Whereas before the answer to wanting "more" than a standard four door BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Audi would have landed the buyer in one of the aforementioned performance options, now that leap has become so considerable that a middle ground is warranted. Audi has filled this void with its S6 and S7, and for now, the space is almost entirely theirs.
We think that Ingolstadt is onto something.
The old "dude, you might as well..." argument, as in, "dude, if you want more performance you might as well just have an M5/RS6/RS7/E63 AMG" etc. isn't particularly compelling anymore to a reasonable (keyword) segment of the population. It is possible to want more than a base 5-series or A7 provides, but yet desire to land somewhere well short of the 600 hp mark...
So from a performance auto market standpoint we think that the S7 makes some sense. How about from behind the wheel?
Interior + Tech
Audi interiors have been high quality for a number of years now, and they're only getting better. We'd suggest that with this current generation, both Audi and AMG have left BMW ///M for dead in the interior design department.
The Audi S7 may be the best interior of the bunch. It's just plain serene, and oozes quality from every angle and on every surface.
Outfitted with the "Individual Contour Seating package," "Driver Assistance plus Package," and "Night vision assistant" it's like a spa visit, tech convention, and performance driving environment rolled into one.
Highlights are the "Night vision assistant" infrared camera, which is achingly cool (and distracting) even during the day, and the massaging seats (appeal is self-explanatory).
The driver cockpit is spacious enough and immensely comfortable. On the move the cabin is tranquil and quiet. Overall, an environment where a driver could quite easily consume 1,000 miles without stress.
Really, we'd be nitpicking to find fault with the S7's interior, so we won't...
The Audi S7 doesn't look very agile, and at over 4,500 lbs. physics is not in its favor, but we'll be damned if she doesn't move around quite well for a big girl.
In "Dynamic" mode turn in is sharp, and the S7 is composed through both the slow + sharp and fast + sweeping. That's true even when equipped with a performance snow tire like the Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D, as was the case with this particular S7.
Trademark Audi understeer is nowhere to be found at public road speeds. The Torque Vectoring rear differential effectively works its magic.
Steering feel isn't scintillating of course, but we think Audi is slowly but surely making some progress here.
On the move the S7 is easy to place on the road, and doesn't feel gigantic by any means.
Bottom line, can you have some fun with the Audi S7 through the twisties? Definitely. And treat yourself to a "Pulse" massage in the process.
Would we take it to the track? Probably not, but that's not the point of the S7, and not a fair criticism.
In "Comfort" mode the S7 soaks up the bumps and fundamentally changes the character and feel of the car from behind the wheel. An appropriate and attractive comfort/performance duality has been achieved.
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Engine + Transmission
The heart of the Audi S7 is a 4.0 liter, turbocharged V8, but you'd be hard-pressed to identify the turbocharged nature of the engine. We're natural aspiration curmudgeons and probably wouldn't have known any better.
Power delivery is linear and buttery smooth. The S7 pulls hard from low in the rev range and all the way up to red line. Unlike some of BMW ///M's latest, the S7 is satisfying to rev all the way out.
Downshifts and overruns inspire a hilarious popcorn effect out the Sports Exhaust tailpipes. Captured in this S6 exhaust video:
"Fast" and "exciting" are relative terms of course, but from a roll in 2nd and through 3rd gears the smoothness of the power delivery was more striking than the sheer acceleration, for us.
It's quick, no doubt, but not in a "holy bejesus!" RS7/M5/E63 AMG sort of way. Audi S7 acceleration is more than you'd reasonably need, but still within the realm of sensible.
We did find that the throttle was artificially sensitive in Dynamic mode, especially under initial throttle in first gear. Everything else having to do with the powertrain is very well calibrated and judged.
That's especially true when it comes to the S tronic dual-clutch transmission, which offers some of the most seamless shifts in the business.
Is the S7 worth the nearly $83,000 base price, which can be quite easily specced to north of $100k? That's a lot of coin for something that is short of spectacular, but for certain buyers the well-rounded nature of the S7 will justify the steep price.
The S7 offers practicality, comfort, and sensible, usable levels of performance. And in our wagon-deprived nation, the Sportback is about as close as you'll get to a Euro performance wagon experience. We think it's stylish and attractive too. Oh, and on relaxed road trips >30 mpg is possible.
The sensible middle ground, indeed.