This whole “green” trend always bothered me. Nowadays products you would have never thought of exist because they’re made from recycled this and organic that. Hell, they even have recycled toilet paper! Now don’t get me wrong, recycled toilet paper is a serious problem, but this is an automotive site. I get the whole “get rid of our dependence on oil” stuff, but that doesn’t mean that the products we buy have to come neutered, which is why I find it disturbing when it effects the automotive landscape.
The whole down-sizing movement has been hit or miss, but mostly miss. Many cars promise great EPA-estimated fuel economy, but fall short in the real world; worse yet are the poor performers that are as bad to be in as they are to look at. And while clean fuel-burning automobiles are all the rage, just mention the word “diesel” to anyone and it’s “shields up!” Since I’m from a developing country, diesel automobiles are nothing new to me. In fact, they are actually preferred over their gasoline counterparts in most parts of the world, because they offer better fuel economy, reliability, longevity, and cheaper fuel prices. However, they are known to emit the black soot from their tailpipes that many in the US mistakenly believe kills cute little bunnies.
Fortunately for us, we live in the US, and the diesel vehicles offered here are anything but bunny killers.
Fortunately for us, we live in the US, and the diesel vehicles offered here are anything but bunny killers. However, perception is a witch (you know what I really mean), and the price of diesel fuel in many areas is more than the price of premium gas. Still, companies like Volkswagen/Audi, GM, and even Mazda are starting to offer diesel variants of their cars. My test car was the all-new 2014 Audi A7 TDI; a kraut cruiser that is as efficient as it is powerful.
As of late, the Germans have been odd when it comes to cars. They started off making sedans and then “four door coupes,” which are simply sexier sedans that aren’t called sedans; and you can’t even call it a sedan, or else it feels insulted. My point is that the A7 is a coupe/fastback A6 at a higher price – just go along with it for now, please. Despite my subjective opinions of its look, the A7’s body style is more functional than it leads on. The rear lift gate is essentially a hatch, and when the rear seats are down there’s considerably more cargo room than its appearance would indicate.
With the exception of the sloped rear green house, the car is unmistakably Audi in appearance. From the gaping grilles and inlets, to the big wheel well-filling rollers, to the best-in-the-business LED lighting, the A7 TDI stands out amongst its competitors. It is aggressive yet elegant all at once and if you don’t mind the fastback look, it is quite stunning. The Glacier White Metallic paint on my test car helped set off the nuances of the profile by showing off the flared fenders and the high beltline. The 20” wheels further set off the elegant and aggressive look thanks to the S-Line package option which comes equipped with summer tires, though my test car came with winter tread.
When you open the door you allow yourself to slide into an interior that is done with flair that only Audi can manage.
When you open the door you allow yourself to slide into an interior that is done with flair that only Audi can manage. The sumptuous Nougat Leather Interior is found everywhere; the seats, the doors, and just about everything in between. The unfinished wood trim looks simply exquisite and is a welcome site instead of seeing the ubiquitous highly lacquered wood trim that is prevalent in just about every other car on the market. The smooth and soft plastics are kept to a minimum to maintain the upscale feel on par for an Audi of this price and luxury level. Apart from the cup holders, the glove box, and a little storage compartment ahead of the shifter, everything is motorized or actuated via some form of gadgetry; you almost feel jaded for not having motorized compartments that move at the touch of a button.
Audi’s gauge cluster is a rather simple setup; a tachometer to the left, and a speedometer to the right, with an LCD information screen separating them. The information screen displays just about everything it can about the car; the radio, the navigation, and your phone, just in case the 7” screen in the center of the dash isn’t up your alley. The numbering on the gauges and the font on the displays are clear and easy to read without having to take your eyes off of the road for very long. Audi’s MMI is about as sophisticated as they come and is actually rather easy to use, with several command buttons surrounding the rotary dial which will take you to whatever menu you need.
The smooth and soft plastics are kept to a minimum to maintain the upscale feel on par for an Audi of this price and luxury level.
The one downside is that any further customizations will require you to do some legwork and search through the various menus to customize it the way you want. The HVAC controls on the center stack are easy to use, though the shifter can often get in the way of your hand when you go to reach for the buttons on the lowest part of the unit. The rear occupants have their own HVAC controls for themselves that can also be synced to a desired setting based on what the driver requests.
The interior is a quite comfortable place to be in and it is fairly roomy. Even with the driver’s seat in a comfortable position, I found myself having adequate leg room with space to let my legs fall to the sides. My only gripe up front is the lack of room for thigh extensions, which I discovered on my long weekend trip. The biggest weakness in the interior is the back seat head room, due to the fast-back styled green house. With my slim 5’ 10.5” frame, I had about an inch of head room when sitting straight up. A slight recline made my head touch the headliner which brings me to the conclusion that the rear should be reserved for those shorter than 5’ 11”.
The interior is a quite comfortable place to be in and it is fairly roomy.
