2016 Audi S7 up on power, and just about everything else

For the 2016 model year, Audi increased the power from the S7's 4-liter engine, upgraded the cabin electronics with an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and 4G LTE data, added new driver assist features as part of its Audi Presence package and includes standard LED headlights. At an event sponsored by Audi to offer me and other journalists a chance to drive the car, product manager Anthony Foulk merely referred to all this as a "facelift."

That facelift represents more upgrades than you get in many other models' generational updates.

To be fair, stylistic changes to the S7 are only modest, giving the grill a look in keeping with other recently updated Audi models and giving the running lights a new treatment. And on a more substantial note, the model's platform remains unchanged.

2016 Audi S7
The S7 uses brilliant performance engineering to handle curving mountain roads, then deliver a refined ride on city streets. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The S7, the sport-oriented version of the A7, shows off a beautifully designed body, a sort of fastback sedan, complete with a rear hatch. The gracefully curved roofline lacks the frumpiness of a typical sedan, while that rear hatch contributes to cargo practicality. Accentuating the sporting nature of the S7, Audi trims the cabin in carbon fiber, adding a red thread to the weave in this 2016 model, helping to differentiate what has become a typical, and often fake, interior cue.

To wring more power out of the S7, Audi engineers updated the software in the 4-liter V-8 engine, which uses direct injection and includes two turbochargers nestled between the cylinder banks. Total output now hits 450 horsepower, up 30 over the previous model year, and 406 pound-feet of torque. Combined with the seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission, Audi posts a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds.

At this press event, I drove the 2016 S7 along the sinuous roads running through the jagged mountains and canyons just outside Malibu, California, an area that seems perfectly designed for the S7's capabilities. And I might not be alive today if it weren't for the S7's handling technology.

I usually have to pair up with another journalist at these types of events. Lacking any obvious professional training, my partner drove far beyond his abilities, failing to brake at all before diving into sharp turns, repeatedly putting the car into a slide and applying the brakes when things had already gone wrong. I imagined how these situations would have turned out in a more basic car, one that lacked the handling technologies of the S7, and gripped the door handle that much tighter.

A number of technologies help the S7 out in the turns, such as an air suspension that firms up in the car's Dynamic mode, minimizing body roll in the corners. Audi's legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system comes into play here, pushing torque between front and rear wheels, along with a sport program for the electric power steering rack. And much help came from Audi's Sport Differential, and optional piece of equipment for the S7 that actively vectors torque across the rear wheels, putting more twist to the outside wheel in a turn to help the car come around.

2016 Audi S7
The S7 takes advantage of Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive development and an adaptive suspension to aid handling. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

When I got behind the wheel, driving in what I like to think was a more professional manner, I delighted at how the S7 seemed to mold itself to the undulations in the road. Putting on the power at a turn apex, I could feel the rear end neatly come around, taking advantage of that outside wheel torque. Combined with the tremendous on-tap power from the engine, it was a sublime experience.

Adding to the fun, the dual-clutch transmission did a creditable job in its Dynamic mode, automatically downshifting in response to my braking. In manual mode it shifted quickly and effortlessly at the command of the steering wheel-mounted paddles, my only gripe being this minimal size of those paddles. Each downshift, whether automatic or manual, made the exhaust sound off with a deep-throated burble, thanks to the S7's sport exhaust.

Even with all its luxury trappings, I believe the S7 would be a rewarding car to take out on a track day.

Switching the car's DriveSelect function to Comfort among the traffic of the Pacific Coast Highway led to a very refined ride, the S7 tempering its bestial nature to cruise pleasantly at low speeds. Even the engine and transmission were smooth at zero-to-10 mph surges through traffic, the initial power from the V-8 more than enough to contentedly propel the car without drama. I had previously been impressed with the Audi S5's ability to go from canyon carver to executive commute-mobile at the push of a button, and I think the S7 does this transition even better.

My only wish is that Audi would make the Sport Differential standard equipment, as it contributes so much to the S7's handling.

2016 Audi S7
The S7 hits a sweet spot in everyday practicality and sport performance between the standard A7 and the potent RS 7. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

On the pure tech side, Audi demonstrates its electronic upgradeability with the S7, using modular hardware in the dashboard that lets the company upgrade the model's chip to Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor, without having to change boards, display or controls. That chip allowed for new software, adding features to the S7's Multimedia Interface, such as the ability to show Google Earth navigation imagery on the instrument cluster display.

Connected features include services such as fuel prices, weather, a guide to local landmarks and social media integration.

The model I drove included a head-up display, technology I hadn't used in an Audi before. The imagery projected on the windshield was crisp, but seemed limited to vehicle speed, basic route guidance and driver assistance system warnings. For the Audi Presence package, the S7 gets short- and long-range radar front and rear, combined with a forward-facing camera, enabling features such as lane departure prevention, adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning. The S7 can even warn you of other cars approaching too fast from the rear.

Further up in the model line, Audi offers the 560 horsepower RS 7, but I think the 2016 S7 hits a sweet spot. At 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, averaging above 20 mpg is within the realm of possibility. You can drive the S7 to work every day in perfect comfort, then take it to the track on a weekend. Especially with adaptive cruise control, longer trips should be a breeze.

Pricing is, of course, steep. US buyers will be looking at a base of $82,900, but the only option you really need is the Sport Differential. Audi standardizes the S7's drivetrain across international markets, so UK buyers are looking at £63,420 for the same basic car. Australian Audi fans will need to come up with AU$194,043.

Editor's note: CNET accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All fuel and vehicle insurance costs are covered by CNET. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. 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 judgements and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid content.

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