2013 Audi S7 review:

Audi brings more power to its top tech car

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Audio sources are many for the S7's stereo, and include two SD card slots, an internal hard drive, and HD Radio. Bluetooth streaming audio is complemented by Wi-Fi audio, a unique feature. As I mentioned above, Audi has not integrated Internet-based audio sources.

2013 Audi S7
Audi's proprietary music port is annoying. The company should just go to a USB port, like everyone else. Josh Miller/CNET

Where Audi loses me is with its annoying proprietary port for external devices. In the S7, this port had an adapter cable with a 30-pin iOS plug. I have also seen Audi adapter cables for USB drives. I plugged in my iPhone 5 using a 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter, and everything worked fine, but Audi needs to scrap its port and standardize on USB, like every other automaker in the world.

Automatic stopping
The S7 also serves to show off some new driver-assistance technology from Audi. Although our car did not come equipped with it, Audi is now offering a head-up display, keeping it competitive with BMW. There is also an available night vision feature.

What the car did come with was blind-spot monitoring and a new adaptive cruise control system capable of bringing the S7 to a complete stop. As with systems from Ford and Mercedes-Benz, I could set the S7's speed and it would automatically slow down for traffic ahead.

2013 Audi S7
With adaptive cruise control active, the instrument cluster display shows the set speed and following distance. Josh Miller/CNET

With my foot hovering over the brake pedal, I let the car approach stopped traffic and felt it apply the brakes and hold position. When traffic started moving again, the car was slow to pick up the pace, so I coaxed it off the line with the gas pedal.

Approaching a line of stopped cars at speed, the S7 seemed like it was going to pull an emergency stop at the last minute. Not willing to test that capability, or its airbags, I resorted to my own brake work.

'S' means sport
Of course, the cabin electronics and driver assistance features are all available in the Audi A7, too. What sets the S7 apart is its engine and performance gear.

Through the Drive Select feature, I could customize the performance to a ridiculous level. On the LCD, the car offered Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual modes. Within Individual, it let me adjust throttle, steering, suspension, and even the exhaust sound.

2013 Audi S7
Drive Select lets you adjust an almost ridiculous amount of settings on the S7. Josh Miller/CNET

Putting the car into Dynamic mode also put the transmission into Sport mode, a nice, one-touch sort of feature. Too many cars require hitting three or four buttons to engage all the sport settings.

Dynamic mode tends to kill fuel economy, as the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a different gearbox than in the A7, keeps the revs up above 4,000.

I was impressed with the transmission whether in normal, Dynamic, or manual mode. It was a little slow to downshift in normal mode, but with Drive Select in Dynamic, it grabbed lower gears when I braked ahead of a turn, resulting in satisfying exhaust notes.

Quattro all-wheel drive comes standard on the S7, as it does on the A7, but the S7 also gets Audi's rear sport differential, which vectors torque across the rear wheels. Slewing the S7 down a twisting track, I could feel how the extra torque at the outside rear wheel helped push the car around the corners.

I found that the S7, like other high-strung sports cars, corners best under power. Letting it freewheel through the turns, something the Scion FR-S handles quite well, I could feel the S7's traction control systems stepping in to keep the car from sliding across the road.

The S7's electric power-steering system led to very precise control, but lacked the feedback of a hydraulic system. Most cars these days, even the Porsche 911, are going to electric power steering, something drivers will have to get used to. Even in Dynamic mode, the steering wheel felt very easy to turn. I would have appreciated at least a little more heft, which could have been programmed in.

2013 Audi S7
The brakes provide smooth stopping power, but the air suspension is not as capable as magnetic dampers. Josh Miller/CNET

One bit of gear in the S7 I found less impressive was the air suspension. Audi has used magnetically controlled dampers in other S models, which do a fantastic job of constantly adjusting the suspension to prevent sway. The air suspension firms up in Dynamic mode, but does not control the damping at individual wheels. In the turns, the S7 did not stay as flat as I would have liked.

The Dynamic exhaust sound was also not all that aggressive, at least from inside the cabin. When I opened the windows to let in the sound, the exhaust note, while definitely a stronger growl, seemed distant, as if it was coming from some other car. I suspect that Audi's sound damping, and the S7's active noise-cancellation system, worked against the Dynamic exhaust note.

Better than its precursor
The 2013 Audi S7 may not be the hottest sports car around, but it works as an impressive upgrade over the A7. Although about $10,000 more than the top A7 trim, the S7 comes standard with many worthwhile features. I particularly like the sport differential and dual-clutch transmission. The 1-mpg fuel economy sacrifice for an extra 110 horsepower shows some excellent engineering.

The connected features in the cabin are very impressive, especially the Google Earth integration, a feature unique to Audi at this time. I would opt for the Bang & Olufsen sound system, as it provides a dramatic increase in quality over the standard system. Where Audi falls behind BMW, its main rival, is in app integration. And there's Audi's stupid proprietary audio port.

The S7, with its hatchback sedan body, is one of the best-looking cars on the road. It offers practical interior space and I never tire of the aesthetics. The best thing about the S7 is that it works in so many capacities: daily commuter, road trip cruiser, and weekend sport driver.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Audi S7
Trim n/a
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 4-liter V-8, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.2 mpg
Navigation Standard hard drive-based navigation with traffic and Google Earth integration
Bluetooth phone support Standard, includes contact list integration
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, Wi-Fi, SD card, internal hard drive, iOS device, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Bose 630-watt 14-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base price $78,800
Price as tested $85,570

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