Editor's note: This review was written in January 2014 about the 2014 Audi A7. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2014 Audi A7 TDI may just be the perfect automobile: beautiful, fast, rare, efficient and loaded with the latest technology. But it will cost you plenty when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.
Audi dropped some jaws when it unveiled its stunning Sportback concept car in 2009, and auto enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced when the production A7 turned up in 2010 looking almost exactly like the concept. The long, low, racy-looking "executive express" has been a style-setter for Audi and the industry in general.
For 2014, Audi made it even better by adding the word "efficient" to the A7's long list of attributes, thanks to the company's 3.0-liter diesel V-6 that can now be stuffed under its shapely hood. There aren't many other changes from 2013 to 2014, but the A7 didn't need many. Compare the two model years here.
Exterior & Styling
Nothing new here since the last review, just the continuation of one of the most beautiful automotive designs to come along in years. From the aggressive, sinister-looking front end to the uniquely sloping roofline and rear fenders, this is the shape that has inspired several designs, including the latest Lincoln MKZ, the Toyota Avalon, and the upcoming next-generation Hyundai Genesis. They say the true test of a good automotive design is whether it looks good in white; my test car's Glacier White metallic paint proves the A7 passes that test perfectly, turning heads wherever it went. The low roofline means headroom is a little tight in the rear, but not uncomfortably so thanks to low seats in back.
How It Drives
The standard A7, with its supercharged, 3.0-liter gasoline V-6 is already a sweet drive, with gobs of smooth, quiet power. For 2014, there's an optional turbocharged, 3.0-liter diesel V-6, a torque-monster motor that's designed to deliver all the motive force one expects from an expensive luxury car while boosting fuel economy at the same time. In typical turbodiesel fashion, the engine makes just 240 horsepower but 428 pounds-feet of torque, meaning the A7 TDI loses nothing in terms of acceleration to the gas-powered model. Zero-to-60-mph takes just 5.5 seconds, only 0.1 seconds slower than the gas-powered 3.0-liter V-6. Power is routed to all four wheels through Audi's standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system using an eight-speed automatic transmission.
At idle and under acceleration, the engine does have some muted diesel clatter to let you know this is not the standard powertrain most Americans are used to, but it's never offensive or loud, just different. Just plant your right foot and hold on, as the immediate thrust is impressive. Thanks to the A7's all-wheel drive, there's no wheelspin or torque steer, just loads of smooth acceleration accompanied by an unusual soundtrack. At cruising speed, you'd never know this was a diesel. The car's sophisticated powertrain and wind-cheating shape combine to create a hushed environment that allows you to enjoy the amazing sound system.
The diesel engine's benefit over the gas motor is most evident at the fuel pump. The normal A7 V-6 gets 18/28/21 mpg city/highway/combined, a respectable figure for a 4,200-pound luxury sedan, but not extraordinary. The diesel version bumps those numbers up to 24/38/29 — a considerable increase over the regular model. If anything, these figures may be conservative. Ask most diesel owners, and they'll tell you they regularly beat the EPA estimates for their cars, especially on the highway.
My week of testing included a jaunt from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Chicago and back, averaging 38 mpg on the highway at 75-80 mph. Overall mileage came in at 30 mpg for the week, which is an exceptional number for a big, powerful luxury car like the A7. To put it in perspective, the A7 diesel gets much better highway fuel economy than the much smaller Volkswagen GTI, which has a turbocharged, 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder, and it's almost on par with a four-cylinder Honda Accord. The A7's range is also extraordinary; after driving from Ann Arbor to Chicago, a distance of 250 miles, I still had nearly 400 miles of range left on the meter.
Ride and handling are outstanding, as well. Both are electrically adjustable, with Comfort and Sport modes or a combination of both if the driver desires. Keeping everything in Comfort mode tended to provide the best balance of sporty yet responsive steering, quick throttle action and compliant ride, but for owners who want customization options, the feature is there.
