Audi's new S7 manages to combine style. huge performance and an environmental conscience
Road Test: 2013 Audi S7
It's taken a while but Audi's A7 has finally grown on me. Until very recently, I viewed this huge, four-door fastback coupé as nothing more than a curiosity - a case of unnecessary niche filling gone mad. Perhaps it's because I see loads of them out here, but that sleek shape has burrowed its way under my skin and I now view it as a properly desirable automobile. And now we have what, for the time being at least, is the ultimate expression of Audi's sleek rocket ship: the S7.
If evidence were needed that engine technology is advancing at a furious pace, you only need look here. Audi has ditched its naturally aspirated 5.2L V10 in favour of a 4.0L twin-turbo V8, which at first might seem like a backward step. But when you consider that this is basically the same lump that is currently seeing active service in Bentley's Continental GT V8 (easily better than its W12 brethren), the prognosis is good. Being able to squeeze more power and performance from smaller engines is good news for everyone, with one caveat: the nature of the car in question needs to remain as it once was.
BMW has been down this road with its latest M5 (also previously a non-turbo V10), yet that car has definitely lost some of its appeal, at least when it comes to the engine note, which used to set the hairs on the back of my neck on end. By comparison the new one, despite its on-paper statistics, feels rather sanitised and, although better looking than its forbear, has become less desirable. Could Audi have made the same mistake with its S model line up?
The S7 is a treat to the eyes, especially this one with its Estoril Blue, crystal effect paintwork. The 20-inch S design wheels look superb and the S sits 10mm lower than the normal A7, all of which combine to give this car real presence on the road.
Its natural rivals are BMW's beautiful new 6 Series Gran Coupé, Mercedes-Benz's not so beautiful CLS and Porsche's frankly monstrous Panamera - German autobahn-stormers, one and all. The Bimmer is the only one of that trio to rival the S7's visual loveliness, but it's really boring to drive. If the S7 can thrill from behind the wheel then it could very well clinch the title of best in class.
Early signs are good, for the S7's cabin positively oozes class and sophistication. Everything about it, the look and feel of the materials used, the driving position, the intuitive instrumentation, the safety features that help rather than hinder - is a masterclass in quality construction. With a push of the starter button, the V8 rumbles into life with an almost malevolent, deep base tone that cannot be misinterpreted as anything other than a serious performer.
On the road, the S7 manages to move its portly 1945kg frame with alacrity and Audi claims it'll hit 100kph from rest in 4.7 seconds, which means it's as quick as a Porsche 911. It feels it, too. There's not even a hint of lag from the turbochargers, with immediate throttle response no matter what rev range you happen to be in, and the immense 550Nm maximum torque surges in from as low as 1,400rpm. The net result is absolutely effortless performance, all the while with an engine note that always satisfies yet never really intrudes.
Only at low speed, full-lock manoeuvres, does the all-wheel drive start to annoy. The front wheels, scrabbling for grip, send high-pitched vibrations through the steering wheel, which feels nasty, but once you've straightened up and on the move, it's all good. When cornering, the S7 simply hunkers down and gets on with it, no matter what the speed, and the levels of grip are stupendous, with the air suspension keeping things nice and flat.
All of which is deeply impressive, but the S7 has an ace up its sleeve, and it's one that has me scratching my head in disbelief. And that is down to its magnificent engine, but not because it provides supercar baiting performance. What leaves the biggest impression is that this engine operates plenty of the time on only four cylinders, switching between being a V4 and a V8 with no perceptible difference in sound or urgency. It makes the change in just 300 milliseconds, once the computers have worked out the torque requirements of your right foot, and the payoff is a significant reduction in emissions, fewer stops at the petrol station and absolutely no feeling that you've been shortchanged because there isn't a V10 under the bonnet.
And then there is the price. While you could easily spend twice what the S7 costs on a Panamera Turbo, or a CLS55 AMG, neither would give you twice the enjoyment of this Audi. I struggle with the notion of calling any car that costs Dh335,000 "cheap" but the S7 looks, feels, sounds and goes like it's way more expensive than it is and yes, I would be prepared to spend my own money on one. The S7 really is that good.
Price, base / as tested Dh335,000 / Dh352,400
Engine 4.0L, twin-turbo V8
Gearbox Seven-speed automatic
Power 420hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 550Nm @ 1,400 rpm
Fuel economy, combined: