Good: sleek styling, gorgeous cabin, comfort, refinement, engine, lights, four-wheel drive security, quality
Not so good: chassis could be a touch more fluid, rear seat space smaller than ideal, pricey
Well, it is quite a view isn't it? All that lovely pearlescent grey metal draped over the muscles of tightly coiled haunches, that beady-eyed front end seemingly pawing at the ground. The Audi A7 is one of those cars that actually conforms to the kind of design-speak twaddle regularly paraded out at the unveilings of humble hatchbacks. It really does have a coupe-like window line; it really does look tensed and crouched, like an animal waiting to pounce. And yes, if you squint a bit, it looks as if it's moving fast while merely standing still.
Of course, we knew all this already. The A7 has been around a few years now and while this latest version has some exterior styling tweaks (new bumpers, new grille, new lights - more of which in a moment) it looks pretty much the same as it did when first it arrived. Well, why bother twiddling with near-perfection, eh?
The same is true, or at least true enough, inside. The cabin is, as we have become inculcated to expect from Audi these past two decades, a paragon of quality, subtle design and neatly expressed ergonomics. Clearly, it was designed and laid out by an aesthete with OCD, so buttons are never hard to find nor instruments to read and when you do look at them they're gorgeous. Is it ageing a little bit in there? Yes, like its close compatriot the (also recently updated) A6, the cabin of the A7 is starting to look a little over-familiar now, especially once you've experienced the pared-back brilliance of the new TT's interior, but the A7 is still a lovely place to be.
The big, comfy seats up front are not matched in the back, however. Audi is playing the practical card with the A7, what with its four doors and big lift-back boot, but the fact is it's still trying to be a coupe and that shows in the rear accommodation. Kids will be fine, teens less so and fully-grown adults cramped.
The 535-litre boot is good and big though and should make long trips for holidays a doddle, but watch the depth - it's quite shallow and thanks to the fast angle of the tailgate, the electric closing mechanism will either pop back open or just squash your bags. First world problems and all that...
I should at this point talk about the engine, but I'm going to take a mild diversion to a point a little further ahead - the new Matrix LED headlights. Meaner and more squinty looking than before (have the A7's designers been binging on a Clint Eastwood box set?) these use 25 individual bulbs per unit to create both low and high beams. These are then tied into a sensor mounted in the windscreen and a computer that I assume has been both programmed by Alan Turing and educated by Albus Dumbledore, because the automatic high beam function is simply brilliant.
Sensing what traffic is in front of you, approaching and leading, the lights will keep as much of the road and verge ahead lit at full beam as possible. We've tried other systems such as this and they're all very clever but the Audi setup is as close to flawless as you'll get. In spite of long miles during the deep darks of winter, not one oncoming car flashed their own lights at me, annoyed by my high beams. It's the first such system we've tried that you can genuinely just leave on and forget about as you fly along.
Oh yeah, the engine. While this test car was powered by the 3.0-litre TDI V6 diesel with 218hp, it's not the new 'Ultra' model, which has impressively low CO2 emissions of 122g/km. That's of little import though, because even with the mechanical drag and weight penalty of the quattro all-wheel drive system, it still clocks in at just 136g/km so you'll pay a mere €280 a year for road tax.
What is of import is the way this engine responds and reacts. Which in a word is brilliantly. It's smooth, utterly free from vibration or unwanted diesel noise. Prod the throttle hard and it reacts with a far-off whoosh-y growl. Meantime, it gathers speed with a purpose occasionally bordering on menace. This may be the lowest 3.0 TDI on Audi's engine ladder, but it's a purposeful and brisk a bottom rung as you'll require. The 0-100km/h time of 7.0 seconds doesn't sound all that quick, but the mid-range heft, that lovely wallop of overtaking urge is just creamy and dreamy.
It's not bad on fuel either, in spite of what you might be thinking. Audi quotes 54mpg (5.6 litres/100km) on average, for which you'll have to excuse our sniggering, but low-to-mid forties is easily done, even making use of all the performance and with a load of people and luggage on board.
The only downside is the handling and that's a comment that requires a touch of equivocation. You see, the A7 isn't a bad handling car, just a slightly quirky one and one that lacks the ultimate chassis finesse and steering feedback of rivals such as the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLS. First off, it's a big car, especially across its beam - and feels it. The thump-thump of cats' eyes will accompany your every journey, thanks too to the big, broad tyres. Those tyres and the wheels they're attached to tend to tramline as well, while the ride quality is best described as good, to firm.
All of which doesn't sound too impressive, but there are some ways around it. First of all, use the Audi Drive Select system to set the car up for Comfort settings on the engine and gearbox and Dynamic for the steering. That allows a little more weight at the rim and then you just need to learn how to work with the A7. Basically, it's a big old understeer-er, and if you sit, mid-corner, lifting off the throttle waiting for the nose to tuck in, you're going to be disappointed. What you need to do is drive it on the throttle, almost like an old-school Porsche 911. Brake and change down in a straight-line, as the classicists insist, and then go through the corner with the throttle coming gently on. That allows the driven front wheels to help overcome the inertia of the heavy nose and suddenly the A7 tucks in obediently and feels much more agile.
Look, no-one needs a big, expensive, mildly impractical coupe that costs, in the case of our test car, €84k. Were it my money, I'd save €10k and have the A6 Avant quattro with the astonishing twin-turbo 313hp V6 diesel, lots more rear seat and boot space and barely any degradation in the looks. But the A7 is a truly handsome beast; it's lovely to drive once you divine its quirks and with the sort of comfort and refinement that makes even a non-stop five-hour haul an actual pleasure.