The Truth About Cars » Four Door The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Four Door Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD (With Video) Thu, 23 Jan 2014 14:00:11 +0000 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior

In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.

Click here to view the embedded video.


When you say “Regal GS” my mind immediately leaps to the fourth-generation Regal (2nd generation W-body) with the supercharged 3.8L V6. When I was car shopping in 2000 I dearly wanted a Regal GS but there were two problems: Buick’s grandmotherly image and the price tag. As a result I bought an entirely different old person car: a Chrysler LHS. But I digress. This GS is an entirely different beast. Buick’s latest middle child is none other than Opel’s largest sedan, the Insignia. Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the differences between the Insignia and the Regal are most pronounced on the exterior where a Buick waterfall grille and logo have been inserted into the same opening as the Opel and ventiports have been added to the hood. And… that’s about it.

Two things are obvious when looking at the Buick Regal: it was designed in Europe and it was designed to to be both a Buick and an Opel from the start. Rather than looking out of place (like the Chrysler 300 to Lancia Thema transition) the Regal looks “meant to be.” Although the Regal is related to the Chevy Malibu, there’s essentially no exterior resemblance. The Regal GS I spent a week in gets the tweaked front and rear bumpers from Opel’s Insigia OPC model which ditches the foglamps for extra ventilation and integrates the exhaust tips into the rear bumper cover. Circling back around to those ventiports: I still think they look silly, but thankfully the Regal has the right number (four) and they are smaller and less conspicuously placed than on other Buick models I could mention.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003


2014 brings a new interior to the Regal based around a standard 8-inch touchscreen and new center console. Although you will still find a few hard plastics in the cabin, overall materials quality has improved and is firmly competitive with the Volkswagen CC, Audi A4 and Acura TL. Most cabin touch points feel more premium than the more expensive Lexus ES but the Volvo S60/S80 still lead the segment. Non-GS shoppers can opt for a handsome two-tone interior that combines a brown steering wheel and upper dash with a light grey/tan seats and carpet which would be my preference. GS models however are stuck with a very Germanic black-on-black theme. Part of the GS package is an 8-inch LCD instrument cluster and a chunkier steering wheel with sport grips, soft leather and a flat bottom. The disco dash is not as configurable as Chrysler’s 7-inch unit but the graphics are more modern and the system allows you full access to your media device, something uConnect still lacks.

For reasons unknown Buick chose not to borrow the Recaro seats found in the Insignia OPC, opting instead for more aggressively bolstered versions of the standard seat design. This may be because Buick owners are less likely to need the 5-point harness design, but it is most likely because we Americans are fatter so fewer of us would fit in the narrow seats. My 6-foot and slightly overweight frame fit snugly and comfortably in the front seats but the ceiling in the rear of the Regal proved too low for me to sit without cocking my head to the side. The lack of rear seat headroom was disappointing because the Regal offers several inches more rear leg room than the RWD Cadillac ATS and CTS and three inches more than the Volvo S60 and S80.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link


Like the LaCrosse, the Regal and the Opel Insignia now uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE. For reasons I don’t understand however, Buick doesn’t get Opel’s interesting touchpad with “finger writing” recognition that Opel has been advertising across the pond. I’m guessing this is so that Buick doesn’t step on Cadillac’s toes. Compared to CUE there are a few other changes for Buick-duty. The expensive glass capacitive touchscreen (looks like a modern smartphone) is swapped for a resistive unit that isn’t as crisp or as glare reducing and we have physical buttons for some system features, a marked improvement over Cadillac’s touchscreen only interface. Aside from these charges, the majority of CUE remains.

Like Ford’s MyFord Touch system, IntelliLink is sluggish in general and sometimes totally unresponsive. The software also suffers from unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software that doesn’t jive with the system’s high-resolution screen. Like CUE, some multi-touch gestures are supported, but the different touchscreen is less able to decipher your intent leading to some frustrating moments. On the bright side, CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system features natural language commands and instead of treating the USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001


Nestled sideways under the hood is the same 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine that the Cadillac ATS and CTS use. Good for 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of twist, this is the same engine that you find in the “regular Regal.” That’s right, no longer does “GS” stand for “more power.” This means the GS looses 11 ponies vs 2013 but the turbo Regal gains 39 vs 2013. To differentiate things, GM does alter the torque curve to deliver all 295 twists at 2,500 RPM instead of 3,000 in the non-GS model. GM hasn’t completely ruled out the 325 horse 2.8L twin-turbo V6 the Insignia OPC uses for the American market, but I’d call it a long shot.

