The Audi S7 gives such a great first impression that it could sell shares in Halliburton to Bernie Sanders. It’s exceptionally handsome, as any executive-class four-door ought to be, and it feels like an ingot on wheels. It will recalibrate a driver’s sense of what the words “solidity” and “responsiveness” can mean in a $90,000 luxury sedan.
Updated for 2016 with more power, technical improvements, and mild but successful design tweaks outside and in, this is essentially the same car that made our 2013 10Best list and would have joined its A6/S6/A7 stablemates on the 2014 list, had its base price not risen above the $80,000 price cap.
Compared with the 2013 S7 we ran through a 40,000-mile long-term test, the 2016 edition tested here has gained 30 horsepower for a total of 450 from the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. That’s still a lower state of tune than in other applications (500 horsepower in the Bentley Flying Spur and 560 in the Audi RS7), although it has the same output in the more conventional S6 sedan.
We already were fans of Audi’s MMI infotainment and telematics system and its integration with the large driver-information panel between the speedo and the tach. These have both been updated—4G LTE connectivity, Apple Siri Eyes Free integration, and web radio streaming are new—while the rest of the cabin offers fresh trim options (our test car had carbon fiber). The quilted-leather environs were assembled to Audi’s usual high standard.
With the extra ponies, this 2016 model shaves 0.4 second off the zero-to-60-mph time, but only in comparison to our long-termer when it was similarly new. After 40,000 miles, that car could edge the 2016’s 3.9-second run to 60, both employing the built-in launch control. We can’t say how this one would fare after similar break-in, but it’s basically a dead heat to 100 mph and through the quarter-mile in the low 12s. There has been no change in peak torque, but in the 2016 car the power plateaus 300 rpm higher in the rev band. Crossing our scales at 4508 pounds, this test car was 49 pounds heavier than the 2013 example, a negligible one percent change.
Its track numbers reflect performance ability beyond what most drivers can use in daily driving. If speed is the object (and money isn’t one), there’s always the more raucous RS7 to consider, although our Lightning Lap experience suggests that those seeking a track-day companion ought to keep shopping. These are large, roomy, luxurious cars that do a lot of things well, including going fast, but the mass alone should warn off the boy-racers.
That said, the S7’s chassis makes it feel lighter and smaller during hard runs on entertaining roads, where the engine’s performance is matched by the ability to stop from 70 mph in 162 feet and corner at 0.97 g. The latter figure shades our long-termer’s already impressive skidpad performance of 0.91 g, thanks to optional 21-inch wheels (our long-termer had 19s) and the wider, lower-profile rubber that comes with them. The Sport package fitted to this test car is $3500 well spent, as it brings Audi’s Dynamic Steering, the Quattro Sport rear differential with torque vectoring, and a sport exhaust system with black tips. Audi says the electronically controlled rear diff has been recalibrated for 2016 to get better response and agility—on our long-termer, drivers both praised this system for making the all-wheel-drive S7 feel more like a rear-drive car and complained about it feeling twitchy near the limits. Our track driver praised the 2016 car’s balance and impressive grip, and we didn’t experience anything that felt nervous in hard driving.
The extra power and broadened torque curve offset some of the soft throttle response and inconsistent behavior of the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that we noticed in our long-term car. Lag from the turbos isn’t the problem so much as is a mushiness to the initial throttle tip-in, as if the electronics are waiting to see if the driver really wants all the car can deliver. The gearbox delivers crisp and immediate shifts when the driver uses the manual-mode paddles, but it can still be caught out if left to choose gears on its own while going hard. It seems uncertain whether the driver is going to press on or ease off, and it’s happier with an aggressive driver than a more easygoing one, at least in Sport mode. These issues, however, detract little from what is surely among the most satisfying cars in its class when pressed into performance-driving duty.
Daily life with any car is spent far from the edges of the envelope. A luxury car that can deliver either sporting performance or extraordinary comfort depending on the driver’s needs of the moment, well, that’s what people spend the money for, isn’t it? Just as we found with the long-termer, the fact that the S7 is a hatchback with a useful cargo area made life even easier. It readily handled an ambitious stocking-up-for-fall run to Costco even without folding the back seat. That was after we wrung it out on the roads snaking around the local lakeshore and before an easy cruise to appreciate autumn colors en route to dinner and a movie.
Which all makes it seem like $95,000 worth of car. Options on this one included the $2700 Black Optic package of 21-inch wheels wearing summer performance tires, body-color exterior mirrors, and gloss-black trim. Nice, but we might skip it, especially since those big wheels and 30-section tires made for a harsh ride on rough pavement, not to mention our experience with costly flat tires and damaged wheels even with the smaller rolling stock on our long-termer. Decide for yourself on the Driver Assistance package ($2450) with adaptive cruise control, Pre-Sense Plus collision warning, active lane assist, corner-view camera system, and automatic high-beams. These systems worked fine. We’d prefer to pay attention, though, especially when the car is so engaging to drive, but the reality is that these are luxuries many buyers desire.
Other extras included $575 for Daytona Gray pearl-effect paint and $2500 for the Audi Design Selection of Arras Red interior with carbon-twill inlays, a cosmetic enhancement that seems pricey but one the driver could appreciate every day. Choosing this car over the subtler S6 body employing the same hardware already is an investment in design, so you might as well dress it up.
The S7 has been one of our favorite cars, and it has been made better with a midterm freshening. Spell check tells us “favoriter” isn’t a word, but this car argues that it should be.