Pros: Phenomenal twin-turbocharged V8; sport-sedan handling; finely crafted interior; enviable looks

Cons: Limited rear headroom; shallow trunk; transmission could be smoother

What's New: The Audi S7 is all-new for 2013.

The 2013 Audi S7 is a good measure of how lofty the standards are for luxury cars these days. Not even a decade ago, the regular A7 would have been considered an incredible performance machine with its athletic all-wheel-drive chassis and 310-horsepower supercharged V6. But these days, it's just par for the course, so Audi felt compelled to crank up the performance a few more notches. That's where the 2013 S7 comes in, and believe us, we're not complaining one bit.

The S7's magic mostly emanates from under its curvaceous hood, where you'll find a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that's good for 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. We're honestly running out of superlatives to describe these new force-fed German engines. Audi's twin-turbo V8 is distinguished by its relatively small displacement, but otherwise its principal attributes are as expected: incredible strength and equally incredible refinement. There are much stouter engines available at the S7's price point, but we could use this one every day without ever wanting more.

Like the regular A7, the S7 is a questionable choice if you want to carry people or cargo. Its fastback roofline takes a big bite out of cabin volume. Nonetheless, you can squeeze in four adults and their luggage, and we think the S7's dashing style makes up for any inconveniences. We still can't quite believe that Audi felt the S7 was really necessary, but, hey, it's a great time to be a driver if you appreciate great cars. Add the 2013 Audi S7 to that list.

Comfort & Utility

Like other Audi S models, the 2013 Audi S7 is offered in one well-equipped trim level. It comes with 19-inch or 20-inch alloy wheels, quad exhaust tips, xenon headlamps, an adjustable air suspension, a sport rear differential, a sunroof, Audi's Drive Select system (featuring electronic adjustments for steering, throttle, and transmission) and Multi-Media Interface (MMI), leather upholstery, a sport steering wheel with shift paddles, power sport seats with diamond stitching, a Google-Earth-based navigation system, Wi-Fi capability and a Bose audio system. Options include LED headlights, a head-up display, a top-view parking camera, massaging front seats and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.

The S7's cabin is exquisite. Top-quality materials abound, and we find the dashboard exceptionally classy, especially with the available wood inlays. Compared with the regular A7, the S7 adds numerous S-specific touches such as a unique instrument cluster and S7 badging on the steering wheel. We love the sport seats, which provide the sort of robust lateral support that we wish the A7 offered. The back seat's bottom cushion is rather low, and headroom is at a premium on account of the S7's fastback roofline, so keep that in mind if you plan to haul full-size rear passengers on a regular basis.

From the driver's point of view, the S7's ergonomics are generally fine. Little things like adjusting the fan speed can be needlessly complex, but the primary controls are fairly straightforward. Happily, the MMI system has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with simplified menu structures and extra physical buttons that help streamline common tasks. The MMI control knob falls readily to hand, allowing the driver to use the center armrest and the knob at the same time.

Technology

As we've come to expect from current Audis, the S7 is a technological tour de force. You'll have to adapt if you like to keep your MP3s on a flash drive, since the S7 features SD card slots instead of a USB port. But otherwise, this Audi's gadgets are beyond reproach, from the standard iPod/Bluetooth integration to the warm-sounding Bose stereo, which is impressive enough to make us question the value of the optional Bang & Olufsen system. Your passengers will undoubtedly be impressed by the crisp, colorful MMI screen, which displays vivid Google Earth images in navigation mode and automatically retracts into the dash when not in use. There's even a touchpad on the center console that can recognize scrawled fingertip commands.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The all-wheel-drive S7 packs a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 rated at 420 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. This drivetrain is a true all-star: acceleration is swift and seemingly endless, while the dual-clutch transmission delivers quick yet seamless shifts. We wouldn't mind a little more V8 music from those quad tailpipes, but that's nothing the aftermarket can't address.

Fuel economy is another strong suit, at least by segment standards. Thanks in part to a cylinder deactivation system that enables the engine to cruise with just four cylinders, Audi expects highway fuel economy of 25 mpg or more.

Safety

The 2013 Audi S7 comes with standard stability control and four-wheel antilock ventilated disc brakes. Ten airbags are located throughout the cabin (front, front side, front knee, rear side and full-length side curtain). The S7 also offers a blind spot warning system and night vision assist with pedestrian detection.

The A7 family, including the S7, has not been crash tested in the U.S.

Driving Impressions

The S7 is a porker on paper, with a curb weight approaching 4,400 pounds. You'd never know it from behind the wheel, though, as the S7 feels for all the world like a compact sport sedan when you're pushing it. Audi has worked some serious magic here, starting with the rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which features a standard sport rear differential that keeps power and grip on the same page in hard cornering. The S7 also boasts a responsive, precise steering calibration that imparts a sense of confidence and control. On the flip side, the ride is rather firm, even with the Drive Select set to Comfort. But that's generally the way with high-performance German machines, and we think it's a small price to pay given the S7's stupendous all-around skill set.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe: We'd skip the six-cylinder 640i if this Audi is in your sights, but the 650i Gran Coupe with its twin-turbo V8 is aimed squarely at the S7.

Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class: Even the "base" CLS550 is a twin-turbocharged beast with surprisingly capable handling for a Benz. If you've got the cash to spare, though, there's no substitute for the shockingly fast CLS63 AMG.

Porsche Panamera: The reality is that even a standard Panamera V6 can cost more than an S7 with the typical array of Porsche options. We consider the S7 a superior alternative to the Panamera V6, and a tough matchup even for the V8-powered Panamera S.

AutoTrader Recommends

The S7 keeps the A7's beauty and adds a hefty helping of brawn. What's left to complain about? If you buy it, we can more or less guarantee you'll love it.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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