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2019 Audi A7 first drive review: Slipstream luxury tech dream

Audi's fashion-forward fastback powers into its second generation with an eye toward the future of luxury.

2019 Audi A7

All-wheel drive systems like Audi's fabled Quattro have long done a good job of mitigating Mother Nature's punch, but even she can't always be denied. That was exactly the case in February, when nasty winter weather snarled air travel and prevented our man Tim Stevens from getting to the international launch of the 2019 Audi A7 in South Africa.

I felt genuinely bad for our editor in chief, but I was also quite pleased to belatedly score Roadshow's first drive of this second-generation slipstream four-door in its native element -- on the German Autobahn -- earlier this month.

First things first: You should know something about me, your author. My family owns a first-generation Audi A7, and while it's a relatively recent (certified pre-owned) purchase, we've found it to be a superlative and coddling performer. You may therefore choose to label this first drive story as either "biased," or give me the benefit of the doubt in believing that I know more about the A7's historic virtues and vices than the average bear.

With that formality out of the way, let's get to the car.

Grace, pace, space and that face

The original 2012-2018 A7 was an elegant but surprisingly useful grand tourer, with a long, low and fluid presence all its own. The new 2019 model is very similarly-sized, and it likewise casts a similar shadow. It builds on the original design legacy, copping the same hunkered-down stance thanks to a low, tapered roofline made possible by frameless doors and a long hatchback.

Yet the 2019 model also looks completely different, following Audi's recent trend toward more elaborately creased sheetmetal, more imposing grilles and more theatrical, glowering head- and tail-lamps that incorporate eye-catching start-up and shut-down light-show sequences. The look is certainly more modern, and inarguably more aggressive.

As has been the case with recent Audi designs (including everything from the TT sports coupe to the A4 sedan), I tend to favor the more organic, rounded and simpler forms of the generations that came before it, but that's a personal preference. There's no doubt the 2019 A7 is still a stunningly attractive and very premium-looking automobile.

All creased up and ready to battle against the Mercedes CLS and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

The 2019 A7 may be dimensionally similar to its antecedent, but it rides atop a very different framework, the Volkswagen Group's fast-becoming-ubiquitous MLB Evo architecture. Versions of MLB Evo underpin everything from the new A8 and A6 sedans to the Audi Q8 SUV, Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus. More of a toolkit of building blocks and production processes than a fixed platform, MLB Evo has been essentially excellent in everything we at Roadshow have driven, and predictably, it's a rock-solid partner in the new A7.

Screening room

If this new design looks more sharply creased but evolutionary from the outside, inside, it's a very different -- and much more tech-forward -- animal. As seen in these photos, the cabin is dominated by a new multi-screen iteration of MMI (Multi Media Interface), Audi's infotainment system. The multi-function jog wheel capped by a gesture pad is gone, as is the pop-up screen and much of the first A7's physical switchgear. In its place are a pair of billboard-sized (OK, 10.1-inch upper and 8.6-inch lower) haptic-feedback touchscreens, augmented by an available Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster and an excellent head-up display.

Having no fewer than four separate displays to relay information and toggle through sounds daunting, and indeed, I'm generally a skeptic when it comes to touchscreen-only solutions. I've long found that while such solutions work well for mobile phones, they tend to be inherently compromised and often frustrating performers in moving automobiles.

So many pixels, so little time.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Oh me, oh MMI

While not perfect, I'm prepared to say that Audi's MMI is the best multi-touchscreen system I've yet experienced. It's very powerful, very crisp, configurable, low latency, and most importantly, it's surprisingly intuitive. You can drag-and-drop shortcut icons to organize screens as you wish, and you have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at your disposal if you'd rather go that route. What's more, the flat-topped hammerhead gear selector functions beautifully as a wrist rest, ensuring a steady hand when toggling through HVAC or audio functions, or using your index finger to write in a destination or search term.

If there's a major annoyance factor once the system is learned, it's the screens' constant and persistent fingerprints. Some of them are not easily removed, and depending on one's viewing angle and the position of the sun, they can be all too visible.

What I like best about MMI is that quite often, there are multiple ways to access the same function, whether via menus, switchgear, natural voice control or personally set "favorite" functions. The system adapts to you, not the other way around, and makes it much easier to use. And, I must point out, Audi was smart enough to preserve the volume knob, which also toggles back and forth to advance radio stations and tracks.

Fingerprints are an unfortunate fact of life with this new system.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

First-rate furnishings

The rest of the A7's cabin is no less slick or covetable, with first-class leathers, low-gloss open-pore woods and real metal trim configured in both painstaking and artful fashion. There's also solid connectivity, including four USB ports, wireless charging and an SD card slot. Like the A8 above it and the A6 below it, the A7 offers a class-leading interior that feels entirely worthy of its no-doubt premium pricing.

