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2014 Audi A7 3.0 TDI review:

Efficient diesel engine meets connected tech

However, even in Dynamic mode, the steering wheel feels light, a typical Audi characteristic. A strongly boosted electric power-steering system means the wheel turns very easily, although its precision varies somewhat depending on the Drive Select setting. At speed, the wheel gains some heft, helping maintain a straight line on the freeway, for example.

2014 Audi A7 TDI
Audi's Drive Select feature allows a range of customization. Josh Miller/CNET

Not available on the A7 TDI is Audi's Sport Differential, which dynamically vectors torque across the rear wheels to aid cornering, nor does it have an adaptive suspension. However, I found the suspension tuning was a nice compromise between comfort and handling.

Having eight gears in the transmission also helps the car's fuel economy, giving the engine more speeds where it can remain in its sweet spot. At freeway speeds, it let the engine turn at a leisurely 1,100rpm.

The transmission includes a Sport mode and let me shift manually, using the stick or paddles on the wheel. But even with Sport engaged, the gear changes felt slow when I attempted to hit the A7 TDI's specced 5.5-second zero-to-60 mph time. It didn't snap off particularly quick changes when I used the paddles, either. In everyday driving, however, the transmission worked without fuss, never seeming to hunt for gears.

Photographic evidence
I've written lovingly in the past of Audi's cabin electronics, and the A7 TDI is no slouch in this regard. It comes standard with the same Google Earth-integrated navigation system as prior models, showing maps in perspective or plan view. For more traditional-minded drivers, the maps can be viewed in a more graphical format, but I like seeing actual photographic evidence of the terrain through which I'm passing.

Google Earth relies on a built-in data connection in the car, which also powers Google local search. I've used this to search for lunch places while on the go, and found it better, and more legal, than trying to fumble with my iPhone at 65 mph on the freeway. When I entered any search term in the car, it returned a list of nearby businesses. More useful would be something like Yelp integration, which would come up with not only local businesses but ratings for restaurants and the like.

2014 Audi A7 TDI
The newest service in Audi connected vehicles is detailed parking information. Josh Miller/CNET

The connected information services included in the A7 TDI are not well-known apps, but white-label weather, fuel, and location services. One useful new app Audi implemented showed me detailed parking information for garages in San Francisco, including hours, rates, and even space availability if the facility had the infrastructure to provide that information.

Whenever I set off in the A7 TDI, the infotainment system asked if I wanted to establish a data connection, which proved annoying time and time again. That might have been more of a press car problem, and I hope owners can do away with that prompt screen.

One area where a lot of automakers struggle is the cabin tech interface. Audi calls its the MMI, for multimedia interface. It consists of a central dial surrounded by four buttons, then four more buttons offering quick access to major functions such as navigation, audio, and phone. With familiarity, I've found that I don't need to look at the buttons to find the right function or menu.

The most impressive piece of this interface is the touch pad. Although only used for selecting radio presets, alphanumeric entry, and exploring the map, it is very cool technology. As I barreled down the freeway, I used it to enter a street address, tracing the letters for a street name. Its ability to recognize my crude tracings was near astounding.

Voice command is another option for entering addresses, placing phone calls, and controlling the stereo. It showed some good capabilities in the A7 TDI, such as letting me enter an address by saying the entire string at once. For selecting music, it was more limited, merely letting me ask for artists or albums from the onboard audio system.

This A7 TDI came optioned up with the Bang & Olufsen audio system, consisting of 15 speakers and 1,300 watts of amplification. I really like the sound from this system, finding it brings out elements of recordings that get squashed by inferior systems. However, low-bit-rate digital recordings sound terrible, as the system reveals all the flaws of compression.

Paving the way for a really awful audio source, Audi only includes a 30-pin iPhone connector for iOS integration. When I plugged in a Lightning adapter and my iPhone 5, the sound, coming through the cheap digital-analog converter in Apple's adapter, was atrocious. I wish Audi would include a standard USB port and let me plug any iOS device, or USB drive, directly into the car. From what I've been told, Audi merely plans on adding a Lightning cable adapter that will plug into the car's proprietary port.

Audi Music Streams app
With the Audi Music Streams app, I was able to listen to Internet radio streams from all over the world. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Bluetooth works for wireless audio streaming, but I had to access my phone to choose music. With a little Internet research, I figured out a way to stream music over the car's Wi-Fi connection from my iPhone. Android users can download the Audi Music Stream app to connect to the A7 TDI, and not only listen to music wirelessly over the car's Wi-Fi, but select music using the car's own interface.

For whatever reason, Audi has not released its Music Stream app for iOS in the US iTunes store. That app is available in other markets, so I created an account with the UK iTunes store, downloaded the free Audi Music Stream app, and installed it on my phone. The app opens up a world of music, not just that stored on my own iPhone, but a huge list of Internet-based radio stations from all over the world. Audi should be releasing a US version of its Music Stream app sometime next year with the launch of its new A3 model.

Best of many worlds
Those interested in a high-tech luxury sedan with exciting and practical body styling, and who also want excellent fuel economy, should definitely look toward the 2014 Audi A7 TDI. According to the EPA numbers, the A7 TDI boasts 8 mpg better, on average, than its gasoline counterpart. And for the majority of drivers, the few quirks of a diesel drivetrain will easily be accommodated. But as I pointed out above, those looking for an aggressive driving experience will have better options in the S7 and RS7.

The driver assistance features in the A7 TDI fall just short of the current cutting edge. The car can keep pace with traffic by itself and keep weary drivers from veering off into the weeds. Multiple camera views help avoid dents when parking, but there is no automated parking system, nor does the A7 TDI offer the kind of steering assist we saw in the Mercedes-Benz S550.

The cabin tech features are the A7 TDI's true glory, and Audi has shown it can build on its previous offerings, adding features such as the parking garage information app. However, Audi is currently not updating existing cars with new features. The built-in data connection is one of the best I've seen among production cars, and Audi uses it to feed interesting in-dash apps. I would like to see the sorts of apps I use every day on my phone integrated with the car.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Audi A7 TDI
Trim Prestige
Power train Turbocharged 3-liter V-6 diesel engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 24 mpg city/38 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 30.3 mpg
Navigation Standard hard-drive-based with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Wi-Fi streaming, Internet radio, onboard hard drive, SD card, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Bang & Olufsen 1,300-watt 15-speaker system
Driver aids HUD, night vision system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention, blind-spot monitor, front-view camera, rearview camera
Base price $66,900
Price as tested $81,395

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