Michigan's cratered roads.
The suspension does a remarkable job of absorbing those bumps — and it's certainly not getting much help from the enormous, optional 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires. Brake feel is excellent, with progressive firmness and a strong sense of deep reserves for bringing the big car to a halt. It's an easy car to drive fast (very fast) and a pleasant car to drive calmly. That versatility — combined with the style and presence of the S7 — makes it a highly appealing luxury car.
The S7's competitors are naturally from other German automakers who have crafted four-door luxury coupes. The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class was the first kid on the block in the "four-door coupe" category, and the V-8 powered, all-wheel-drive CLS550 4Matic matches up well against the S7 in price, performance, style and opulence. The BMW 650i xDrive Gran Coupe is also meant to fight the S7, bringing a more powerful V-8 and more headroom to the party, but less rear legroom and cargo space thanks to its traditional trunk. Finally, the Porsche Panamera GTS is more sports car than touring sedan, but its swoopy roofline and hatchback shape bring it into competition with the S7 — even if it is priced higher than the Audi.
The bigger difference between these competitors is configuration: The Audi is the only front-wheel-drive-based vehicle here; every other competitor is on a rear-wheel-drive platform. All of them feature all-wheel drive at these trim levels, but all-wheel drive is standard on the S7 and the Panamera GTS. The torque split is also rear-biased on the S7, making the idea of front-wheel drive versus rear-wheel drive less important.
Fuel economy is better than one might expect for a 400-plus-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8. The S7 is rated 17/27/20 mpg city/highway/combined. I averaged a respectable 21 mpg in a week of mixed driving and judicious use of the go pedal. The competition isn't quite as good: The BMW 650i Gran Coupe and Panamera GTS are both rated 16/24/19 mpg, while the CLS550 is rated 17/24/19 mpg. As can be expected from such high-performance engines, all require premium fuel.
As good as the S7 looks on the outside, the interior may be even better. A big part is the unique material used for the dash, doors and console on the trim I drove; it's an optional layered aluminum and black wood trim that looks like tuxedo pinstripes. It's unique and absolutely stunning in person, and combined with the diamond-quilted black leather that covers the immensely comfortable adjustable sport seats, makes the S7's interior feel like it's worth every penny of the $88,970 sticker price my test car sported.
The same cannot be said for the BMW 650i Gran Coupe, which can't hold a candle to the Audi's interior craftsmanship. The CLS550 feels good inside, but only the Panamera comes close to matching the uniqueness, style and quality feel of the S7, but for significantly more money.
Unlike the A7, which has a three-position backseat (of questionable usefulness), the S7 and RS 7 both have twin rear seats with a console and drop-down armrest between them. In terms of spaciousness, the Audi comes in midpack. It feels like it has plenty of space up front and out back, but this comes from seats that are mounted quite low. The 650i Gran Coupe has more headroom front and back despite looking like it might have less, while the CLS has a little less. Astonishingly, the Panamera has the most rear headroom of the quartet.
Rear legroom is another story, with the Audi coming out on top by nearly 4 inches over the last-place Panamera. Of course, that changes if you opt for the long-wheelbase Panamera Executive, but that also adds big-time bucks to the bottom line. Outward visibility in all these cars is somewhat compromised by their styling, and the Audi is no exception: The best view is to the front and sides; the rear tends to be obscured. The lack of a rear windshield wiper and washer is surprising, given the steep rake to the window and its penchant for accumulating dust, water and schmutz.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Audi makes some of the best interiors in the business, and that includes its buttons and switches. Everything has a precision feel, a decisive click — there are no touch-sensitive sliders or light-up flat panel displays in the S7. The Multi Media Interface system is perhaps the best of its type in the luxury segment, an easy-to-use setup that links the four corners of the LCD with four buttons arranged around a central selector knob on the center console. You never have to look at your hand to operate the system; just rest it on the knob and the workings are completely intuitive. It's more user-friendly than Mercedes-Benz' Comand system or BMW's iDrive, and it's considerably more intuitive than Porsche's menu-crazy touch-screen.
Navigation comes standard on the S7, using Google Maps to project an actual photo representation of your surroundings onto the screen — a neat touch. My test car didn't have the optional Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, making do instead with just the regular Bose system — which frankly isn't as good.
Cargo & Storage
Being one of the rare large hatchback cars sold in the U.S., the Audi has an advantage when it comes to cargo space. While the trunk area is rather narrow, it's also long and tall, providing 24.5 cubic feet of room. The big BMW comes in a distant second with 16.2 cubic feet, followed by the hatchback Panamera at 15.7 cubic feet. The Mercedes' low, drooping trunk lid limits cargo volume to just 15.3 cubic feet, the smallest of the bunch. By comparison, the S7's cargo area beats the cavernous trunk of Cars.com's long-term tester, a full-size Chevrolet Impala, by almost 6 cubic feet.
The S7 has not been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but if it is the results will be posted here. As with most German luxury cars, there are a lot of optional electronic safety systems, but unlike some of its competitors the S7 features several of these systems standard. Equipment like a backup camera, park assist and blind spot warning are all standard.
Optional are more advanced systems like adaptive cruise control with a stop-and-go feature, collision alert, active lane keeping assist and a corner-view camera that's useful in tight urban environments. LED headlights are also optional for improved nighttime visibility. See all the S7's standard and optional safety equipment here.
Value in Its Class
It might be difficult to ascribe the word "value" to a car costing this much, but when one compares the S7's abilities and equipment with its competitors, its value is quite relevant. With a starting price of $81,095 (including destination), the S7 comes well-equipped. My test car added $1,075 for the Estoril Blue paint and a black interior, $1,500 for the Black Optic Package and its 20-inch wheels and glossy black exterior trim, $2,800 for the Driver Assistance Package and its advanced safety equipment, $1,400 for LED headlights and $1,100 for the gorgeous layered aluminum and black wood interior trim. The grand total came to $88,970, but could go even higher if you specify items like the $5,900 Bang & Olufsen audio system or the $2,800 Innovation Package, which includes a night vision camera system and head-up display. Build one for yourself here.
The closest competitor in concept may be the BMW 650i Gran Coupe, but if you want an apples-to-apples comparison you'll need to start with an xDrive all-wheel-drive model and add the Driver Assistance Plus safety package, which puts the 650i Gran Coupe at $94,750 before you've added any appearance items, special paint colors or larger wheels. While the 650i Gran Coupe is easily as fun to drive as the S7 and features just as many adjustable settings, it doesn't have the same interior craftsmanship feel as the Audi.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is approaching its redesign time, but the current one is still dramatically styled and competitively priced, starting at $75,525. You'll need to add a few options — like a split, folding backseat (which for some reason isn't standard) — and some safety items to bring it up to the S7's level of standard equipment, but its price remains highly competitive even then. The Porsche Panamera is available in many flavors, but the one with performance to match the S7 is the GTS model with its naturally aspirated V-8 engine and all-wheel drive. Unfortunately, its pricing is way out of line, starting at $114,395 — and that won't even get you a backup camera, lane departure warning or a premium audio system. Compare all four competitors here.