Another new toy we didn't love is Audi's new lane assistant, which uses the A7's electric power steering to keep you within your lane. It has two intervention modes, both of which are more heavy-handed than we'd like, and on Italy's curvy roads, it often tried to steer the car when there was no actual lane marking. We suspect it'll work really well on straight American interstates, but likely it'll be loved best by those who miss the stern steering-wheel grab of a driver's-ed instructor. Or if you miss steering feedback (the A7 delivers precisely none) and want the steering to feel alive in any way, shape, or form.
As cool as the infra-red night vision is (and it's so cool, if you're a geek like me), it's more of a gimmick than a tool -- as is the blind-spot warning system, when you're driving an A7 with the awesome European-market side view mirrors. Far more convex than the mirrors we get in the states, they completely eliminate blind spots -- and someone at the DOT needs to be kidnapped and tortured until agreeing to make them legal in the US.
Sign us up -- every time -- for the head up display, which is a new feature at Audi. For long drives, we'd also recommend the double-glazed windows (optional in Europe, though they may be standard on US-models), as the interior remains very quiet even at high speeds. Even the HVAC fan is barely audible.
An all-new 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 is one of the available engines in Europe, and it, too, is impressively refined. It comes in two versions (204 or 245 hp), and we drove a front-wheel drive, CVT-equipped 204-hp version, and it's quite fast. Once you're moving, that is -- it suffers from what could be the worst off-the-line throttle response of any car we've ever experienced. Adding a smaller second turbo (as BMW did in their twin-turbo 3.0-liter six) would likely fix that problem, but this engine's fuel economy (44 mpg on the EU combined cycle versus 29 mpg for the supercharged gas engine) is a significant benefit.
Yes, both of those numbers would likely be unobtainable in the real world, but we suspect the US-market gas A7 to post impressive EPA numbers. Both the 8-speed transmission (in the A8) and the 3.0T (in the S4) have proven to be highly efficient. The A7's low coefficient of drag (0.30) will surely help there.
The A7 is a great looking, high-quality design compromise that seems to have no real drawbacks. Its low roof might afford it slightly less rear passenger and cargo room than, say, an A6 Avant wagon, but its additional elegance is probably a better match for the needs of luxury car buyers anyway. We look forward to driving a US-spec A7 on our own soil, but until then, we think Audi might have just leapfrogged the original CLS by skipping over two categories on the Cool Car Chart. Then again, we'll be driving the brand-new 2012 Mercedes CLS in a few weeks and it sounds like these two cars are ripe for a shootout.