In a world of pickup trucks, SUV this and CUV that, where sedans are rapidly becoming an endangered species, the Audi A7 will offer future Curbside Classic archaeologists a peek into an alternate universe where cars really did roam the earth before being killed off by Truckus Giganticus.
The Audi Sportback concept vehicle premiered at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, and sales of the new A7 began in the US with the 2012 model year. The A7 was never envisioned as high volume mass market vehicle, but it did give Audi an opportunity to explore new styling directions and occupy a small and unique niche in the marketplace.
So what is an A7, and why in the world would I buy it instead of the latest box-like SUV?
Although the A7 was released before the new generation A6, it can realistically be considered an A6 with a different body that is longer, lower and wider. This really sounds like the formula for the Curbside Classic American cars of the 60’s and early 70’s, when “longer, lower and wider” was the name of the game. So is the Audi a throwback to the classics of 50-60 years ago? Maybe a modern day anti-SUV? I’ll let you make your own decision, but it certainly isn’t like most vehicles found on our roads today.
In many aspects of life, I tend to be a “keeper” not a “trader”, and I’d now had two A6’s of the C5 generation. It was 2015, and my 2004 still looked good and ran well without unusual repairs. But I’d been driving the same basic car as my daily driver for 15 years. Our kids were grown and I rarely carried business clients in the backseat anymore, so perhaps I could get a car that fulfilled a slightly different set of priorities?
I’d admired the A7 since its concept car debut, and in 2012 it won numerous awards including the International Car Of The Year, Car And Driver’s Ten Best, Autoweek’s Best of the Best, and Automobile Magazine’s Automobile Of The Year. I was a fan of the qualities cited by those awards, but I wasn’t enthralled with the $68,000 required to pick one up.
I am a big fan, however, of buying good quality things at a discount. A first year car can bring too many questions, but a second year 2013 model should have any bugs worked out and would be perfect for letting someone else pay for my discount. Some people love to have a new car every couple of years, and I am more than willing to let those people graciously pay for the largest years of vehicle depreciation. Hey, what can I say – I’m just generous that way! To all of you that might favor two year automobile leases, I say “thank you”.
With all that decided, I studied the 2013 model and option sheets to determine what I wanted, as I had time on my side and could afford to be picky. A silver Audi is almost an oxymoron, so that was out, as were the three different shades of black, four shades of grey, and two shades of white. Hmm…Moonlight Blue was nice, and a Nougat Brown interior would be a unique touch as well. Most cars have a light colored headliner, but Audi also offered a black headliner, and I felt that it tied the interior together better, so black it would be.
I also wanted the mid-line Premium Plus model as it had the features I wanted without the extra ones I didn’t. Finally, a cold weather package of heated seats and steering wheel was necessary in my climate, so I added that to my list as well. With my factory order sheet completed, focusing my efforts on actually finding a car with what I wanted was the next challenge. Only 8,483 were imported into the US in 2013, and the vast majority were in the aforementioned silver, black, grey or white. Hmm…challenge accepted!
After a couple of months of looking nationwide, I found one with 13,000 miles at an Audi dealer in New Jersey. After a bit of negotiating, the addition of a 100,000 mile CPO warranty and the wiring of some funds, the car was placed on a truck and headed to Denver.
So what did I buy and what are some of my favorite features?
The Moonlight Blue is a dark metallic color, and the color changes depending on how it’s viewed. It appears to have silver, purple, blue and red metal flakes in the paint, which provide some nice visual interest depending on how the light hits it.
In the non-sensical automotive nomenclature of today, some manufacturers have coined the terms “4 door coupes” or “Gran Coupe” (I’m looking at you Mercedes & BMW). I realize that each generation gets to define terms its own way, but these “coupes” have a couple of extra doors as far as I’m concerned, and a “B” pillar that I don’t remember from decades past. Audi calls its A7 a “Sportback” instead of a 4 door coupe, but it fits in that same mold. Regardless of nomenclature, the A7 looks sharp and frameless door glass is a unique touch that takes me back to my 1967 Camaro.