Overall, the cabin was quiet and well insulated from outside noises which allowed for soft voiced conversations with the three other people traveling with me. And while the cabin was attractive, I was not a huge fan of the Nougat Brown leather; I had the opportunity to sample other trims for the car and would have gone a different route if I were buying the car, as the Nougat Brown was too dark, and combined with the wood and leather to create too much brown.
When it came time to turn it on, I found that the A7 is just an easy car to drive. Get in, turn it on, put it in gear, and go. Outward forward visibility is great with a clear view of the road; with my seating position the A-Pillars are out of the way and don’t block your view at all. Side visibility is decent but can be a little restrictive due to the sloping roof; thankfully the blind spot assist and lane changing sensors mostly negated this issue. Rearward view is an issue given the small rear glass and the sloping C-Pillars that taper in towards the centerline of the car. The rearview mirror is not much help, as you get either the headliner or the rear seat head rests right in your view. Thankfully, Audi has added a few cameras and sensors to assist you for when you reverse just so you don’t hit or run over anything.
A little hyper-miling and lower travel speeds would have made the 40 mpg mark easily attainable for just about any driver.
On paper the car’s performance and efficiency metrics are quite impressive. It accelerates 0-60 in an estimated 5.5 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. Combine that with fuel economy estimates of 24 city/38 highway/29 combined, and you have a serious argument for going with the diesel power plant. I kept my eye on the mileage during my 147-mile one-way trip to New Jersey, and the computer read over 38 mpg on the highway while I kept up with and passed traffic in the 70-80 mph range. The diesel engine’s immense torque makes it easy to reach high speeds with such little effort while maintaining high fuel economy. A little hyper-miling and lower travel speeds would have made the 40 mpg mark easily attainable for just about any driver.
When it comes to the driving dynamics, I can’t decide whether or not I’m a fan of the A7 TDI. Audi has packed a strong power-plant (3.0L turbocharged V-6 with 240 hp, 428 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and Audi’s Quattro AWD system) into a very competent chassis, but they seem to have decided that the rest of the package wasn’t as important. The brakes are massive and bring the 4,266 lb diesel to a grinding halt at a mere breath on the brake pedal. The suspension doesn’t get jittery and soaks up the imperfections and undulations without upsetting the car whatsoever, and at high speeds, the car is incredibly well planted and sticks to the road like glue.
The brakes are massive and bring the 4,266 lb diesel to a grinding halt at a mere breath on the brake pedal.
The 8-speed automatic delivers imperceptible shift both up and down, despite the fact that it likes to err on the side of efficiency and upshift early. Thankfully the engine’s torque makes up for the shifts and propels the car forward with reassuring ease. Push the shifter over to the right to engage sport mode and the transmission will hold gears until redline, and it will rev-match downshifts perfectly. You can push up or pull back on the shifter to shift it yourself, or you can use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. I found that when left in D, out of Sport mode, the transmission is always in the right gear and the torque of the car will carry you wherever you want.
The problem, however, comes from the steering, which is not surprising considering that Audi has typically struggled in this department. Compared to the other Audis that I have had the pleasure of driving, this one felt disconnected; the “Comfort” setting was less light and the “Dynamic” setting felt less stiff than the other Audis. The A7 shares one thing in common with the S5 and S8 that I also tested, however: they are all precise. Turn-in is accurate, which allows you to place the car where you want; however, that is where the commonality between the cars ends.
The longer I drove the car, the more I came to realize and accept that this is inevitable for those of us that need a point A to point B automobile, no matter what the price tag is.
The steering on the A7 TDI lacks any sort of connectivity or “feel” that car nuts generally look for. There is no communication from the front tires, no sense of feedback from the road, and the loading on turn-in just feels unnatural. I can’t really blame Audi for this because those who are going to buy this car probably don’t even know what “feel” I’m talking about, so the car is made accordingly. The longer I drove the car, the more I came to realize and accept that this is inevitable for those of us that need a point A to point B automobile, no matter what the price tag is.
The A7 TDI poses a strong argument against buying 4-cylinder gasoline variants or cheaper econoboxes, until you see the $81,395 price tag. Then again, if you have that much money to burn (pun intended) does fuel economy really matter all that much? You do get a lot for that price though, such as Bang & Olufsen Sound System (for $5,900), A7 Prestige trim ($2,900), the Driver Assistance Package ($2,800), the 19” Sport Package ($1000), and the 20” Sport Package ($500), which upgrades the wheels over the 19” package while keeping the sport suspension and 3-spoke steering wheel. So if you have the money, this car should be given serious consideration.
The A7 TDI poses a strong argument against buying 4-cylinder gasoline variants or cheaper econoboxes, until you see the $81,395 price tag.
I know the general consensus is that diesels get you far better fuel economy than a comparable car with a gasoline equivalent: the main advantage that diesels have over their gasoline counterparts is real world mileage. And with many cars facing rating updates that have downgraded their fuel economy due to the lack of real world evidence, diesels seem to be doing just fine. Add in the torque you get with the engines, and you have a great combination of something that won’t clog up a highway lane and can get out of its own way. Now all we need is for those diesel fuel prices to drop a bit…
Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Garry Gulledge / Car Fanatics Blog