Good: looks inside and out, engine, refinement, comfort, quality, tech
Not so good: steering could be sharper, ride could be better, infotainment needs physical buttons
God, it's a subtle thing the new Audi A7. Well, subtle inasmuch as a big four-door coupe with a six-figure as-tested price tag can be, anyway. It's not a shouty, demonstrative car, though. Its styling, though gorgeous and without question imposing, is all very understated, even playful with that little dance that the full-width LED lights at the back do when you thumb the unlock button.
It's the second of Audi's refreshed big four doors - we already have the new A8, and the new A6 is coming later this year, but it's tempting to think that it might already be something of a dinosaur. After all, Audi is hell bent on producing as many profit-generating SUVs as it can, so a car as low, slinky, and sexy as this is surely on borrowed time? Let's hope not, because once you get past the styling, the substance beneath is really very good...
Let's start with the engine, which is the familiar 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel unit, here with a very healthy 286hp and 620Nm of torque. That means it gets the new '50' badge, which is related to its output in kilowatts (210, in case you were wondering) and is unquestionably the most mind-bogglingly annoying thing about the car. Why 50? What does 50 mean? How are you going to sell 50 to people? €5 says that this badging structure is dead and gone in the next few years...
Forget the badge, though, and revel instead in the engineering. Audi's V6 TDI engines have barely been out of the headlines for the past two years, and for all the wrong reasons, but with the caveat that we're assuming the emissions police have passed this one as fit for duty, it's an exceptional engine. Smooth, slightly sonorous in that far-off-rumble way that only the best big diesels manage, and with effortless power. For a big car, the A7 picks up and flies at a prod of its throttle pedal, and it's most addictive when it does so.
You won't get terrific fuel consumption out of it if you do that a lot, though, and that despite the 48-volt 'mild hybrid' system, which adds a belt-driven starter/alternator and a compact battery that scavenges power from the brakes to help drive the electrical system. And actually drive the car too - at speeds between 40km/h and 160km/h the Audi can power down the engine completely for a few seconds at a time, allowing the car to 'sail' along when the terrain allows. All in, though, Audi says that overall fuel consumption is improved by only 0.7 litres per 100km and realistically you're going to see low-40s-mpg in daily driving.
The refinement is something else, though. This is a truly silent car when driving, helped by the speed and smoothness with which that 48-volt system can run the stop-start function in heavy traffic. It's just a hugely relaxing car to drive.
Invigorating, though? The last A7 was a pleasant way to travel, but only a true driver's car in its most extreme RS 7 form. Here, the news is much better, albeit still not quite so good as it could be. The A7's steering is light, accurate and mostly devoid of feel, and while the suspension avoids that dampers-filled-with-concrete feel of the old A7, it's still a touch too knobbly at times (the gorgeous 20-inch wheels don't help here). It's a massive improvement on the old model, and this time around you really can have fun in it, but it's still not quite as good as some key rivals.
You probably won't care much though, as you'll be sitting in one of the finest current automotive cabins. It owes more to Captain Kirk than the trad wood-and-leather looks of some others, with two huge touchscreens taking care of most of the functions, and a big all-digital 'Virtual Cockpit' screen taking care of the main instruments. It is incredibly comfortable, spacious, quiet and just a glorious space in which to spend time. The B&O stereo will have your ears off, and the clever 3D tricks that the reversing camera can play become a form of entertainment in themselves. Quality, as you'd expect, is top-drawer, but there is an issue - that twin screen system looks whizz-bang, and the little haptic clicks as you touch each virtual button are a nice touch, but there's no getting away from the fact that it's not as intuitive nor as easy to use as a dash that has actual buttons. It's not quite fiddly, but it's not simple, it takes time to learn properly and it can be distracting from the road ahead. Just as well, then, that the A7 has some partial-autonomous systems, including lane-keeping steering and radar-guided cruise control.
A dinosaur? Not a bit of it. Audi's new SUVs will probably make more money, overall, than the A7, but that's to the loss of those owners. The big four-door coupe has a sense of drama and of character that we've found to be mostly lacking in Audi's 4x4s. This looks and feels like a proper car, and is all the better for it.