This door glass is much smarter than that available in my Camaro though, as it automatically lowers ¼ inch whenever a door is opened. When the door is closed again, the glass is raised that same ¼ inch to provide a tight seal on the weatherstripping. Regardless of speed, the glass stays tight and quiet, very unlike the 1970 Dodge Challenger that I also owned years ago. The Challenger featured “flow thru” ventilation at speeds above 65 mph, as the glass pulled away from the body allowing air, noise and rain inside. Ah, but that’s a story best left to another COAL.
The instrument panel is clean and uncluttered, with everything visible and within reach. Audi offered a couple of different climate control systems for this year, and I wanted the three zone system with an easily controllable fan knob. I know that it sounds like a small thing, but my previous A6’s used buttons to increase or decrease the fan speed (if desired). It seems like I spent hours pushing fan speed buttons on the A6, eventually wearing the finish on the buttons down, and I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.
Audi’s multimedia interface (MMI) has a retractable non-touch screen controlled by a knob and buttons on the console. Even in 2013 (before Apple Carplay or Android Auto) it provided live Goggle maps integration via a sim card connection as well as an internet hotspot if desired. The system controls most customizable features on the car, whether it be for navigation, telephone, radio, satellite, or various car systems. The interface is intuitive and doesn’t require an advanced degree to operate or necessitate taking your eyes off the road to find buttons on the screen. It also includes voice commands for hands free operation.
The system includes a built in hard drive to load your own music on, as well as a DVD player (usable only when the car is stopped). The screen also displays the backup camera when the transmission is placed in reverse. Another plus is a separate volume/mute control knob on the console for the system. I like no fuss controls whenever possible, and a knob is stone age simple.
I was initially concerned about the retractable screen, as it slides out when the car is started and stows when it is shut off. That much movement seems to say “wear” and “point of failure”, but I’ve never had a problem. The thing that I really like about it is that I normally have it stowed when I’m driving (unless I’m using the map navigation). Anything that can be displayed on the MMI can also be displayed on the instrument panel between the tachometer and speedometer. This provides a stylish clean approach to dashboard design as opposed to many vehicles that look like they have an iPad taped to the dash. It’s personal preference of course, but I like the clean, classic look. The retractability though, gives me the choice of two different looks – classic or high-tech depending on my needs.
The interior is spacious for two and comfortable for four as long as the rear seat passengers are average in size and aren’t sentenced to eight hour trips. The 114.7 inch wheelbase provides generous rear seat legroom, but what the Sportback roofline gives in looks it takes away in rear seat headroom. Again, those below 6’1″ fit just fine, but those of taller stature may not be speaking to you after an extended trip. The rear seat has two bucket seats versus a bench, but the bench was an option and then made standard on later model years.
Audi has developed a reputation for some of the best interiors in the business, and the A7 was well designed and screwed together with quality woods, leather and plastics.
As you may recall from previous COAL’s, I tend to be drawn to unique cars that aren’t the most common ones on the road. Over eight model years, the A7/S7 has had 51,380 sales. That means that each year, A7 sales equal about four days’ worth of Toyota Camry sales, or about one day of Ford truck production. I like that type of exclusivity, and I never wonder which car is mine when walking through a parking lot. Over five years of ownership, I’ve still never seen its duplicate, which is a plus in my book.
The A7 has good performance and good economy, a benefit on a car that I’ve now had for five years and plan on keeping. This is my first supercharged (versus turbocharged) car, and it provides “right now” performance while still providing reasonable fuel economy. Top speed is listed at 155 mph, and I normally get 24-25 mpg in daily driving.
I have to make a special mention of the transmission, as it’s an 8 speed ZF 8HP unit that is by far the best automatic that I’ve ever driven. The transmission has normal, sport and manual settings, which change the shift points and how aggressively each gear is held. The number of gears and ratios insure that the engine is always at the appropriate rpm, from loafing at 1,300 rpm to allowing full redline when desired. If you’re cruising at a relaxed 55 mph and floor the throttle, the transmission quickly drops from 8th to 3rd gear, without intermediate stops in each gear, allowing the engine to snap into the optimum rpm and pull hard. It always seems to be in the right gear, never hunting or lugging the engine.
