It happens sometimes that a car creeps up on us. We know it's out there, we've seen the photos, maybe we've seen it spinning around at an auto show. Then one of us travels to an exotic locale, drives it, and writes the story, and the rest of us -- like you -- form an opinion that gets parked in the brain bank until we actually have our own go at it. Joe DeMatio recently reminded me that he forced a Volvo S60 on us at last year's All-Stars competition. He had been blown away by it on a press drive, but none of the rest of us had spent any time in one. He knew the proof would be getting our butts in its Swedish seat. DeMatio, of course, was right. The S60 won handily.
This year, I am already clearing a space in my personal 2012 All-Star garage for an Audi A7. Who knew just how killer this A7 was? I checked my notes way back to its debut at the 2009 Detroit auto show as the Sportback concept, where it was overshadowed by the R8 V10, not to mention the BMW Z4 and concepts like the Volkswagen BlueSport, the Lincoln C, and the Cadillac Converj. Robert Cumberford knew, as he put the Audi on his list of top-five designs at the show and called it "far more graceful than other Mercedes-Benz CLS clones." He got unusually fluttery about its exquisite detailing, focusing on the matte-finish wood laminations in the cabin: "It is all quite beautiful and promises to spark off a new trend." We parked that thought.
Jason Cammisa knew, when he drove a Euro-spec A7 last September in Sardinia. He called it a "hatchback station wagon" to convey the massiveness of its trunk, then went on in great technical detail, sprinkling adjectives like "gorgeous" and "magnificent" but rightfully closing with the usual caveat that all bets were off until we could drive one at home. Not only do we need our own crappy roads, we need to remove ourselves from the too-perfect bubble of a five-star press event, lest we succumb to the fact that the sun is shining in Sardinia while our clothes are mildewing in the washing machine back home in Drearytown.
A car isn't right until it is rolling in hometown traffic.
So we also parked that thought for the long winter. But the snow melted and the rains came, and with them came the A7. DeMatio drove one home from the New York auto show through torrential thunderstorms for a two-week stint in Ann Arbor. I finished off a second stint in a fully loaded (as in $21,405 worth of options to bolster its $60,125 base price) quartz gray metallic tester, riding out a Memorial Day sky-pounding by Thor, the god of thunder, lightning, and of flooding my clover field. That the A7 3.0 with standard Quattro all-wheel drive can manage a wet road is no surprise. We know Quattro. But the $1500 Sport Package makes it excellent in the dry, thanks to a stiffer suspension and twenty-inch wheels shod with Yokohama Advan Sport summer performance tires, which just hate Michigan roads but give you major stick on smooth twisties. The 310-hp, direct-injected, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 with a perfect eight-speed Tiptronic automatic proved to be the sweet, balanced drivetrain that Cammisa promised last fall.
That the A7 is beautiful was no surprise. Audi is the Monster.com for any car company seeking brilliant designers. Still, every time I spotted the A7 parked on the street, in the structure, or in my driveway, I was captivated by its strength and grace.
That the interior is the class of the field was no surprise. The wood laminate that Cumberford loved anchors a beautifully executed cabin that is at once elegantly simple and bursting with cutting-edge technology. The nav system overlays routes on Google Earth and operates as a Wi-Fi hot spot. You can use your finger to spell out addresses on a touch pad while keeping your eyes on the road. When they're not caressing that wood.
The only surprise is just how much separation anxiety I've been suffering since the day the A7 left us.