If horsepower is the charismatic star running back, torque is the less heralded offensive lineman. Horsepower gets most of the attention while torque goes about doing the grunt work. Heck, most people don’t even know whether it’s measured in foot-pounds or pound feet. It does, however, get the grunt work done. You wouldn’t imagine a car that weighs over two tons and has but 240 horsepower as the Audi A7 S Line Quattro TDI does to be able to achieve a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds. That’s because the 3 liter turbo diesel V6 also has 428 lb-ft of torque, most of it available in just about every driving situation.
The base 2014 A7 TDI quattro is almost $67,000 and this car had about 15K worth of toys added. As the owner of a Chevy Volt once told me, nobody who is buying a $40,000 car is looking to save money on fuel. That literally goes more than double for a car that stickers out to be just shy of $82,000. The TDI A7 is not about great fuel mileage, though the figures are better than respectable, I recorded 26.7 mpg over 490 miles of mostly suburban and urban driving, and 32.3 on a 40 mile jaunt on the Interstate with cruise control set to 79-80 mph. Considering that it’s a big, heavy car, the fuel economy is remarkable.
If people aren’t going to buy the A7 TDI for fuel economy, then why are they going to buy it? In a word, range. As a recent coast-to-coast “record” drive showed, you can make great time on the road if you don’t have to stop to refuel. While I don’t think that most A7 TDI buyers will care that their car has annual fuel costs within spitting distance of those of the Dodge Dart I drove a couple of months ago, they will be interested in another figure on the A7 TDI’s Monroney sheet: 38 mpg highway. The A7 TDI’s fuel tank holds 19.2 gallons of low sulfur diesel fuel, so that means that with a theoretical range of almost 730 miles, while you aren’t going to challenge any of Louie Mattar’s records, you will be able to make many trips non-stop. That’s enough range to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back without having to stop for fuel, and still have plenty of surplus fuel to tool around Vegas while you’re there.
Not having to stop as often for fuel and the minor inconvenience of finding a gas station with a diesel pump (2 of the 5 filling stations within a mile of my house have diesel fuel) are the primary reminders that you’re driving with a compression ignited engine. Sure, if you’re a gearhead, you can tell that the engine has a distinctive diesel clatter, and the tachometer redlines at 4,800 rpm (when warm, when cold it’s 4,200), but for the most part it drives completely normally. Normally, that is, for a car with that much torque.
There is another reminder that you’re driving a diesel, the A7’s stop-start system. Any stop-start system is going to be noticeable. Combustion engines shake when started and stopped, but diesels shake a little more, so when the stop-start system is activated and its algorithms call for shutting the engine off (it’s a complicated algorithm and I was never really sure when it would decide to shut off the motor) you get reminded that the A7 has a TDI under the hood. My guess is that the people who buy the A7 TDI want a little bit of a reminder that they’re driving a diesel so they won’t find that shake and rattle objectionable when they’re getting ready to roll.
Once in motion, all of that torque brings to mind words like effortless. You can accelerate from just about any prudent speed and even some imprudent ones (at least on public roads) as well. There’s no noticeable turbo lag, the longest you have to wait to go faster is when the ECU and eight speed Tiptronic transmission decide you need more leverage. The gearbox drops a cog or two and at that point the word evoked is locomotive.
The test car is an all-wheel-drive Quattro version in S Line trim. At first I thought the steering was a bit too easy driving around town but then I found the dynamic settings in the MMI infotainment system. You can select comfort, automatic, dynamic i.e. sport mode, and custom settings. Most of the time I drove in dynamic mode. The ride was stiffer than the Jaguar XF and XJ that I’ve tested, but not uncomfortably so. It handles well, though it’s a bit too large to say that it’s tossable. I generally didn’t drive anywhere near the limit, but while the steering is precise, and while it does have AWD, it’s still an FWD based Audi and it typically understeers a bit. When you do try to hang the back end out a bit, or enter a turn a little hot, the nannies are there to keep things on an even keel.
The was one flaw with the A7 TDI’s driving manners. It is sensitive to road grooves and expansion strips between lanes. The way the front tires grabbed expansion strips was so noticeable that I checked the tire pressures and they were indeed about 6 psi low on both fronts. Pumping them up to sticker specs made a big difference, but the A7 still danced a little on grooved pavement. I discussed this with our reviews editor, Alex Dykes, since he drives many more cars than I do every year, and Alex says that it’s something one finds with some European cars and that he’s seen the phenomenon come and go depending on the brand and model of tires used. The A7 TDI as tested was shod with 265/35 R20 Dunlop SP Winter Sport tires. I can’t tell you how sticky they are in snow or how well the Quattro system works in slippery conditions because though it was pretty cold out on Belle Isle taking the photos, we didn’t get any snow in Detroit till after they picked up the car.
Visibility was outstanding, helped by small triangular glass lights in the rear sail panels. Forward visibility was good and at night it was outstanding. Audi has been using lighting as a distinguishing feature both in terms of brand identifying LED layouts as well as technology. They’re currently trying to get approval for an intelligent lighting system that reacts to road and traffic conditions. In the meantime, the all-LED headlights on the A7 are the best I’ve ever used. Not only do they do an exceptionally good job lighting the path ahead when the road is straight, the combination of cornering lights and main headlamps that actively steer means that when the road curves, it will be well lit as well.
Other electronic gizmos worked just fine. The car has a collision avoidance system that also works with the adaptive cruise control so if you have the cruise activated, you simply cannot rear end someone. I tested it a couple of times, with my foot hovering over the brake pedal of course. I’m still undecided about autonomous automobiles, but the last collision I was in was my fault, rear ending someone while looking for an building address and I suppose it’s nice to know that the car will pay attention when you don’t. Still, it’s kind of eerie. The same braking effect is applied if you put the cruise into coast mode for longer than just a few seconds so out on the highway you practically won’t ever have to touch any pedals with your feet.
The MMI system, which uses a pop-up non-touch screen for a display and actual buttons and wheels to navigate, is intuitive enough that I didn’t have to RTFM even once to figure things out. Speaking of the pop-up display, since Jaguar came out with shifter knobs that rise and HVAC vents that spin open upon power up, other luxury automakers have appreciated the need for a little theater, so not only does the A7’s infotaiment screen popup (it can be retracted if you want a smooth dashboard while driving), but also the tweeters for the Bang & Olufsen branded audio system rise up below the A pillars.
One thing that I didn’t like about the MMI system was that every time you shut off the car, it would default back to automatic ride mode. Also, and this is true about the Chrysler 300 S I drove not long ago, if you’re paying for the S badge on the side, I think you sort of expect an S button on the console, not have to use the infotainment settings. Another feature that I don’t like is how addresses are entered into the navigation system. You use the MMI knob to rotate through the alphabet and then select letters. It’s a bit awkward, like using a vintage Dymo labelmaker to enter data.
The way the MMI knob and buttons work on the infotainment system is a bit more intuitive. The audio system it controls is another feature of the car that is outstanding. Since Audi still offers a CD drive in addition to memory card slots and other audio sources, I popped in one of the discs in Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar box set and the closely mic’d percussion on Stucco Homes sounded great. It’s quite possibly the best car audio system that I’ve sampled, but then for the $5,900 it costs, you can buy some very nice home audio gear, so it should sound good. Surprisingly, considering all the inputs, it was disappointing that I couldn’t find a standard 1/8″ stereo jack or a USB power tap. My Android phone’s audio easily hooked up with the car, though the phone side of things was more iffy and sometimes it could not initialize the phone.
The surroundings for that good sound and theater are luxurious, if not sumptuous. The dashboard and door panels are a symphony of textures and a subtle use of color: leather grain (both real and polymer based), brushed aluminum, dark grey plastic, and wood with exposed grain. You want to run your hand across it all. The upholstery is black leather, so the light colored headliner brightens up what might otherwise be a dark cabin. Fit and finish was perfect, but this A7 was part of a group of TDI powered cars that Audi designated for the press fleet, all of them white, with large “Clean Diesel TDI” decals on the flanks, so while the fleet management company folks told me they weren’t doing anything special, it’s possible that the A7 had received some special detailing. The seats were very comfortable, no complaints from my bad back. In back there’s plenty of leg room, but with the “four door coupe” roofline, anyone over 5’9″ tall will probably get to know that headliner well. That sexy rear end comes at a price.
Speaking of which, while I’m loathe to use the term “four door coupe” that automakers seem to love, there is a term that Audi seems to be reluctant to use: hatchback. Yes, that sexy rear end is a hatch. A very large and heavy hatch. Not surprisingly, Audi stashed a power lift/close button inside the jamb. The struts needed to hold up the large hatch are so stiff that if you try to close it manually, you’ll end up using much of your weight.
As mentioned, the ride is comfortable, though windnoise from the back part of the car was noticeable to both myself and a passenger. I kept checking to see if I’d left the glass moonroof open.
I also thought that I once left the hatch open, but it turns out I was just confused by the pictogram to activate the rear decklid spoiler. Normally it works automatically and will pop up at higher highway speeds (on a brief burst on an onramp I saw it in the rear view mirror somewhere north of 85 mph), but I confess to some automotive douchebaggery once I figured out how to raise it manually, but only when I was in front of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs.
Everything was so good on the A7 TDI that I was left looking for things to criticize and you’ll note that most of the negative comments are for minor things like how tThe trip computer that displays in the middle of the gauge package could have more information. The instrument panel, by the way, is very nicely laid out, with that computer display flanked by round tachometer and speedometers, which are cleverly angled towards the driver.
At the top of this post I said that the A7 TDI is almost too perfect. I don’t know if it’s confirmation bias from knowing that it is a German car, but there was almost a clinical way in which is does everything so, so well. The latest version of the Forza racing video game/sim avoids the so-called “uncanny valley” effect in a lot of digital art and animation in part by ensuring that surfaces are not perfect, just as real surfaces in the real world have imperfections. I suppose that it’s a good thing that we live in an age where cars can be so good that you almost miss the endearing imperfections of earlier ages.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS