Driving NW: Audi A7

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 NEWS

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KING5.com

Posted on May 26, 2011 at 1:27 PM

People travel to the Louve in Paris and MoMA in New York to see fine art.  For some there’s nothing better than a simple child’s crayon drawing.  Others prefer Mother Nature’s work, and really, there’s no gallery quite like Yellowstone or Arches National Monument.  Art can be found in a leaf, a building or a billboard. This week there’s an Audi A7 parked in my driveway, making it the north wing of the Seattle Art Museum.

It’s been a free exhibition for those walking by.  A lot of vehicles have been in that spot over the years and it’s easy to see when the general public approves of the weekly installation.  Most days people are oblivious, this week they’re enchanted.  A Calder would have received less attention.  Neighbors, friends, co-workers, strangers all come to gawk, making me late for a lot of things recently.

Cross an A6 with an Aston Martin and you’ve got the A7.  Go ahead, drool, just not on the paint please.  Surprising nearly everyone is the fact that this lithe sculptured shape is (and you might want to cover the children’s eyes and ears folks) a five-door hatchback.  Americans are repulsed by hatchbacks, A7 could single handedly convert haters into owners if it were only less expensive than the 60K starting price.

Real Beauty is More Than Skin Deep 

There’s pressure for the performance to match the drama of the sheetmetal.   A7 comes standard with quattro all-wheel drive so it’s sure of foot on both dry and wet pavement.  Providing the oomph is a 310 horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6 (with 328 lb-ft of torque at 2900-4500 rpm).  Its song is like a J Lo tune, melodic and aggressive with the rough edges produced and smoothed over.  

Let the eight-speed Shiftronic gear box do the work for you or shift manually on the console and steering wheel paddles.  Tailor A7 to your liking by using Audi Drive Select to change the steering and throttle response, even the suspension firmness.     

Swiftly and gracefully, it hits 60 mph from a standstill in 5.4 seconds according to Audi, making A7 the equivalent of Maria Sharapova in an evening dress.  Already sleek, the rear spoiler rises at highway speeds to help slice the wind more efficiently, though the back end’s visual appeal suffers with the wing deployed.  Anti-lock brakes are very effective with short stopping distances and very good modulation.

Ride quality is the perfect blend between comfort and control, there’s no sharp jarring from bumps or wallowing in the curves. The structure is as solid as a Henry Moore sculpture and the steering wheel is perfectly weighted, not too light, not too hefty.  At highway speeds there’s more road noise than expected from a car this refined looking.  It’s tough living up to lofty expectations.  A7 drinks premium fuel at a rate of 18 city, 28 highway.

No Doubt, It’s Real Wood

Audi always does a nice job with its interiors and that doesn’t change with the A7.  The sweeping instrument panel arcs from door to door where pieces of wood surround solid door levers.  The unique raised grain finish makes it clear that the lumber is from a forest, not a beaker.  Everyone likes to watch the large LCD screen rise up from the dash, the various functions displayed on it are controlled with the expected Audi MMI interface.  The parking brake is electric.

Even better than the screen’s pirouette is the nav system’s use of Google Earth imaging, marking the first time it’s been done. Distinctive landmarks and buildings are shown with photo grade detail, making orientation easier.  That said, the nav system insisted I take the left-hand Broadway exit to downtown Everett, even though it was changed to the right side of I-5 over a year ago.  The car can be setup as a wi-fi hotspot using a smartphone on a tethering plan.

Your Handwriting is Being Graded By a Car  

To program the navi or dial the telephone, Audi introduces MMI Touch.  What looks like a numeric pad on the center console changes to a black slate when certain functions are selected with the regular MMI interface buttons.  Just write numbers and letters and a voice confirms the system got it right.  It’s not only accurate, I find it surprisingly easy to keep my eyes on the road while doodling.

The firm heated seats are great for road trips. Audi’s sound system is impressive and compatible with iPods and all eight of you Zune owners.  The information center found in the gauge cluster has a crisp color display and it’s easy to navigate through the pages with a steering wheel mounted roller knob.  I like for that wheel to be heated. 

Other things I’d put on that wish list would be a full glass panoramic roof instead of the standard unit and deeper cupholders.  I know the Europeans are wincing on that last one but hey, if you’re going to do something make sure it works properly.  The spring-loaded fingers dent fast food paper cups, yet fail to hold thermal coffee mugs in place.  Talk to my friend about that (and yes Kim, I’ll pay for the dry cleaning). Finally, the MMI controller doesn’t scroll the expected direction when selecting radio stations.

What? There’s Room in the Back? It’s Not Just For Kids?

With the A7s stylish sloped roof it’s easy to believe I’d be doing my best Quasimodo imitation in the back seat but my average sized frame has just enough headroom.  There’s definitely enough room for my size 11s. Hope you’re not too popular though, A7 is a four seater though it’s wide enough to accommodate three in back (if the third was on the smaller side I’ll admit).  The console that takes the place of the cushion is a simple plastic depression.  At least electronics can be charged and there’s map pockets on both seatbacks.  A retro touch, there are ashtrays on the doors.   

A7’s svelte tapered back end sure looks great but this kind of design naturally eats into cargo space.  There’s a solid two-part security cover, only one section is easily removed. A spare tire lives under the load floor (this would be a good time to make sure yours is properly inflated.  You can thank me later.) While I begin the TP trunk test pessimistic about cargo space, A7 scores well with, what else, a score of 7.  The back seats split and fold 60/40 plus there’s a ski pass through.  Often times power trunk lids pop back at the slightest resistance, not so much here.

The sensuous and practical A7 begins at around 60 grand with shipping. The particular car I’m driving retails for $66,220. Not inexpensive but, looking like the love child of an A6 and Aston Martin, most expect this low slung machine to cost more. Styling is subjective, we don’t all like the same things but if you find the A7 unattractive you’re probably not too crazy about Michelangelo’s David, or flowers, or babies.  A7 has the rare ability to turn any garage into an art gallery.

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