Also as before, there's plenty of room to stretch out in front, while rear-seat passengers have surprisingly decent legroom (a bit more than before, in fact), and adequate headroom for a pair of 6-footers (taller if they're willing to slouch a bit). And there's also gobs of cargo room -- 19 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up, or an SUV-like 49 cubes with them folded. Those measurements are substantially more capacious than rivals like today's Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe. Indeed, they're more than longer, class-above sedans like the Mercedes-Benz S450 4Matic, and Audi's own 2019 A8 sedan.

Turbo hybrid lungs

At least until the inevitable sportier S7 and RS7 variants come along, the A7 will be available with one powertrain -- a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 mated to Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox with paddle shifters. Power is quoted at an unremarkable-sounding 340 horsepower, and torque is pegged at a that's-more-like-it 368 pound feet. 0-62 mph is quoted at 5.3 seconds, which would be plenty quick, but it feels slightly more rapid yet.

Three liters. Twin-scroll turbo. Forty-eight-volt hybrid assist. Zero waiting.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

This powertrain represents a significant change from the first generation, and not just because the old model employed a supercharger and a conventional eight-speed torque-converter cogswapper. The new A7 also has a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which not only works as an alternator and operates the stop/start function for fuel savings, it also allows for the recovery of up to 16 horsepower via regenerative braking. Further, the small electric motor allows for the engine to shut down completely and uncouple from the driveline imperceptibly for improved efficiency via coasting. Sadly, EPA fuel economy estimates are not yet available.

All of this may sound frighteningly complex -- and it is -- but whether doddling through picturesque little German villages, slogging through Munich stop-and-go traffic or blitzing the derestricted Autobahn at speeds well over 120 mph, know that the entire driveline operated in impressively seamless and unobtrusive fashion, with plenty of thrust throughout the rev range and very little noise.

This is a very well-executed powertrain, but by the same token, it's also not one whose exhaust or engine note will leave your neck hairs standing on end -- at least audibly, there's no Mr. Hyde lurking within this Dr. Jeckyll. This new A7 is just too demure and proper for that sort of thing, which is a bit of a shame considering it's capable of delivering so much performance.

Sadly, this isn't exhaust outlet trim. Spent gasses actually exit (quietly) below the fascia.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Improved handling*

My test car's ride and handling was appreciably better than our family's personal car (which I still find to be excellent), with noticeably keener turn-in and improved secondary impact harshness. There also seemed to be more differentiation between the various drive modes than my first-gen.

Despite all of this, I still need to issue an asterisk* for this car's performance: The A7 I drove was a Euro-spec example, fitted with hardware that won't be available on stateside models. That includes an optional adaptive air suspension and four-wheel steering, neither of which will be initially offered on North American models. (Keep an eye out for that equipment on the S7). Our A7s will come standard with a conventional adaptive steel suspension, and an available steel sport suspension that's firmer and sits slightly lower.

Indeed, it's not just the suspension and steering department where much of the good stuff is staying put in Audi's overseas cupboards. Like its newer Four-Ringed siblings, the A7 will be available around the world with a deep reserve of cutting-edge tech features, particularly in areas like advanced driver assist systems and trick lighting.

The A7's new face is a wrathful, scowling thing. With lidar.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Geofenced tech

Unfortunately, like its showroom siblings, many of these same features will not be available in the US -- at least not initially. Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot partially automated driving? Nope. Thank Washington for that. Matrix LED active headlights with laser high beams? Negatory, good buddy. Remote driverless Parking Pilot and Garage Pilot summon via smartphone? Unconfirmed for our market, and likely not coming until a subsequent model year (though it doesn't appear Audi can blame it on Congress).

Remarkably, though, even without that equipment, the A7 plays second fiddle on tech to no one in this or any other class. It still has a very advanced adaptive cruise control system with lane-keep assist, stop-and-go, and Audi's industry-first integrated lidar scanner. It will still offer a gorgeous-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system (complete with those James-Bond-villain-lair tweeters that raise and lower from the corners of the dashboard). It will still feature an updated 360-degree camera that now allows for a vaguely surreal 3D-like exterior view. And if you want, the A7's accelerator will even gently tap the bottom of your foot to urge you to speed up or decelerate based on the road's posted limits or your fuel-efficiency preferences. (It's not as intrusive or unenjoyable as it sounds.)

The best sort of acquired taste

Like its forebearer, the new 2019 Audi A7's styling and fastback configuration won't be for everyone. Its various trims, which will range between $68,000 and $73,600 (before options and $995 delivery) when it arrives this fall, will thin its herd of suitors even further. But as has been true since the first A7 bowed here in 2012, this new generation remains a paragon of grand-touring performance, poshness and style for those in the know.

Take the road less traveled, and you'll be happy if you arrive in an A7.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

First published on July 17, 2018.
Update August 9, 2018 at 12:47 p.m. PT: Newly released vehicle pricing information added.