It also pulls hard like a manual transmission car, with little perceptible slippage from the torque converter. I use the manual function for engine braking frequently as I live in a hilly area. When downshifting I usually go down at least three gears due to the close ratios. I’ve never experienced a transmission that is otherwise always in the right gear at the right time, and I really think that it can do a better job at shifting than I can. Our resident Transmissions Of A Lifetime authors can delve further into the interesting ZF8HP story, but for me it’s been an eye opening revelation from previous compromised automatics.
I purposely did not want “upgraded” wheels on the car, as the optional 20 or 21 inch wheels were known to provide less compliance and a more nervous ride quality. The tires are 255/40 ZR19 which provide a reasonable compromise in ride and handling. To this I added heavier duty stabilizer bars front and rear, and enjoy a relatively compliant ride when cruising but a flat stance when going through mountain curves. Although the car isn’t small, the steering is well weighted and driving is smile inducing fun in sharp turns and mountain switchbacks.
And those sway bars? Last week (after five years of use) the front bar apparently cracked then broke due to fatigue. The manufacturer and I are working on a replacement, as right now it handles like an early ’70’s Porsche 911. Oversteer anyone?
The larger Audi’s are designed for high cruising speeds, but the aerodynamics at high speed are dramatically different than those at lower levels. To reduce rear end lift at high speeds, the A7 has a rear spoiler that automatically deploys at 85 mph and retracts below 55 mph. It’s a nice touch, as you have lower drag and better mileage at lower speeds but increased safety at higher. Features like this are more than a gimmick and I appreciate the extra thought and understand the extra cost for a car like this.
This covers the good performance and economy that I normally look for in my cars, but what about that third attribute – practicality? Although Audi calls this a “Sportback”, others may call it a “hatchback” or “liftback” style. The rear hatch lifts and reveals a large trunk with over 24 cubic feet of usable space.
Fold down the seats and remove the privacy panel though, and suddenly you have a carpeted load area that stretches six and a half feet and swallows almost anything that a small SUV will carry. Need to carry some dining room chairs, filing cabinets or oversized printer? Want to pick up a dozen bags of mulch on the way home? Need to transport four or five bodies in relative anonymity (wait- did I say that out loud?)? Fold the seats and no problem. The hatch opens up high so it allows unrestricted access for otherwise difficult to handle loads. If something won’t fit in the A7, then it also isn’t going to fit in my wife’s CX-5. I simply grab the Vanimal (with or without trailer) for larger loads.
This loading ability means that the A7 covers 95% of anything that I ever need to carry, which gives great flexibility. The capability to swallow large oversized loads also separates the A7 from the multitude of vehicles that have fold down rear seats. It really is a game changer and one of my favorite features on the car.
As many of us age, our memories become slightly less…memorable. Now, I’m not one who misplaces my car keys or has trouble finding my sun glasses, but let me walk 30 feet away after parking my car and I’ll invariably wonder if I remembered to lock the car.
The A7 has many user customizable features, and one of the memorable ones is that it can be programmed to fold the side mirrors whenever the car is locked. Instead of walking back to the car to see if it is locked, I only need to be able to see the mirrors and I can immediately know. This feature alone has saved me approximately 9,523 steps. OK, so maybe I don’t actually remember counting (that memory thing again) but it’s a bunch of steps. And it’s so much easier to laugh at myself when I can see the car at a distance rather than retracing all of my steps.
Another favorite feature is never having to crawl under the car to change the oil and filter. Although there have been vacuum devices to suck out oil for decades, Audi thoughtfully placed the oil filter upside down on the top of the engine. The filter is a cartridge, not a canister, and it’s encased in a cup like housing so no oil is dripped or lost during changes. This makes oil changes quick and no mess affairs, and really is a whole ‘nother experience in dealing with normal maintenance. After five decades of maintaining cars this has been another revelation for me – particularly with all of the aerodynamic underbody panels on newer cars. On the A7 there’s no need to open access panels or remove underbody panels just to change the oil.
