Year after year, Audi impresses luxury-car buyers and confounds the competition. Both conditions are likely to flare up with the launch of the A7 hatchback.
Grafting a proper liftgate onto a four-door sedan body and making it appear balanced and beguiling is a tricky operation, judging from the competition in this segment. The Porsche Panamera comes close, but its rear end is reminiscent of the '48 Chrysler's. Then there's the BMW 5-series GT that's too bulky -- and boxy -- looking to create a cohesive visual package. Best that the automaker had stuck with a proper wagon instead.
However, the A7's stylists have pulled off a real coup, just as they did in 2009 with the similar A7 Sportback concept car that did a couple of turns on the auto-show circuit.
The proportions and hunkered-down stance of this car are about perfect from any angle without any sense that the roofline and rear deck were attached as an afterthought. At the business end, the A7's grille lacks the egg-crate effect displayed by the rest of Audi's fleet and is in harmony with the rest of the hatchback's curvaceous sheetmetal.
The A7 actually owes its existence to the forthcoming Audi A6 sedan that's scheduled for early 2012. When compared to the outgoing A6, the all-new platform has been stretched between the front and rear wheels by nearly 3 inches, while the width is up by more than 2 inches.
Audi does some of its best work crafting interiors and here the A7 really stands out. Both the speedometer and engine-rev gauge are easily viewed through the meaty steering wheel, and the available wood and metal trim take tasteful to a whole new level. The extra-wide and tall floor console easily accommodates the shifter along with the keyless push-button starter, electronic-parking-brake switch and pop-up display-screen/navigation controls. In back there's room for two adults, plus perhaps a smaller individual who doesn't mind being the meat in the sandwich.
An obvious A7 strength is its ability to tote a decent amount of cargo. With the seats in place, it handily bests both the BMW 5-series GT and Porsche Panamera. But with the 60:40 rear seat folded flat, the Bimmer wins out over both competitors, due to its taller roofline.
For now, the A7s sole powerplant is a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that comes straight from the current A6. It produces 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.
Audi's Euro-only 245-horsepower V-6 turbo-diesel is not on the menu, but a 4.0-liter gasoline V-8 will likely be offered as part of the S7 performance package that's expected later this year.
The supercharged V-6 connects to an eight-speed "Tiptronic" automatic transmission with manual shift override.
Audi claims a 0-to-60 mph run of 5.4 seconds, which is more than respectable for a chunky 4,200-pound vehicle.
Also downright impressive is the A7's 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway fuel-economy rating.
All A7s destined for our shores will be fitted with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive. Under normal operating conditions, the system sends 60 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. But when needed, power can swing from an 85:15 rear bias to a 30:70 situation with the bias in favor of the front wheels. As well, extra torque can be sent to the outside wheels to help the A7 rotate through a corner with less understeer (the car's tendency to travel in a straight line when the steering wheel is turned).
For about $60,000, the base (and amenity-rich) A7 serves up multizone climate control, multiposition heated front seats bi-xenon (high- and low-beam) lighting and 10 airbags. The option list gets a bit crazy in its thoroughness and includes some very exotic audio equipment, plus active warning systems to help keep you from running into other vehicles, both inside and outside your lane.
The successful merging of sporty, practical and posh traits will create huge buzz for the A7, making it the envy of its peers, while serving plenty of enthusiasts who are looking for some practical eye candy of their own.