Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Given that a typical full-time auto critic may drive upwards of 50 to 100 new vehicles a year, you might think that this scenario would happen far more often. By "this scenario," I mean discovering an Own Money Vehicle -- a new car or truck that a reviewer could envision happily purchasing with his or her personal funds. At least for me, such moments typically only crop up a few times a year. Happily, the 2016 Audi A7 is just such an occasion.
Admittedly, I fell hard for this aluminum-bodied five-door back in late 2010 upon first driving the then-forthcoming 2012 model. All of the qualities that I loved five years ago, including the A7's sensuously sleek liftback shape, impeccably trimmed cabin, surprising utility and sterling road manners remain very much in place. Fortunately, Audi's mid-cycle refresh hasn't undone any of the original A7's good work, and the slight facelift and updated technology only serve to underscore the model's elegance and appeal. For a car that I first drove nearly five years ago, this Audi doesn't seem to have aged much. In fact, like an automotive Jennifer Aniston or George Clooney, it seems utterly immune to the ravages of time.
Aesthetically, Audi hasn't messed with a good thing. Up front, there's a more sharply creased front fascia with newly standard LED headlamps and a subtly redefined single-frame grille. The elegantly tapered profile view remains much the same, save some tweaked side sills and new wheel patterns. Out back sit redesigned LED tail lamps, a new gloss-black lower diffuser, and exhaust outlets that have morphed from traditional round pipes to nicely integrated trapezoidal units. If anything, the A7's redesigned visage is slightly more aggressive, but its overall aesthetic remains very much the same.
The interior's first impression suggests that little has changed for 2016, as well. This is the same low-slung, stunningly well-crafted cabin as before, with seating for four (five in a pinch) and premium materials everywhere the hand falls. The differences lie below the surface, and they're almost entirely technological in nature. In the main, there's a next-generation infotainment controller integrating Apple Siri Eyes Free, online traffic information from Inrix and streaming Web radio. The later is made possible by the new AT&T 4G LTE data connection that also supplies in-car Wi-Fi through an Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset. Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) rotary controller/gesture touchpad operation scheme remains mercifully untouched, and the entire system seems to respond more quickly than before, particularly when it comes to downloading Google Maps or using Google Online Search to find your navigation destination. Audi still offers one of the best, most feature-rich infotainment systems on the market.
Unlike the fully digital gauge cluster on Audi's all-new TT sports car, the A7 holds on to its analog speedometer and tachometer, which are separated by a multifunction TFT display. That's a bit surprising, but like a fine wristwatch always has a mechanical movement instead of a digital readout, this solution also seems classier (especially given how artfully the gauges are canted inward). Besides, most of the car's salient secondary information is conveyed via the center-stack's gyrating 8-inch screen, the aforementioned in-cluster readout or the new head-up display.
Omissions? At the moment, there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, although Audi has pledged to begin integrating both into their lineup this year. There's also still no panoramic moonroof available, but given that the A7's arching roofline already prioritizes fashion over second-row scalps, perhaps that's no big loss.
As before, this exclusively all-wheel-drive lineup starts with the base A7 seen here. It arrives powered by a 3-liter supercharged V6 (ignore the 3.0T script on the hatch lid, there's no turbo under the hood), and there's also a torquey TDI diesel model and S7 and RS 7 high-performance variants. For 2016, Audi has turned the wick up on the standard A7, and it now produces 333 horsepower (an increase of 23) and 325 pound-feet of torque. Accordingly, acceleration for this 4,288-pound hatchback improves slightly, with the official 0-60 mph estimate dropping by two-tenths to 5.2 seconds, but it seems quicker. Top speed continues to be electronically capped at 130 mph.
Power delivery via the eight-speed automatic is effortless, and with peak torque manifest from 2,900 rpm, progress never feels lazy. Nor do things ever feel overly frenetic, especially since the 3-liter's soundtrack is surprisingly muted through the acoustically laminated windshield and double-glazed side glass. This is not a snarly executive express -- for that you'll want the S7 or the RS 7 -- the A7 simply acquires speed smartly, in an unruffled manner.
While I'm normally a manual-transmission sort of shoe (or at least favor a dual-clutch setup), this torque-converter gearbox suits the unflustered, dignified character of the A7 so well that I never missed a third pedal, let alone Audi's S Tronic DCT. That almost never happens. Besides, when DIY shifting is called for, there are reasonably responsive paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel spokes.
When it comes time to do more than commute, the A7 obliges with sharp mid-range punch, strong grip, minimal body roll and eager turn-in. It's no lightweight, nor is it particularly eager to rotate in hot corners, but its underlying sinews firm up nicely in a way that builds confidence (particularly with Audi Drive Select in Dynamic mode). Over a sweeping B-road, the A7 is capable of seriously fleet progress that will put a smile on your face, but its size suggests it won't be anyone's first choice for a tight mountain road.
As is true with its Porsche Panamera rival, the A7's generous wheelbase and large trunk means the A7 is also very well suited to interstate cruising. For 2016, it has slightly longer legs, too -- EPA fuel economy estimates have improved to 30 miles per gallon highway (20 city) from last year's 28 and 18 ratings. With a 19.8-gallon tank, nearly 600 miles of cruising range is in sight. I averaged 23.8 miles per gallon in spirited, mixed driving.
When it first launched, the A7 was among the leaders in advanced safety tech, but the game has moved on considerably since the 2012 model first hit showrooms. Accordingly, the 2016 model is available with a suite of new driver-assistance features, including improved adaptive cruise control that works in conjunction with active lane-keep assist to enable what is effectively semi-autonomous driving. The lane-keep technology, which uses the electric power steering to keep the vehicle from wandering outside of one's lane, is effective, but it can also be intrusive. That's because it's possible to feel the system making minute corrections to the driver's intended path, spoiling steering feel in the process. After a while, I switched the system off, and found the newly unchaperoned steering to be slightly light in weight but quick and accurate.
Other new assistance features available for 2016 include blind-spot assist, secondary collision assist (which automatically brakes the car after a crash in an effort to avoid subsequent impacts), as well as parking assistance and night-vision systems.
Admittedly, the A7's value equation remains somewhat hard to rationalize. With a starting price of $69,225 and this optioned-up, as-delivered tester brandishing a substantial bottom line of $77,725, the A7 is for all intents and purposes a sexier A6 with less rear-seat room at a not-inconsiderable price penalty -- roughly $10,000. (The story is much the same in the UK, where a base 3-liter gas V6 model runs about £53,000, while pricing for Australian market is not readily available).
And yet, as nice as Audi's A6 sedan is, it's never made me feel like I'm the custodian of rolling sculpture the way the A7 manages on a day-in, day-out basis. My practical side tells me the A7 justifies at least part of its premium because of its massive hatchback's added utility, but deep down, I know all of the real reasons why this is an Own Money Vehicle for me, and I'm perfectly okay with that.
You will be, too.