First Look: Audi A7

Over the past five years, just about every German automaker has rushed to combine the body styles coupe and sedan, with varying levels of success. Not Audi. The automaker from Ingolstadt has more or less sat coolly on the sidelines as its rivals launched all manner of so-called four-door coupes, sport-activity vehicles, and four-door-coupe-hatchback supercars. Now, at last, we’re seeing Audi’s contribution to this fledgling segment in the form of the production A7.

Being a latecomer, the A7 is hardly an innovator in terms of design — the sweeping roofline follows the trend set by the Mercedes-Benz CLS way back in 2005, and the rear hatch is a trick that both BMW and Porsche have incorporated into their four-door coupes. However, the taut sheetmetal, carried over with few changes from the 2009 A7 Sportback concept, ties all these elements together in a much more cohesive and convincing fashion than most of the similar offerings currently on the market (we’re talking to you, Porsche Panamera). And thankfully, Audi hasn’t attempted to mix any crossover genes into the design, à la BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo or Acura ZDX. In fact, the roofline is slightly shorter than that of the current A6.

There aren’t many surprises inside, where the layout and styling sticks to the brand’s usual handsome themes. The in-cabin technology, on the other hand, is superfresh, as the A7 gets the latest-generation MMI interface first seen in the 2011 A8. Standard on all A7s, it features a touch pad on which drivers can “write” commands, find points of interest, and call up phone numbers. The car can also connect with Google to download maps and news, and the A7 also serves as a wireless hotspot, although it’s unclear whether these features will pass muster with U.S. safety regulators. And then there’s the top-of-the-line stereo — a fifteen-speaker, 1300-watt affair by Bang & Olufsen (a Bose setup suffices for base models). Like most of its competitors, the A7 seats four in almost absurd opulence. Each chair is power adjustable, with options including heating and massage functions, as well as various grades of leather. The rear seats fold down to open up about fifty cubic feet of cargo room. Beyond the MMI interface, the A7 inherits a raft of A8 technologies, including optional LED headlights and adaptive cruise control that can engage full braking to avoid (or soften) a collision.

Beneath its mostly aluminum skin, the A7 further asserts its place near the top of the Audi lineup. Although Europeans have a choice of four V-6s — two gasoline and two diesel — only the most powerful gas engine will make it to the United States at launch. That would be the 300-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged unit we already know and love in the S4 (a 2010 Automobile Magazine All-Star). It will be paired with Audi’s second application of an eight-speed automatic transmission, the first being the new A8. Rear-biased Quattro all-wheel drive is also standard on U.S. models. Audi estimates the 0 to 62 mph sprint will take 5.6 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

It almost goes without saying that the four-door coupe will employ a full complement of electronic wizardry to claw its way through corners. In addition to a center differential that can instantly transfer much of the 3.0-liter’s 325 lb-ft of torque from front to back (or vice versa), the A7 will also shuffle power via an antilock-brake-based torque-vectoring system that slows the inner wheels to facilitate hard cornering. An optional sport differential like that available in the S4 further distributes power between the rear wheels. Finally, the A7 also comes standard with Audi’s Drive Select system, which adjusts steering effort, shift patterns, throttle mapping, and suspension compliance (on models equipped with adaptive dampers and air springs).

We won’t be able to fully vet the A7 until we’ve had a chance to sit behind the wheel and pilot it through some twisties. Nevertheless, the early information and pictures suggest that Audi made good use of the extra time it took before wading into the increasingly crowded pool of four-door coupes. The A7 debuts in Europe this fall for a starting price of about 50,000 Euros (approximately $65,000). U.S.-market timing and pricing haven’t yet been announced. We should have more information and impressions following the car’s live unveiling tonight in Munich. Stay tuned to Automobile’s blog section for more details as we get them.