Like the exterior sheet metal, not much has changed inside since the A7 was first reviewed, but I dare say nothing needs to. The design is one of the best in the automotive world right now, with materials, shapes, build quality, buttons and switches all coming together to provide a luxury car experience that sets the benchmark to which others aspire. The open-pore, matte-finish wood looks and feels very modern, and, despite a high belt line and low roof, the cabin doesn't feel cramped or claustrophobic. The seats are large, highly adjustable and all-day comfortable, as evidenced by the ease with which my 250-mile road trip went by. Rear seat room is also quite good, aside from a dearth of headroom thanks to that low roofline. Most people won't have a problem with it; only folks above 6 feet tall will take issue.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The A7 TDI comes equipped with a host of state-of-the-art technologies, such as standard MMI navigation, a screen that hides away in the dashboard when not in use, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control and more. The systems are integrated extremely well into the car, and Audi's MMI system ranks at the top of my list of luxury-brand multimedia systems. Nearly all the car's major controls are in the center console, easily within reach, and don't require drivers to look at the console itself. A large central selector knob is surrounded by four buttons that correspond to the four corners of the display, plus a "back" button just below the knob. It makes transiting screens from one system to another quick and easy. The voice-activated navigation system also worked quite well, recognizing destination entries quickly and flawlessly.
The controls have a truly perceptible quality feel to their operation that few automakers have been able to duplicate.
Cargo & Storage
The A7 may not look like it has a lot of room out back, but the hatchback provides for quite decent trunk space. A standard hard cover hides anything in the cargo area, making it appear tight, but it swallows large suitcases with ease. Total luggage capacity with the rear seats folded is 24.5 cubic feet, plenty for most situations and more than enough for weekend getaways, picking friends up at the airport, or family shopping at your favorite warehouse store. It's rare for full-size luxury cars to have folding rear seats — usually they're chock-full of massaging functions or heating elements.
My test car included Audi's $2,800 Driver Assistance Package, which adds adaptive cruise control, corner-view cameras, active lane assist, and a collision-sensing system that provides visual and audio warnings, with semi-autonomous braking if a crash is imminent. Of these features, the active lane assist may be the most interesting; it uses cameras to sense when the car veers too close to lane markers and helps steer it back on course via the electric power steering. It disables if a driver uses the turn signal or can be overcome if the driver keeps a firm grip on the steering wheel, showing intent to change lanes. At first it's somewhat disconcerting, but I quickly adapted to the system, allowing for a more comfortable highway cruise without worry of edging too far left or right.
The Audi A7 has not been crash-tested. See all the standard and optional safety equipment for the A7 here.
Value in Its Class
The starting price for a 2014 Audi A7 went up $4,400 for 2014, with the TDI option coming in even higher. It starts at $67,795 including a destination charge of $895. This car is extremely well-equipped, however, with features like all-wheel drive, the Audi Drive Select adjustable suspension, xenon headlights, a moonroof, navigation, a power liftgate, leather seats and keyless ignition. That's not to say more cannot be specified: My test car featured a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, ventilated seats, adaptive cornering lights, the S-line sport exterior trim, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, 20-inch sport wheels and more to bring the total sticker price up to a more cringe-worthy $81,395. Option one up yourself here.
Most competitors lack the A7's style, but there is one that measures up: the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. It starts a little higher in price, however, with an entry of $73,025 for a rear-wheel-drive model. Featuring its own bold and curvaceous styling, the CLS is available only with V-8 engines, making it considerably less efficient than the frugal, diesel-sipping A7 TDI. If you're looking for a diesel alternative, BMW has the attractive 535d starting at $57,525 for rear-wheel drive. The BMW's 3.0-liter diesel inline-six has comparable output (255 hp, 413 pounds-feet of torque) mated to an eight-speed transmission with optional all-wheel drive, but its performance numbers can't touch the A7 TDI's — it requires almost 3 seconds more to get from zero to 60 mph, but it does deliver comparable fuel economy. An alternate choice might be the Lexus GS 450h hybrid, which maintains the frugality of an alternative-fuel powertrain but with a decidedly sportier bent. It starts at $60,510 and bests the Audi's city fuel economy (29 mpg versus 24 for the A7), but comes with rather confused styling, an inferior multimedia system and more-cramped quarters. Compare the A7 versus its competition here.
Few cars out there, luxury or otherwise, can match the A7 TDI's combination of style, performance, technology and sheer presence. This is the benchmark for the segment.