published Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Test Drive: New 2014 Audi A7 sleek, sophisticated

The Audi A7 cuts a coupe-like profile, but still manages to have ample shoulder and hip room because of its clever architectural design.
The Audi A7 cuts a coupe-like profile, but still manages to have ample shoulder and hip room because of its clever architectural design.
Photo by Mark Kennedy.

FAST FACTS

* Model: Audi A7 Quattro

* Exterior color: Gray Metallic

* Interior color: Nougat

* Engine: 3.0 liter, supercharged six-cylinder

* Horsepower: 310

* Transmission: eight-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 18 mpg city

* Dealer: Audi Chattanooga

* Price (as tested): $74,870

If your impression of Audi automobiles is that they are just gussied up VWs, please turn your attention to the five-passenger Audi A7 hatchback.

From its coupelike roof to its flashy LED headlights, the A7 is one of the most gorgeous five-passenger cars on the planet. Inside, ingenious concave doors add tons of shoulder and elbow room, while surface materials and fit and finish rival anything in a Lexus LS or Mercedes S-Class.

Meanwhile, under the hood lies a supercharged six-cylinder beast of an engine that squeezes 310 horsepower from a mere 3.0 liters of displacement while returning 28 mpg highway. All-wheel-drive is standard on the A7, and means you may never have to leave your beauty in the garage when the weather turns harsh.

When Audi Chattanooga General Manager Dale Smith invited me out to test drive the A7 earlier this week, he didn't have to ask twice. (For those of you on a budget, samples of the brand-new 2015 Audi A3 sedan arrive in Chattanooga early next month, Smith says. Check back in this space for a review.)

STYLING AND COMFORT

More than with almost any other car brand, I get pumped up just walking in circles around an Audi automobile. Most models are rolling works of art, and the A7 may be the classiest of the bunch. Everywhere the eyes land there are interesting angles, sheet metal lines and embellishments.

From 50 feet away you'd swear the A7 is a two-door. Its low roof line tapers into a rear hatch that then melts into the most perfectly rounded rump this side of a Porsche 911. Face the front of the A7 and you immediately come under the spell of the handsome fascia, which features seven horizontal chrome strips and the brand's trademark four interlocking rings, which represent Audi's four founding companies.

Running the length of the car are sculpted belt lines that give the car the appearance of having a low stance and wide shoulders. Optional 10-spoke, 20-inch wheels alloy wheels (a $1,200 option) add to the car's athletic vibe.

Inside, that exaggerated belt-line translates into expanses of elbow room; meanwhile the A7's narrow dash makes it almost feel like you are driving a compact car -- resulting in an energizing sensation of being connected to the road. In short, driving an Audi makes you want to lean forward, not back.

Our dark gray metallic test car came with contrasting Nougat (brown) leather interior, an unconventional color combination that looks and feels very European.

Who needs an expensive DVD system when, for $30 a month, you can turn your A7 into a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot. Our test car came with a prestige package ($2,900) which bundles four-zone climate control, ambient lighting, a Bose sound system, ventilated front seats and an eye-in-the-sky camera system that assists with tricky parking maneuvers. My only nit-pick is that the moonroof seems too far aft, especially for folks like me to like to sit close to the wheel. A cold weather package ($500) adds a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

We took a midday test drive on Highway 153 and then along the twisting King Road, which traces the edge of Chickamauga Lake. On the freeway, the A7 was a smooth cruiser, and on the back road its nimble handling came into play. Roads were wet the day we drove the A7, and try as I might I couldn't get the super-sticky Quattro system to allow even a hint of wheel spin. When the weather is bad, this is a tremendous asset.

I found the 3.0-liter, supercharged engine to be completely competent in all situations. Audi says the A7 in standard trim will zip from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds. The beastly new RS 7 performance version rips from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds -- no, that's not a typo. Also new for 2014 is an A7 TDI clean diesel model that gets 38 mpg highway and delivers an astonishing 428 pound-feet of torque, which must feel like being strapped to a Saturn V rocket.

BOTTOM LINE

If you're ready to pull out your checkbook, now, here are the particulars. A base A7 starts at $64,500 plus a $895 destination charge. Our highly-optioned tester, with loads of popular electronic and safety options, has an MSRP of $74,870.

No, it's not small change, but considering that the A7 combines world-class design and performance -- and turns heads in the process -- it deserves a spot on every luxury enthusiast's shopping list.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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