In this industry, it’s incredibly cliche to have a thing for pre-Bangle era BMWs. I am aware it’s cliche, and I would probably be much more interesting if I had a thing for chain-driven Hondas or the Edsel, but I can’t help it. I love BMWs. I used to own one of the greats, and it’s stuck with me even after reviewing dozens of newer, supposedly better cars.
Since I’m a BMW guy, that also means I’m supposed to buy into BMW’s rivalry with Audi and Mercedes. Supposedly, Mercedes owners are all old men with bad backs who need to be coddled, and Audi owners are all self-entitled jerks.
At the same time, the BMW of the ’90s and early 2000s is not the BMW of today, and I’ll admit that my fandom doesn’t completely extend to the current lineup. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the M235i convertible recently, but what can I say — the X4 and the 3 Series GT don’t exactly scream, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” to me.
With my interest in the current generation of BMWs weakened, could there be room for a cross-town rival to work its way in and steal my heart? After eight days with the 2016 Audi A7 TDI, I’m starting to think the answer is a definite maybe.
Right off the bat, I was surprised by how much attention I got in the A7. I think it’s an attractive car, and I’d even go so far as to say I think it’s a beautiful car, but on the list of vehicles you expect to draw a lot of attention, you usually have something like the Alfa Romeo 4C, the BMW i8, and the Jaguar F-Type towards the top. What you don’t usually think to add is a five-door Audi.
I’ll admit I got more attention the one time I drove a Rolls-Royce Ghost for a few hours, but the attention in the A7 was still far more constant than I’m used to. At least one person either took a picture or a video of me, one guy almost backed into me in his truck trying to get a better look in the parking lot, and pedestrians on the sidewalk regularly checked the car out as I drove by.
I’m not foolish enough to believe anyone was actually checking me out, but I have to say, if this is what it’s like to have a great butt, maybe I need to do more squats.
It’s also worth pointing out, though, that the attention I received while driving the A7 was entirely from men. As we all know, the overwhelming majority of women don’t care about what car a guy drives, and that includes the Audi A7. If you want to know why you should buy this over a comparable Audi A6, it’s because beauty is important even if it won’t attract women, and the A7 brings that to the table in spades.
Over the past several years, Audi has also gained a reputation for building some of the best interiors in the business, and I can confirm that the A7 didn’t disappoint in that regard at all. The Nougat Brown leather looked and felt great, the abundance of naturally-finished walnut wood truly classed up the cabin, and as always, the design was modern and attractive.
Your main touchpoint in the cabin, though, is always going to be the steering wheel, and if a manufacturer phones it in on there, it can easily mar the rest of the driving experience. On the other hand, a great steering wheel contributes to a truly enjoyable experience, and in my opinion, the A7’s steering wheel is absolute perfection.
I actually had to regularly stop myself from bringing it up in conversations because as I’ve found out, normal people don’t enjoy conversations on the merits of different steering wheels.
As far as interior packaging goes, despite the coupe-like shape, there was a surprising amount of room inside the A7. Four adults could easily ride for several hours in there, and they would be room for a weekend’s worth of stuff, too, because the liftback meant the A7 was basically all trunk. I kept trying to come up with enough things to put in there as a way of illustrating how practical it was for hauling cargo, but apparently I lack enough things to fill a car with. Oh well.
Where the A7 really showed its brilliance, though, was when my fiancée Kate and I decided to spend Labor Day in Portland, Maine. It was about a two hour drive from Boston to Portland, which meant I had plenty of seat time to figure out exactly what the A7 was made of on the trip. Mostly, though, I was interested in what kind of mileage I would get since the A7 I was driving wasn’t your run-of-the-mill gasoline version and was, instead, a diesel.
I’ve driven several of Audi’s parent company Volkswagen’s cars that had diesel engines, and they were all pretty good, but as you would expect in a luxury car, the 3.0-liter V6 was significantly more refined. Unless I had specifically been told it was a diesel, I probably would have thought I was driving a conventional gas-powered car. The engine only makes 240 horsepower, but 428 pound-feet of torque more than make up for it.
If power and performance are your top priorities, you’ll want to go with the S7 or RS7, but that doesn’t mean the A7 TDI was a wet noodle. Acceleration was strong especially in the midrange, and with the car in Dynamic mode, it was more than willing to hustle whenever I asked it to.
But what it really wanted to do was cruise. I commended the Chrysler 300C on its comfort and refinement during my last road trip to New York City, but the A7 was in a completely different league. The $30,000 price difference probably had something to do with that, but I digress. Changing from Dynamic mode to Comfort mode smoothed everything out, allowing me to sit back and enjoy the excellent sound system, the exceptionally-comfortable seats, and of course the spectacular steering wheel.
Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability worked well with Audi’s active lane assist to make the trip as stress-free as possible no matter what the traffic situation was like, and the available WiFi hotspot meant we didn’t have to drain our data to stream music, which was a relief.
The fly in the ointment, though, was Audi’s MMI infotainment system. It was about as good as an infotainment system that doesn’t use a touchscreen could be, and the voice commands mostly worked, but why wouldn’t Audi include a touchscreen? I’ve been told that the preference for touchscreens is mostly an American thing and that Europeans prefer not to use them, but even BMW’s iDrive has a one now.
It’s not that you can’t use MMI in its current form. It would just be so much easier to use if it had a touchscreen, especially when you’re battling to input an address into the navigation system. In what’s an otherwise spectacular car, it’s frustrating to have to deal with that one inconvenience.
Speaking of spectacular, though, probably the best thing about the A7 TDI was the gas…er…diesel mileage it got. Despite crawling through miles of slow-moving traffic – a diesel engine’s worst enemy – for nearly an hour on the way home, my round trip fuel economy came out to just under 38 miles per gallon. Had I just gotten in the car and not stopped driving, I don’t doubt I could have gone more than 800 miles without needing to stop and refill.
If you’re looking to truly maximize your fuel economy, adaptive cruise control is perfect for drafting as safely as possible. The technology certainly isn’t exclusive to Audi, but since it continually maintains the same distance between your car and the car in front of you, it’s perfect for hanging out behind a motor home or tractor trailer and getting those MPGs as high as possible. If I’d had the patience to actually do that the whole trip, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the A7 had averaged closer to 50 miles per gallon instead of 40.
Anyone who does most of their driving in the city would probably be better off with a hybrid, but for a luxury sedan as large as the A7 TDI, the fuel economy is simply astounding. If you happen to be, say, a businessperson who regularly drives all over your region, it’s hard to imagine a car you’d enjoy more for less than $100,000.
Yes, opting for the diesel over the gasoline engine adds a little more than $2,000 to the price of the A7, but not only will you get significantly better fuel economy with the diesel, you’ll also spend less on fuel thanks to premium gasoline now costing significantly more per gallon. Combined with the convenience of having to fill up less frequently, I say the extra cost is totally worth it.
Considering that the A7 TDI starts at $70,400 and can easily end up with another $10,000 in options like my tester, it certainly isn’t a cheap car, but midsize luxury sedans are all going to cost a good bit of money. The advantage of buying the Audi A7 TDI is that not only does it have an exceptionally long range and return spectacular fuel economy, it also good looking and incredibly cool.
In fact, it might be the coolest luxury cruiser you can buy.