Once upon a time, there were two types of European luxury cars. The Germans built solid but dull-looking sedans adorned sparingly with wood trim and leather upholstery. Read any car magazine from the 1980s, and the description for every Teutonic luxo-barge invoked the words “somber,” “businesslike,” and “conservative,” in conjunction with the requisite “built like a tank” and “carved from granite.” The other option, for all intents and purposes, was a Jaguar. Not built like a tank, not carved from granite, but “feline” and “sexy,” a virtual “club room on wheels,” if completely unreliable on a rainy day. But those days are long gone; Jaguars are now solid and reliable (thank the CAN-BUS for finally eliminating dozens of Lucas relays) and the Germans have figured out how design cars with their hearts as well as their heads. The best example of the latter must certainly be Audi’s new A7.
Essentially an A6 that’s had an extreme makeover, the A7 is Audi’s entry in to la mode du jour, the four-door grand touring coupe segment. Defying the company mantra of “lead, never follow,” Audi is essentially the last entrant into a class that Mercedes inaugurated with the CLS and others from Volkswagen to Porsche to Aston Martin have joined in the recent past. It’s a car for the emotional, creative right half of the brain, whereas the A6 satisfies the logical, orderly concerns of the left hemisphere.
The silhouette of the body looks like it was snared from another era in automotive history, specifically a time when Volkswagen, Audi and practically everyone else outsourced a lot of their styling to Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign studios. References to Giugiaro’s work — from the first VW Scirocco to the Alfa Romeo GTV6 — resonate most strongly in the profile view, particularly at the rear where the long, fastback roofline meets the waist before descending into an undercut rear faÃ§ade. Rather than look retro though, the A7 looks very modern and sophisticated — a Prada driving loafer for the mean streets of Monaco or Milan.
The exterior sets the tone for an equally ambitious interior, and really, we expect nothing less from an Audi at this point. The cockpit of the A7 manages to make even other Audis look staid and restrained by comparison, with its deeply sculpted door panels, wrap-around waistline and ultra-cool matte-finished wood trim. It’s as though someone in Ingolstadt got hold of Coventry’s old playbook and did some very clever updating for the way the game is played today. Even the seats look more like they were inspired by those in an XK150 than a German Stadtbus, with sculpted, curved cushions instead of leather-covered blocks.
Space inside the low-slung sedan (it’s not really a coupe) is better than its outward appearance would suggest, particularly in the rear. The two back-seat passengers occupy a space that at once feels generous as well as cozy; shoulder and legroom are great, but the unorthodox greenhouse created by the sweeping roof feels a bit more cocoon-like, in much the same way that the second row of a Beechcraft Bonanza does. And really, in our book either one is a great way to arrive in style.
Modern Audis have become known for their cutting-edge infotainment systems, and the A7 doesn’t disappoint in this department. Ours showed up with the optional MMI touch option, which allows for fingertip-written inputs to the navigation system and phone. Paired with MMI touch in Audi’s Premium Plus package is another new feature, Audi connect, allowing your mobile phone to connect the A7 to the outside world, delivering real-time data such as Google Earth navigation, or turning the A7 into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices at a time. Our one regret is that we couldn’t pack it up for a family-style road trip, with everyone tirelessly checking their email and Facebook updates with each passing mile.
Our A7 included an engine and transmission as well; a 3.0-liter V6 with a supercharger making 310 hp and 325 lb-ft, which it feeds to a very decent eight-speed automatic before splitting it four ways via the ubiquitous Quattro system. But it hardly matters. Just look at the thing.
Shallow though it may sound, the A7 isn’t the kind of luxury car you choose after scrutinizing its spec sheet. This is one you’ll buy for the sheer satisfaction of seeing it in your garage or your reserved spot at the office. And really, isn’t the choice of personal adoration over logic the mark of true luxury?