We Americans are schizophrenic when it comes to the subject of the hatchback. Except for a handful of sporty compacts and urban runabouts, many consider driving one a down-market move. Most car buyers prefer what they consider to be a proper trunk—lockable, secure and something that keeps items out of the gaze of would-be criminals. Yet, adding a large rear hatch and expanded cargo hold is key to the appeal of the taller, higher-riding crossover, the best-selling type of vehicle on today’s roads. So, go figure.
The no-hatch rule is even more ironclad when it comes to luxury cars—with a few notable exceptions. One is the subject of this review, the Audi A7. You may not have even noticed that this surprisingly nubile sibling of the mid-luxury Audi A6 is a hatchback—albeit with not as large a rear portal as found in most SUVs and crossovers.
Clever, Those Audi Designers
The tricky part for the A7’s designers was integrating the large hatch into the rear lines of the car so well that it doesn’t call attention to itself. Get the proportions wrong, and you end up with something like the terminally conflicted and clunky-looking Honda Accord Crosstour—and we all know how well that turned out. For the hatchback-deniers, the A7 is a stylish 4-door luxury sedan with a sleek, coupe-like roofline. That’s the A7’s stylish side. Then there’s the A7’s practical side with this incredibly roomy trunk, accessed by the huge hatch opening. At 24.5 cubic feet, the A7 has nearly double the trunk room of the A6 sedan and more luggage space than the biggest, nastiest Crown Vic taxi cab you’ve ever hopped into, and that’s with the rear seat up. Flip down the 60/40 folding rear seat (with a drop-down center opening for long items like skis) and the A7 opens up like a wagon or a crossover SUV with more than 50 cubic feet of cargo space.
Yet at its core, the A7 channels all of the mid-luxury sport-sedan greatness of the A6. Despite the A7’s lower roofline, it loses just 1.2 inches of rear headroom compared to the A6—so the aft chairs remain rated for adult habitation. Audi crafts some of the most stylish and tastefully appointed cabins in the business and in the A7, that talent is clearly in evidence. Supple, supportive leather-clad heated front sport seats invite you into the whisper-quiet interior. Amply padded and soft-touch surfaces are generously provided. A grippy leather-wrapped steering wheel, tactile steering-column-mounted and center stack controls and sharp analog gauges inform the driver. Atop the dash is a pop-up 8-inch hi-def color display screen—fun to watch as it motors into position—operated by Audi’s well-regarded console-mounted MMI infotainment controller with a numeric touchpad, navigation with 3D Google Earth terrain imaging and a backup camera. New for 2017 is standard Audi connect with 4G LTE in-car WiFi, traffic and map updates, a smartphone interface and a 14-speaker Bose surround sound premium audio.
Not that the A7 interior isn’t without a few minor kerfuffles. Pushbutton start is on the passenger side of the console as is the volume control for the sound system so you must reach around to the other side of the shifter. And the console-mounted cup holders are a bit small and even regular-size 12-ounce fast-food cups crowd the available space. You’re on your own if you go for a Big Gulp.
New for 2017 is the $76,550 3.0T Competition model, the subject of this test. Opting for the Competition adds 7 horsepower to the A7’s standard Eaton supercharged 3.0-liter V6 (from 333 to 340 hp). You also get a slightly stiffer-riding sport suspension, a sport rear differential to divvy out drive torque between the front and rear axles for the standard Quattro all-wheel drive, and 20-inch 10-spoke titanium-finish alloy wheels wrapped with 265/35R20 all-season tires and red-painted brake calipers.
Inside, the Competition features generously bolstered S sport seats with a quilted pattern (tip: don’t wear short shorts or you’ll have a waffle pattern on your thighs for a few minutes to explain to curious onlookers). You’ll also find a grippy, thick-rimmed steering wheel and a bunch of cosmetic upgrades, such as gloss-black exterior accents and aluminum and piano-black interior trim pieces.
In keeping with the A7’s sporty image, the Competition model is just a four-seater, with the center rear position converted to a handy console. The test car was also equipped with a $500 Cold Weather Package with a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, as well as a $2450 Driver Assistance package with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, auto high beams, forward emergency braking and a handy 360-degree surround-view camera display.
For its part, the supercharged 3.0-liter V6 offers effortless performance. Low- and midrange torque is abundant (355 lb-ft at 2900 rpm) Throttle tip-in response from rest verges on American V8-abrupt. But you can train your accelerator foot to ease into the throttle for smooth launches. On the other hand, if the need arises to punch through traffic, the blown V6 can scoot to 60 mph in just under 5 seconds. Even with the oversized twin exhaust, the engine is quiet and rumble-free. A smooth-shifting ZF-built Tiptronic 8-speed automatic with a conventional torque converter handles gear-changing duties in V6 models as well as the V8-powered RS7 (the S7, however, uses a crisper-shifting S-tronic 7-speed dual-clutch automatic). Working the steering-wheel paddle shifters and engaging Sport mode quickens shift times. EPA fuel-economy estimates are decent for a midsize luxury car, pegged at 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway, for example, on the 3.0T Competition model tested. One area that needs further improvement on V6 models, however, is the gas-saving stop/start feature. It shuts off the engine at stoplights perhaps a tad too aggressively then can lag a few precious milliseconds on the restart during which the car has no power steering boost. So if you’re planning to squirt into a small hole in a moving column of traffic while the engine is in stop mode, plan ahead.
Even with a generous amount of aluminum and other weight-saving materials in its makeup, the A7 Competition is no lightweight at 4354 pounds. Some of that, of course, is attributable to the car’s standard Quattro all-wheel drive, a good thing in a car with 54 percent of its mass over the front wheels. Yet the generously proportioned and equipped A7 avoids feeling cumbersome. The suspension rounds off spikes from sharp impacts and handles rough road patches in stride while keeping interior occupants comfortable. Body roll in sharp turns is kept to a minimum and the car remains stable and confidence-inspiring on all sorts of roads. The A7’s steering, while light at parking-lot speeds, firms up just enough at speed and its accuracy conveys certitude. Top-of-pedal brake response could be sharper in the A7 but pressing just a bit farther and harder provides the sort of autobahn-bred stopping power you’d expect from a premium German car.
To be honest, the A7 3.0T Competition is not exactly competition material, but rather a nice grouping of optional upgrades for another $7750 over the base model. It’s more of a cruiser than a bruiser, a modest step up from the now-base 333-hp 3.0T model. For a serious kick up in performance capabilities, opt for the 450-hp V8-powered $79,900 S7, 560-hp $110,700 RS7 or Katie-bar-the-door 605-hp $129,500 RS7 Performance model. And sorry, oil-burner fans, last year’s turbodiesel model has been discontinued, a victim of VW’s emission scandal.
As for the hatchback-haters, if you absolutely must have a 4-door sedan with a formal trunk, the A6 should fill your needs with no regrets. But just think of it, with the A7’s halting good looks and large cargo bay to swallow all sorts of gear, there’s little need for that hulking SUV on the other side of the garage.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Autoweb/Ron Sessions