GS shoppers can choose either a 6-speed manual transaxle or a 6 speed automatic, but if you want the optional Haldex AWD system you’re forced to select the auto.  Although the GS uses the same AWD system as the regular Regal AWD, the engineers tossed in an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. GS trims also bump the suspension up a notch by combining GM’s HiPer Strut technology with active dampers on all four corners. The suspension offers three modes: normal, sport and GS. The feel ranges from European family sedan to firm.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001


GM’s HiPer Strut suspension is designed to bring the steering axis more in line with the tire centerline, something you typically find in rear-wheel drive cars. Aligning the axis more closely results in better tracking, less torque steer and a front tire with a more consistent camber across the suspension’s travel. Versus the outgoing model, the front tires contact patch is improved in corners when the front suspension is loaded resulting in higher grip. Coupled with an AWD system that sends 50% of the power to the rear under hard acceleration, we get the first Buick in a long time with virtually zero torque steer.

The downside to the trendy new steering knuckle design is feel. Steering is very precise but suffers from the same Novocaine-laced feedback as everything else out there with electric power steering. Despite a 58/42 F/R weight distribution, the Regal GS has impeccable manners up to 9/10ths, where it starts to lose composure. Trouble is, without steering feedback it’s hard to tell where 9/10ths is located. In contrast, the Volvo S60 T6 AWD and S80 T6 AWD offer less grip but more feel.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007

Driving a FWD Regal back to back with our AWD tester, I kept thinking “there’s just something I dislike about the FWD model”. As it turns out, there is a reason the FWD Regal felt unsettled in the rear over broken pavement, the AWD model gets an entirely different “H-Link” independent rear suspension. Coupled with the active dampers, the Regal felt well composed on a variety of road surfaces despite being tuned firmer than the rest of the American and Swedish competition. Rather than being the softest entry in the segment, the GS is among the firmer.

Put your foot to the floor and the GS will run to 60 in 6.7 seconds, exactly the same as the W-Body Regal GS I remember with fond memories. The difference is, the W-Body’s torque steer made the car feel like it was part car, part carnival ride. The 2014 model tracks straight and true with zero drama all the way to a 15.2 second 1/4 mile. Stacking this up with the competition, the Regal is notably slower than the Cadillac CTS/ATS 2.0T and Volvo’s S60 T5 AWD; and a hair slower than the 3.7L Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES 350 and Acura TL. Despite similar power figures, the Volvo ran to 60 nearly 7/10ths faster which caused me to question my numbers. However, a loaner provided by a local dealer confirmed my findings. The reason seems rooted both in the GS’ gear ratios and the more advantageous torque curve from Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010

At $37,830 starting, $40,195 with AWD and $44,975 full-loaded, the Regal undercuts the Volvo S60 T5 AWD and Acura TL by a couple thousand across the board (comparably equipped) and is more than $5,000 cheaper than the Lexus ES depending on your configuration. The Acura TL is in its final year of production and is, as you would assume, outclassed by the Regal in most ways. The recently refreshed Volvo delivers better road feel and a slightly more premium interior at the expense of more cash and less grip. The Lexus ES suffers from soft springs, an uncompetitive interior and steep price tag.

Over 611 miles I managed a reasonable 22.1 MPG in the GS which bests the real-world numbers from the V6 competition but comes short of the turbo Caddy and Swede. Why do I keep coming back to Cadillac? Because as hard as GM has tried to keep Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac from stepping on each other’s toes, the Regal GS is about the same price as the 2014 Cadillac ATS. It’s hard enough to go up against what is probably the second best vehicle GM has ever produced, but it is made doubly hard when there are so many combined Buick/Cadillac dealers. This means you’ll frequently find the Regal GS next to a sharp handling Caddy is on the same lot. Trickier still is the base Cadillac CTS which is slightly cheaper than a loaded GS, and, you guessed it: is often parked right next to the Buick.  Buick seems to have finally gotten the hang of being the middle child and in the process they have given not only Chevy owners but Volkswagen owners something to aspire to. That said, I’d be hard pressed to choose the Regal over an ATS 2.0T.


GM provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.67 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15.2 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG over 611 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68.5 dB @ 50 MPH

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen CC Thu, 16 Aug 2012 18:33:32 +0000

There was a time when “Passat” was German for “budget-Audi.” Even though the A4 and Passat parted ways in 2005, the Passat’s interior and price tag were more premium than mid-market shoppers were looking for. To hit VW’s North American yearly sales goal of 800,o000, the European Passat (B6) was replaced with a model designed specifically for American tastes. This means a lower price tag, less “premium” interior, and larger dimensions. If your heart pines for a “real” Passat, look no further than the 2013 Volkswagen CC. If it looks familiar, it should. The CC is none other than the artist car formerly known as Prince Passat CC with a nose job. VW advertises the CC as “the most affordable four-door coupé” in the US. All you need to know is: Euro lovers, this is your Passat.

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The CC follows the four-door coupé formula pioneered by Mercedes: lower the roof, remove the window sashes and raise the price. Even though “coupé” means two doors and the CC has a pair too many, the silhouette is undeniably elegant. For 2013 the CC’s front was replaced with a more aggressive three-bar chrome schnoz and standard HID headlamps. Out back are new tail lamps that incorporate “CC” shapes into the LED clusters. Unlike many mid-cycle refreshes, the rhinoplasty actually jives with the rest of the car.

Our European cousins see the CC as a styling exercise between the Passat and the Phaeton in both price and size. However, the Phaeton is extinct in America turning the CC into VW flagship sedan on our shores. This presents a problem that doesn’t exist in Europe: our Passat is larger, and being sold to an audience that equates size with status. As a result you wouldn’t automatically assume the CC is $10,000 more expensive, (especially if you equate size with value) until you get inside.


Camcord clientèle value expansive, not expensive cabins.  The CC on the other hand plays further up the food chain. In this light, the CC’s “Euro Passat” squishy dash bits are right at home. Our base-model tester had leatherette seats, faux-aluminum trim and a black-on-black-on-black color scheme. A quick trip to the local dealer proved the no-cost ivory/black and ivory/brown combinations look 10 times better in person than the all-black theme.  If you’ve been frightened away by the pleather on less expensive VWs, the CC’s faux-cow is a different “animal” and was surprisingly convincing.

Because VW is on a mission to streamline their inventory, your interior “goodie quotient” is tied to your trim level and engine choice. This means there are but five different configurations (excluding interior and exterior color choices): Sport, Sport Plus, Lux, V6 Lux and VR6 Executive. (No, that’s not a typo it is “V6″ and “VR6″ for some reason.) The $30,610 Sport model starts with dual-zone climate control and standard 12-way power seats. Sport Plus ($32,850) adds a nav system, DSG transmission and some 18-inch wheels, Lux ($35,335) piles on a sunroof, ambient lighting and real aluminum trim. Jumping up to the V6 Lux($37,730) gets the shopper real-cow, a backup cam, memory seats and a bigger nav screen. The top-of-the-line VR6 Executive ($41,420) tacks on AWD, parking sensors, a power rear sunshade and front seats that heat, cool and massage. With the CC there are no options per se, just dealer sold accessories.

The front thrones are comfortable for long trips and were easily adjusted for my average frame but with the sexy roof-line comes limited headroom. If you’re a taller passenger and prefer your seats and tray tables in the upright and locked position, you may need to look elsewhere. The rear seats present more of a headroom challenge coupled with ingress and egress limited by the sloped door openings. While a center rear seat is now standard, (bringing the capacity up to 5) it was apparently designed for Lilliputians as I was unable to sit in it without cocking my head to the side.


VW’s infotainment systems have been behind the curve for the near luxury market and the CC is no exception. The standard five-inch touchscreen system is a basic unit with a CD player, AM/FM/HD/Sirius radio and iDevice integration. Strangely absent from all models is a USB plug for non-Apple devices. Bluetooth audio streaming (and speakerphone) is standard and works very well however. As with most entries in this segment, you cannot voice-command your iDevice, if you want that, look to Lincoln’s SYNC. If you want snazzy graphics, look to BMW.

Sport Plus and Lux models get VW’s low-end navigation system which uses the same 5-inch LCD as the base model. The screen is low resolution and the processor is slow, but it gets the job done. Eventually. How low is the resolution? 400 x 200 pixels, or about the same as a cheap computer from 1981.

Six-cylinder CC models come standard with VW’s snappier (and snazzier) 6.5-inch navigation system. In addition to improved navigation features, this unit adds 25GB of music storage. Stepping up to the “Executive” CC buys you a color LCD between the speedo and tach, and a 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio system. Sound quality on the base speakers is very good for this segment and the Dynaudio system is excellent with well-balanced audio and volume levels loud enough to satisfy most customers.


Not being related to the US Passat has advantages, the 2.5L inline-5 was left in Chattanooga. Instead, the CC uses VW’s 200HP/207lb-ft 2.0L turbo four cylinder, an improvement of 30HP and 30lb-ft over the 2.5L. While a 15% power bump may not sound like much, the 2.0L’s flat torque curve and choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG (instead of the Passat’s slushbox) allow the CC to scoot to 60 a whopping 2.7 seconds faster (6.2 vs 8.9). Over 625 miles with the manual CC, we averaged 28.6 MPG despite the EPA ratings of 21 city / 31 highway. We were unable to test a CC with the DSG for any length of time but the EPA claims it will drop your numbers to 19/29 MPG.

As you would assume, the V6 Lux and VR6 4MOTION Executive CCs get VW’s 3.6L VR6 engine. If you’re not familiar with VW’s VR engines, they are a hybrid crossing a traditional “V” engine with a single head like an inline engine. The result is an engine that’s longer than a V6 but shorter than an I6 and uses only two cams total. This 10.6-degree “V” engine is good for 280HP and 265lb-ft of torque. For reasons only VW can explain, the only transmission is an Aisin 6-speed aut0 with or without a Haldex based all-wheel-drive system.

The extra 80HP and 58lb-ft of twist come at the expense of 261lbs in extra mass, all of which is in the nose. Adding AWD increases the weight penalty by another 226lbs so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the AWD CC is not much faster to 60 than the 2.0T. As you would assume, fuel economy drops to 18/27 MPG for the FWD VR6 and 17/25 MPG for the AWD VR6.


The CC’s electric power steering, VW’s typical rubbery shifter feel and soft springs combine to make the CC feel like a large, comfy highway cruiser. On the other hand, the 235-width rubber, light 3,400lb curb weight and German DNA do an admirable job of making the CC 2.0T stable and surprisingly grippy in the bends. If you care more about feel than outright power, the 2.0T is an excellent package due as much to the lighter front end as the well-matched ratios in the manual transmission. Start sea-sawing the wheel and the soft suspension if obvious, but in normal to moderately aggressive driving, the 2.0T will make you grin more often than the VR6

Compared to the Buick GS, the turbo CC is noticeably down on power but feels far more refined without loosing much in the “balls-out handling” category. The VR6 FWD CC on the other hand feels far more likely to plow into the underbrush when it encounters a corner thanks to that extra weight up front. The experience is the same in a V6 Avalon or MKZ. While you can opt for 4MOTION to tame some of the  FWD handling tendencies, it adds even more weight without any increase in the car’s contact patches. Many CC shoppers will be former Passat owners or shoppers brought in by the Passat’s lower starting price and increased showroom traffic. These shoppers will find a car that feels practically glued to the road compared to the Passat sitting next to it, despite the strong family resemblance.

Our Facebook fans wanted to know how the CC stacks up against the Audi A7. Since I can’t imagine too many shoppers actually cross-shopping these two I will keep this short. The CC’s main selling point is the $20,000 lower cost of entry. Yes the A7 has more oomph from a supercharged V6, two extra speeds in its gearbox, a longer warranty and a snazzier interior. The A7′s hatchback design was very handy for carrying large cargo last time we had it, but aside from the trunk the A7 is honestly no more comfortable inside than the CC.

The Passat CC used to make me scratch my head. Why would I want a Passat with less room, fewer seats and a steeper price tag? There just didn’t seem to be a good reason. By taking the America Passat in a different direction, VW seems to have solved both the Passat’s sales problem and give the CC a reason to exist.


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VW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 6.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile:  14.9 Seconds @ 94 MPH

Average fuel economy: 28.6 over 625 miles


2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Front, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, tachometer, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, shifter, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, shifter, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, rear seats, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, rear seats, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, rear seats, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Engine, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Engine, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Engine, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 58
Review: 2012 Audi A7 Fri, 01 Jul 2011 17:04:32 +0000

Large four-door cars with the style of a coupe aren’t a recent innovation. But early attempts, like the 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora, failed to captivate car buyers. It fell to Mercedes to launch the “four-door coupe” segment with the 2006 CLS. Though sales have long since dwindled to exotic car levels, back when the CLS was new about 2,000 of them left dealer lots each month. This apparently provided sufficient motivation for other manufacturers to offer their own “four-door coupes.” Volkswagen didn’t stray far from the original with its CC. Audi, on the other hand, has taken a very different approach with the new 2012 A7.

To begin with, Audi appears to have figured that, if you’re going to sweep the roofline nearly to the trailing edge of the car, you might as well make it a hatchback. The American market has rejected large upscale hatchbacks in the past—the Rover 3500, Acura-based Sterling 827, and Merkur Scorpio come to mind—but tastes have broadened in the intervening decades. The Porsche Panamera certainly has its critics, but the car’s hatchback configuration hasn’t figured highly in their critiques. And the BMW 5-Series GT? Its aesthetic shortcomings similarly extend beyond the hatch to the car’s bulky proportions.

If the Audi A7 were a stunning car, few would mind the hatch. Unfortunately, while the A7’s thoroughly tasteful exterior is far more attractive than the Porsche’s or the BMW’s, it’s a conservative design unlikely to inspire doubletakes the way the swoopier CLS did, even still does six years on. In a bid for “coupeness,” the A7’s side windows are frameless and its roofline is a couple inches lower than that of the closely related 2012 Audi A6 sedan (and nearly a half-foot lower than that of the 5-Series GT). Audi’s latest design language, with a focus on crisp horizontal lines, suits the A7’s more balanced proportions much better than it does the A8 sedan’s. A double crease along the shoulder of the car often provides the illusion of a pinstripe. The overall appearance might not inspire passion, but it exudes technical perfection. This car couldn’t be anything but German.

The Audi A7’s interior is similarly very tasteful without making a strong design statement. A line arcs from one door along the instrument panel top to the other door, but you’ll find the same in a relatively pedestrian Buick. Unlike in the first-generation CLS, nothing here seems inspired by classic Jaguars or wooden watercraft. Audi has long been known for the quality of its interiors, but the rest of the industry has been catching up. Notable in their absence: upholstered instrument and upper door panels. The seats’ stitching does not contrast, and their leather isn’t especially soft. The door pulls are, typical of Audis, hard plastic. In general the interior seems of very high quality, but not quite luxurious. The riskiest interior choice: the tested car’s ash trim is minimally finished and has a heavy grain that can actually be felt. I liked it. Others who rode in the car weren’t so sure about the matte finish. Glossy wood is available for them.

An advantage of the sensible design: though not the limo substitute the BMW GT is, there’s nearly as much passenger room inside the Audi A7 as in the related A6. So four adults fit comfortably. The front seats are moderately firm and properly supportive but less cosseting than those in some other luxury cars. They also provide minimal lateral support. Perhaps because this is an A7 and not an S7, no sport buckets or power-adjustable bolsters are offered. On the positive side of the ledger, the headrests adjust fore and aft, a rarity these days. Unlike with the first-generation CLS, contortions aren’t required to get into and out of the rear seat. One functional shortcoming: the rear bench is split by a low, integrated console, so three people cannot sit back there. For a family of five this car won’t work.

The cargo area is constrained by the car’s low tail, but it extends well forward, especially once the second row is folded. A two-piece package shelf effectively seals off the passenger area from the cargo area. It’s not nearly as heavy or overengineered as the bulkhead in the BMW 5-Series GT, but is nevertheless a little fiddly (and also reflects badly in the backlight). After removing it I was easily able to fit a bicycle with the front wheel removed (and probably would have fit it with the wheel attached if loaded in the opposite direction). Up front, the A7 isn’t as accommodating. There’s not enough room in the glove compartment or the center console for my SLR-style camera, so it rolled around the passenger footwell all week.

Some of the Audi A7’s toys impress, others not so much. The LED headlights ($1,400 if ordered a la carte) are the latest thing, but my eyes failed to detect a significant advantage over Xenons. Since they aren’t standard, the units musts be the same size and shape as a conventional headlight. Things will get more interesting when cars are designed around standard LED lights. The 1,300-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system sounds so crisp and so clear, even at high volumes, that its $5,900 price almost seems justified. My old man declared it far superior to the Mark Levinson system in his Lexus LS 460. He was less crazy about the tweeters’ acoustic lenses that remain in their somewhat obtrusive upright position even when the system is turned off. The Internet-connected nav system uses Google maps to display satellite images. A regular nav screen just doesn’t seem sufficient afterwards.

You can also search the Internet for addresses. The MMI system, with a knob, a half dozen or so buttons, and a touchpad that recognizes letters written with a fingertip, is usually easy to operate on the fly, but programming the nav system could be much easier. One ergonomic flaw that continued to confound me at the end of the week: the button to start the engine is located to the right of the shifter. The optional head-up display can include navigation information and night vision warnings (there’s a pedestrian detector), but not a tach or song titles (both of which I enjoyed having in a Buick). The display for the optional night vision system is located between the speedometer and tach, too low to be continuously viewed. The blind spot warning system seems designed to only signal if a car is overtaking you from the rear quarter. If one is parked at a steady speed in your blind spot it assumes you know it’s there. Other such systems light up in a wider range of circumstances. The adaptive cruise control works better than earlier systems; it’s even viable in stop-and-go traffic. Though the A7’s concept and design seem a natural fit for a panoramic sunroof, the roof portal is a standard-sized unit.

Currently only one engine is available in the U.S.-market Audi A7: the same 310-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6 available in the redesigned 2012 A6. Officially the related mill in the Audi S4 kicks out another 23 horsepower, but the A7’s engine feels stronger than its power rating. The six’s quiet, refined character is better suited to the A7 and A6 than the smaller, sportier car. There’s no sensation of boost and no sound from the supercharger, just impressive V8-style torque (the 325 foot-pound peak runs from 2,900 to 4,500 rpm). Sixty arrives in just a bit over five seconds.

The Audi A7’s ZF eight-speed automatic shared with many other luxury cars (and soon some Chryslers) has excellent ratios for quick launches, relaxed highway cruising, and everything in between. It reacts quickly, but shifts are usually noticeable, with the occasional odd bump when braking to a stop (I noticed the same in some BMWs). Europeans get a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automated manual instead. Did Audi judge this transmission insufficiently refined for American luxury car duty?

The 3.0T / automatic powertrain achieves excellent fuel economy for a powerful, 4,200-pound, all-wheel-drive car: the trip computer generally confirmed the 18 city / 28 highway EPA ratings. On one highway run to the airport the car managed nearly 30 mpg, about as good as my much lighter, much less powerful Mazda Protege5. In the suburbs I observed between 15 and 25, depending on the frequency of stops.

When equipped with the optional sport suspension (which lowers the car 0.4 inches) and 20-inch high-performance Yokohama tires, the Audi A7 handles about as sporty as it looks. So supremely competent, and more direct than in the typical luxury car, but short of thrilling. Steering firmness can be set to “comfort,” “dynamic,” or “auto.” The difference between the modes is noticeable. In any mode the steering gets firmer as speeds increase. You need to be travelling 70+ before it feels tight even in “dynamic.” The similar system in the larger Audi A8 feels a little firmer and tighter, if memory serves. Feedback is better in smaller Audis. The A7 feels significantly less nose-heavy than earlier Audis—perhaps because it is, with the differential positioned ahead of the transmission to enable a 54/46 weight distribution. But even with this, the AWD system’s initial 40:60 rearward torque-bias, and a braking system that intervenes to counter understeer the A7’s dynamics aren’t those of a rear-wheel-drive car. The general attitude of the chassis is one of very mild understeer. Power oversteer only happens with an aggressive throttle on loose surfaces.

With the sport suspension at least, the Audi A7’s ride is most decidedly firm, with the occasional jostle, but far from punishing. Noise is more of an issue. Though the A7’s interior certainly isn’t loud, it’s considerably louder than that of other luxury cars. The optional 20-inch tires contribute, especially on concrete; the standard treads should be less noisy. The hatchback configuration might also contribute. But the bottom line is that Audis have tended to suffer from more road noise than other luxury cars, and this remains the case with their latest.

Pricing starts at $60,125, and tops $80,000 when all the boxes are checked (the tested car lacked only heated rear seats). A 535i xDrive Grand Turismo lists for within a few hundred dollars when similarly configured—but you’ll receive a much larger discount with the slow-selling BMW. (The BMW is a quarter-ton heavier, so an argument could be made that the 550i GT is more comparable.) The redesigned 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 4Matic lists for about $12,000 more. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool indicates that nearly half of the gap can be explained by additional features on the Mercedes, including adaptive shocks, a sophisticated air suspension, various high-tech safety features, and more extensive leather upholstery. Then there’s the matter of the Benz’s much larger engine. With the Mercedes only offered with a V8 (why?), and the Audi only offered with a V6 (for now), the two avoid a direct confrontation. Probably the toughest competition for the A7: an identically-equipped A6 lists for exactly $8,000 less. Since the two cars are very closely related under the skin, this is how much you’re paying for the A7’s sleeker hatchback body.

In the end, the Audi A7 seizes the middle ground between the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the BMW 5-Series GT in both appearance and functionality. It’s more involving than those cars, but much less so than a Porsche Panamera. So buyers who highly prioritize functionality or who buy cars for almost entirely emotional reasons will end up behind the wheel of something other than the Audi. But the entire idea of a “four-door coupe” suggests a desire to have the functionality of a four-door and the styling of a coupe in the same car. The segment is all about compromise. Those seeking an intelligent “both brained” compromise between the excesses of these other cars will find it here.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Four-Doors Recouped Edition Wed, 18 Aug 2010 14:12:43 +0000

With the debut of Audi’s A7 Sportback, and a BMW four-door GranCoupe coming in 2012, it’s clear that the four-door coupe segment is here to stay. At least in Europe. This year Mercedes is coming back into the segment swinging, with an updated CLS shown here in the first leaked official images [via Autocar]. But will the four-door coupes ever make serious headway in the US market? In the last 12 months, the CLS has sold fewer than 2,000 examples in the US market. VW’s Passat CC on the other hand has sold 29,114 units in the last 12 months, more than double the volume of the regular Passat. What does this say about four-door coupes in the US market? Probably that their sales depend heavily on the appeal of their sedan versions: Mercedes sedans have become handsome enough to make the CLS look overstyled, while the CC offers much-needed visual flair to the otherwise-anodyne Passat. But will the segment grow as BMW and Audi wade in?

mbcls3 Who you calling a sedan? mbcls5 mbcls4 mbcls2 mbcls1 ]]> 24
Ferrari: No Four Doors. Ever. We Swear. Tue, 04 May 2010 15:57:42 +0000

Worried that a ride-over-handling-oriented California, the end of manual transmissions and flirtations with hybrid power have left Ferrari without any kind of brand focus? Don’t be, Maranello spokesfolks tell Autocar. There is at least one line that Ferrari will never cross: building a four-door to compete with Aston-Martin’s Rapide, Porsche’s Panamera or Audi’s A7.

As Enzo [Ferrari, company founder] would say, we will never do four doors. And we will keep this tradition. Frankly speaking no-one is asking for a four-door Ferrari. If you want a four door Ferrari we have a Maserati. We stand 60 years and we never needed four doors. What never means, I don’t know, but one of the strong points of Ferrari is to keep the product in the right way. I’m not saying four doors is not right for the image, but it’s not part of our heritage.

Unless you’re the Sultan of Brunei, anyway.

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