Pros: Eye-catching looks, athletic handling, excellent supercharged V6, finely crafted interior, quite practical for a styling exercise.

Cons: Limited rear headroom relative to A6 sedan, transmission could be smoother.

Introduction

The 2012 Audi A7 is so stylish that Audi could probably get away with putting the proverbial hamster wheel under the hood. Based on the attractive but restrained A6 sedan, the A7 adds a hatchback trunk and a whole lot of curb appeal. Indeed, it's the hatchback that's largely responsible for the A7's show-stopping looks, as it allowed Audi's designers to add sculpted flanks and a classic fastback roofline that recalls the original Corvette Sting Ray. Aside from the vastly more expensive Aston Martin Rapide, it's hard to think of a prettier car with four doors.

Happily, there are plenty of hamsters on call when you squeeze the A7's throttle. Unlike the A6, which starts out with a demure 4-cylinder engine, the A7 comes standard with Audi's stellar supercharged 3.0-liter V6. Boasting 310 horsepower along with exquisite manners, the "3.0T" is one of our favorite motors, and it's paired with a sophisticated chassis that likes to dance. We'd only ask for smoother shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission.

The A7 naturally isn't the best choice from a practicality standpoint, as that rakish roofline limits rear headroom and leaves a relatively shallow cargo area beneath. But we think it's remarkable that something this fashionable is capable of carrying four adults and their luggage in the first place. Combine that with the A7's excellent performance credentials, and you've got a car that basically does it all. It may start with outer beauty for the A7, but Audi's made sure that there's plenty of substance behind this car's style.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Audi A7 is offered in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.

The Premium comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED running lights, LED taillights, a sunroof, the Drive Select system (which gives the driver electronic adjustments for steering, transmission and throttle calibrations), keyless entry with push-button ignition, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control (including separate rear controls), heated power front seats with adjustable driver lumbar, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth, a ten-speaker audio system and MMI Radio Plus-a basic version of Audi's Multi-Media Interface that includes an 8-inch power-retracting TFT display screen, full iPod integration, a console-mounted control knob and twin SD-card slots.

The Premium Plus adds 19-inch alloys, parking sensors, an upgraded driver information display for the gauge cluster, a navigation system with Google Earth compatibility and voice recognition software, available in-car wireless internet and the "MMI touch" handwriting recognition pad.

The Prestige tacks on Audi's S line exterior treatment, adaptive xenon headlamps, ventilated front seats, a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, quad-zone automatic climate control (including two sets of controls for rear passengers) and a Bose audio system.

Some of the higher trims' features are available on lower trims as options. Also offered is a Bang & Olufsen audio system (Prestige only), adaptive cruise control and a Sport package that brings a lowered suspension, a three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles and wheel sizes ranging from 18 inches to 20.

Very few automotive interiors are nicer than the A7's. We'll concede that Rolls-Royce and Bentley have the A7 beat, but after that, we're not sure. The materials used are absolutely top-shelf, and practically every button, lever and knob oozes class. There are also some thoughtful touches here and there that set the A7 apart from its already classy A6 platform-mate inside, including a larger MMI display screen (8 inches versus 6.5) and a more elaborate driver information display.

As with the A6, though, there's only one front-seat style, and that's disappointing. The- rather plain standard seats don't provide much lateral support, and the A7 can certainly generate enough g-force to justify sportier bolsters. Audi's Sport packages typically contribute more enthusiastic seats, but the A7's doesn't-not for 2012, at least. Notably, the high-performance S7 rectifies this problem if you can stomach the extra cost.

Ergonomically, the A7 does pretty well for such a complicated car. As in other Audis, little things like adjusting the fan speed can be needlessly complex, but most major controls are straightforward. Moreover, MMI has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with simplified menu structures and extra physical buttons that give you a fighting chance of actually accomplishing basic tasks while driving.

The A7's back seat only has space for only two passengers, but it's unexpectedly hospitable to adults. Given the A6 sedan's underwhelming back seat, the A7's rear quarters really aren't much of a downgrade. Taller passengers may find their heads are uncomfortably close to the roof, but still, the A7 is a legitimate four-seater. A highlight for those in back is the standard separate rear climate zone, which splits into two zones in the Prestige.

There's 24.5 cubic feet of space beneath the A7's sleek hatchback trunk, and if you fold down the rear seatbacks, 49 cubic feet will be at your disposal. That may not sound like a lot for a midsize hatchback, but it's actually neck-and-neck with the A4 Avant wagon-not bad for a style-driven car like the A7.

Technology

If you're a technophile, the A7 is the sort of car that you'll want to sit in all night just to play with the gadgets. Now, if you like to keep your mp3s on a flash drive, you'll have to adapt, as the A7 rolls with SD-card slots instead of a USB port. But that's a footnote, really. Just look at all the standard goodies you get, from iPod/Bluetooth integration to a ten-speaker stereo with those SD slots and a crowd-pleasing MMI display screen that retracts into the dash when not in use. And then there's the Premium Plus model's upgrades, including a beautiful color driver information display between the gauges, a navigation system that can display Google Earth street views and even a crazy little touch-pad that can decipher fingertip scribbles. Did we mention the A7 Premium Plus is also a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot? Yeah, this Audi's got its technological bases covered.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Audi A7 is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 310 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. Standard on every A7 is an eight-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive with a 40/60 front/rear torque split. Although the A7 is a bit heavier than the A6 3.0T sedan, any drop-off in performance is imperceptible from the driver's seat-the supercharged V6 still has inexhaustible thrust and impeccable manners. Unfortunately, the eight-speed automatic evinces the same hiccups as in the A6. In particular, we expect that Audi will take steps to smooth out the manual-mode downshifts before long.

The A7 is EPA-rated at 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway, which is pretty good for a 4,200-pound luxury car with this kind of power.

Safety

The 2012 Audi A7 comes with standard stability control and four-wheel antilock ventilated disc brakes. Eight airbags are standard (front, front side, front knee, full-length side-curtain), with rear side airbags optional.

The A7 has not been crash-tested in the US as of this writing.

Driving Impressions

Despite sharing most of its mechanical bits with the A6, the Audi A7 seems more athletic and hunkered-down, even without the Sport package's lowered suspension. The low-slung, cockpit-like driving environment adds to the effect. The A6 is already a great driver's car, but the A7 takes it up a notch, at least in terms of feel. The ride can be a little flinty on rough pavement, though, even with the standard 18-inch wheels. S-o although it pains our inner aesthete to say this, the optional 20-inch wheels are probably a bad idea.

Other Cars to Consider

Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class: The granddaddy of the "four-door coupe" segment just got a complete redesign, including a new pair of phenomenal twin-turbocharged V8s. It's hard to pick a winner between the CLS550 and the A7.

Porsche Panamera: If you're reckless with the options on your A7, you could easily veer into Panamera territory, and what the Porsche lacks in curb appeal, it arguably more than makes up for with sportscar-like performance.

Volkswagen C: Everyone loves a bargain, right? Consider the CC, then, which is priced like a family sedan but bears a family resemblance to the A7. There's a new CC coming out soon with more angular styling-keep an eye on it.

AutoTrader Recommends

The A7 makes our job easy with its single drivetrain configuration, so the only question is whether we'd be satisfied with the base Premium trim level-and the answer is no. Having Google Earth along for the ride is too cool to pass up, so we'd spring for the Premium Plus, at least.

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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