2012 Audi A7 review:

2012 Audi A7

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Along with hard-drive storage for music, Audi includes its proprietary interface, a port to which you can attach cables for iPod, USB, Mini-USB, and auxiliary jack. This port resides in the console in a spot easily reachable by the driver. Audi also persists in including SD card slots as a music source in the car, a little overkill considering all the other audio sources. But Audi has not jumped on the Bluetooth streaming bandwagon yet, so a wireless connection for MP3 players is still not an option.

The base Bose audio system boasts impressive specs, such as 14 speakers and a 600-watt amp. In any other car that would be the premium system, but buyers have the option to kick it up a notch with an audiophile-quality Bang & Olufsen system. The car delivered to CNET only had the Bose system, which delivered better quality sound than most, yet it did not make the listening experience as sublime as it could have been with the Bang & Olufsen system. The Bose system adequately filled the cabin and delivered good audio separation, but the bass never felt punchy, and the highs never reached ear-elevating glory.

Audio options in the Audi A7
The A7 is available with one of three audio systems, including a premium Bose system and an uber-premium Bang & Olufsen rig. Josh Miller/CNET

CNET's review car also lacked the night vision and head-up display options, new driver assistance features for Audi. In a separate demonstration, the head-up display looked very good, using full color to show digital speed, route guidance, and other information.

This A7 came with blind-spot detection as part of the Audi Side Assist package, which includes power folding mirrors. The blind-spot detection worked very well, lighting up a row of LEDs in the side mirrors when cars were in the A7's blind spot. And, of course, the A7 had Audi's excellent backup camera, which displays trajectory lines that show where the car will go depending on how the wheels are turned.

Supercharged engine
Although the flagship A8 has a V-8 engine, Audi, in its quest for fuel efficiency, fitted the A7 with a V-6. But instead of merely cutting out a couple of cylinders, Audi fits this direct-injection 3-liter V-6 with a supercharger, pumping it up to 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The same engine used in the new Audi S4, it gets the A7 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.4 seconds.

Audi A7 engine bay
The 3.0-liter V-6 sits at the heart of the A7, delivering 310 supercharged horsepower. Josh Miller/CNET

Along with direct injection, Audi throws in an eight-speed automatic transmission and electric power steering to boost fuel economy. The result is 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway in EPA testing; not bad, especially given the size of the A7. In testing over freeways, mountain roads, and city traffic, CNET's A7 showed an average of 17.5 mpg, below the EPA range, and probably due to overuse of the thirsty supercharger.

The car performs very differently depending on its settings. Audi makes its Drive Select system standard on the A7, which lets the driver tune the steering and engine response for sport or comfort. Likewise, the eight-speed transmission has Sport and Manual shift modes.

Set everything to Comfort, and the car trundles smoothly forward, with a detuned throttle making for leisurely input and the transmission reaching for its highest gears. The steering feels pleasantly powered, making for easy turning even if the car is stopped. However, as CNET's A7 had the optional sport suspension (which comes bundled with larger 20-inch wheels with summer performance tires), the ride quality became harsh when driving over rough pavement. Adaptive suspension technology is not available on the A7.

With the car set to Dynamic and the transmission in Sport mode, the A7 takes on a subtly different character. It doesn't suddenly become a growling, tense sports car. Instead, the throttle becomes more enjoyable and the steering tightens up. The transmission is more prone to holding low gears, letting the engine speed rise.

Audi A7 Drive Select screen
The A7's character can be adjusted and customized via the Drive Select system. Josh Miller/CNET

The car's full acceleration becomes available, and it slips through corners as if that were its career. Given the size of the A7, it seems like it should get out of sorts when thrown into a corner at speed. But the sport-tuned suspension does a good job of keeping it grounded, while Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive, standard on the A7, contributes to the handling.

The A7's Quattro comes standard with a torque-vectoring rear differential, and Audi combines that capability with the braking system. In a corner, the A7 lightly touches the brakes on the inside wheels. The result of all this technology is that the car rotates neatly at corner apexes, with a palpable sense of its rear shuffling out to point the front of the car in the right direction.

Like many sport luxury cars, the A7 lessens power assist for its steering system as speed increases, to enhance road-feel. But Audi leans toward a luxury feel, even when the car is in its Dynamic setting. As such, the steering always feels a little too easy, lacking serious engagement.

In sum
With its Google Earth navigation system, connected features, Bang & Olufsen audio system, and array of driver assistance features, the 2012 Audi A7 earns a perfect score for cabin tech, raising the bar for future cars. The lack of Bluetooth audio streaming is a small drawback for the stereo, although some will miss that more than others.

The performance tech also achieves an outstanding rating. The engine and transmission are as cutting-edge as they come, short of electrification. Audi chose not to put adaptive suspension technology in the A7. However, Quattro and the braking system make up for it in the corners.

The cabin tech interface is also near-perfect, with the touch pad making it very simple to enter alphanumeric characters and the elliptical onscreen menus being easy to navigate. The car is very good-looking with a unique design, while the hatchback gives the sedan form a practical edge.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Audi A7
Trim Prestige
Power train Supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 17.5 mpg
Navigation Hard-drive-based with traffic and Google integration
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player Single MP3-compatible CD player, optional MP3-compatible 6-CD changer
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, USB drive, SD card, HD radio, satellite radio, auxiliary audio input
Audio system Bose 600-watt, 14-speaker system
Driver aids Night vision, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, blind-spot detection, rearview camera
Base price $59,250
Price as tested $66,080

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