One downside of course, is that I no longer get to enjoy the sensation of hot oil dripping down my forearm as I remove the drain plug and filter. Fortunately, there are plenty of other cars in the family to give me the full medieval scalding oil experience.
The A7 uses an electronic engine oil level monitor, and no dipstick is provided from the factory. Being old school, I purchased a dipstick that fits another version of the engine so I can have a mechanical confirmation. The electronics of the car have been rock solid, but I’d hate to ruin an engine due to a faulty sensor, so a few dollars spent for a dipstick seems like cheap insurance.
Styling is subjective of course, but I think that the A7 has unique and classic shape that won’t go out of style. Like many automakers, Audi apparently used two teams to bring together the exterior styling. The front 2/3rd’s of the car was designed by one award winning team, carefully sculpting each line. The rear 1/3rd was then farmed out to the seniors league team (brought out of retirement) that designed the 1968 Ford Torino and the 1971 Mustang fastback. Heck, for all I know they could have used Richard Teague’s junior stylists involved in the AMC Marlin. Although I might have made some different design decisions, I’ve never claimed to be a stylist and it does look long, low and sleek.
The A7 has been very reliable with no unscheduled repair visits. The motor mounts are some special design that give great isolation but the original compound was a known wear item. Fortunately, they failed within the warranty period and are not a safety item, so it was easy to schedule a time to have them replaced. The engine uses a timing chain, not a belt, so normal maintenance is just fluids & filters, spark plugs, and serpentine & supercharger belt replacements at infrequent intervals. I’ve only had to replace the brake pads once (but not the rotors), so this is not a car that chews through its braking components. I buy performance tires with a 50,000 mile warranty, but they only last about 26,000 miles. They wear very evenly though, so I always get a credit for the unused mileage when they’re replaced every 18 months or so.
The A7 has definitely earned a place in my all time Top 5 vehicles. It sports a unique shape that I don’t see in my everyday travels. It’s fast, economical, comfortable and entertaining to drive. It holds far more than anything short of the Vanimal in my stable, even more than the 1973 Vega GT Estate Wagon Family Truckster (I just had to throw that in there). At 108,000 miles, it still looks good and makes me smile when I look at it. And isn’t that what owning a Curbside Classic is all about?
Speaking of Top 5 vehicles, those of you keeping score may have noticed that I’ve only mentioned three Top 5 vehicles so far – so what gives? Well, the truth is that I’ve had three vehicles worthy of Top 5 status so far – the 1991 Audi 200 20V, the 1987 VW “Vanimal” Westfalia, and the 2013 Audi A7. I should probably put my 1967 Camaro in there as well, which gives us four and leaves room for one more. As I hopefully have another two or three decades of driving ahead of me, who knows what the future will bring? So for now I have four of my Top 5 spots filled, and room for one more as flying cars or whatever is around the corner comes into view.
In reviewing my 46 years of Curbside Classic ownership so far, I note that I’ve owned the 14 cars that I’ve written about an average of 6.25 years. My longest ownership is with the Vanimal (16 years and counting), while the shortest was the summer fling with the 1969 Fiat 850 Spider. If you’re scratching your head about how this math works, some vehicles have been owned concurrently, as I’m not really 96 years old.
This will also end my weekly COAL series for now, as I’ve covered my daily drivers over the years. Yes, I still have another 16 cars or so to write about, from Dodge Challengers to Porsche 914’s, from Datsun 521 & 620 pickups to Isuzu Troopers. They each have a story to tell and I’ll get to many of them eventually, but it may take some time with life’s other priorities.
In today’s contentious social media landscape, finding a generally agreeable Collective of Curbside Classic Connoisseurs is a rare gift. To all of you, I tip my hat and say “thanks!” for joining me on this Curbside Classic automotive journey.