If the Mercedes CLS invented the concept of a sedan leaping up one rung on the coolness chart to a "coupe," then it has a new competitor in town: the Audi A7 takes two leaps. Don't say the words out loud, but it's a hatchback station wagon. One that happens to call itself a coupe. That's two steps up the cool ladder from wagon, straight past sedan, and to coupe. Or so says Audi.
Do we buy it? Well, the A7 certainly looks gorgeous enough to play in the same league as the Mercedes CLS. And it does one parlor trick the CLS will never do: press a button, and the motorized rear hatch swings upward exposing an enormous cargo hold. Fold down the rear seats, and you could sleep two six-footers comfortably in back. No folding or bending necessary. The trunk of the CLS, on the other hand, is best reserved for unsightly corpses, preferably in the fetal position.
The rest of the CLS game is familiar: start with a mid-size sedan (in this case, the Audi A6), stretch it a little, lower the roof a little, and add high style. Other than a slightly droopy butt (also a characteristic of the CLS), it works quite well. Like the CLS, it only seats four, though the back seat has no console or divider, so in theory Audi could have added a fifth seat belt.
The A7 should have a base price of around $60,000 when it arrives stateside in the spring of next year and it will show up with one sole powertrain: the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 we know from other models. (The A7's new badge says 3.0 TFSI, so maybe Audi's grown weary of all of the jokes about the engine having a "tupercharger" because of its previous "3.0T" badge.) The engine is rated at 300 hp in Europe, Audi says a 310-hp rating is possible for our market.
Attached to the engine is the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission from the A8 and, of course, Quattro all-wheel drive. This particular Quattro system is new, replacing the previous system's Torsen center differential with a faster-acting, lighter, and more efficient planetary gearset. Under nominal conditions, the system sends 60 percent of the power rearward, but can send as much as 85% or as little as 30% to the rear. Audi's torque-vectoring Quattro Sport Differential will be available as an option.