More Power for Audi’s Big Liftback

Photo courtesy of Audi of America

2013 Audi S7.

All the German luxury car brands have jumped on the four-door coupe bandwagon, led by Mercedes-Benz with its CLS model which is now in its second generation. You can also get a BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe if you really like a car with the svelte shape of a coupe combined with the practicality of four doors.

Audi’s take on this idea had a few people scratching their heads when their A7 debuted a couple of years ago. Unlike those other two cars, the Audi has a large hatch (or “liftgate”) at the back instead of a conventional trunk. Sure it would be practical, but the conventional wisdom here in the U.S. was that upscale buyers didn’t want hatchback cars, even though that type of vehicle has a bit of a following in Europe.

Well, Audi’s getting the last laugh, as the A7 is actually selling very well. I see more and more of them on the freeways and streets of Los Angeles, where car snobbery can really abound. Obviously, there are buyers who appreciate the A7’s combination of sleek looks and practicality.

Now, there’s a second model to augment the A7 in Audi showrooms, the S7. With the S designation, the same basic car gets a power upgrade in the form of a turbocharged V8 (making 420 horsepower) instead of the A7’s supercharged V6 (producing a still impressive 310).

The engine transplant really awakens the big Audi — from a competent touring car to one sporting some real muscle. The larger engine produces scads of smooth torque, so zipping through traffic is a breeze. The suspension is firmed up a bit, though it never feels harsh. And the S7 gets a much more aggressive tire and wheel package, which really gives the car a hunkered-down look.

The interior gets a bit of a makeover as well in the upgrade from A7 to S7. There’s a specific instrument cluster, unique trim pieces, and the front sport seats have a cross-stitch pattern that gives them an elegant look. S7 buyers can choose among four different materials for inlays on the console and dash, including two wood finishes.

This is a pretty expensive car (base price is nearly $80,000, and options can send the total much higher) but it’s also a fairly practical car. From a configuration standpoint, that big hatch at the back opens up to reveal a huge cargo space. Fold down the rear seats, and you’ve essentially got a sporty station wagon, albeit one that can only accept long items if they’re fairly flat. A bicycle comes to mind, as do other pieces of sporting equipment.

And the practicality of the S7 goes beyond just its ability to swallow up cargo or passengers (four adults can ride in serene comfort). Audi also worked on the efficiency of the engine, giving it cylinder de-activation, something not typically seen on German cars. At light throttle when at speed, half the V8’s cylinders go off duty, leaving the other four to keep the car cruising along. This all happens completely seamlessly, as I never felt the transition.

The engine’s fuel saving features — along with a 7-speed automatic transmission – help the S7 achieve respectable fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg city and 27 highway. Keep in mind that this is a pretty powerful, somewhat heavy car. With those figures, Audi has managed to keep the car free of the EPA’s dreaded Gas Guzzler Tax.

Besides, Audi will have another version of the A7 later this year with numbers that will greatly offset the S7’s. The company is continuing its march forward with clean diesel power plants, so there will be an A7 TDI which should be range-topping in the mileage contest. No official figures yet, but highway figures in the low to mid 30s are probably a given.

In the meantime, if you pine for a performance-oriented German sedan that also has the practicality of a small wagon, your single choice is the Audi S7. It’s helping disprove the notion that American buyers don’t want large, luxurious hatchbacks.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave