Audi S7 review (2012 onwards)
We like: Superb engine, high-quality interior, very mature feel, hatchback practicality
We don't like: Handling lacks feel, engine not as charismatic as in the S6, huge price leap over arguably superior S6
The A7 is another niche Audi - this time, an upmarket luxury four-door coupe. It's a variation of the A6 executive car, sharing that model's running gear and interior, and is a high-tech alternative to the sleek Mercedes CLS and ugly BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo.
Now the model is established in the market, Audi is taking things a step further, by releasing the first performance iteration of the A7 - the new S7. This is again derived from the Audi S6, sharing its 420hp twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that's also seen in the new Bentley Continental GT V8.
the first performance iteration of the A7
If the S6's performance upgrades are elegantly understated, the S7's are almost invisible. The drama comes from its very bold style, particularly that plunging hatchback rear: the 'S' modifications, which include a new front bumper, bigger alloys and silver-capped door mirrors, are pretty hard to spot.
Despite this though, the S7 still appeals to us. In the 1980s, Rover sold a high-performance Vitesse version of the SD1 whose shape the Audi A7 so strikingly imitates. Is the S7 thus as charismatic as the old Rover Vitesse was - and can it blend executive-level motoring with practicality and performance as successfully?
The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, shared with Bentley, is a very rich and discreet powerhouse. It is arguably too quiet - the charismatic exhaust woofle of the S6 is more muted here - but there's no doubting its effectiveness.
Swathes of pulling power are immediately on tap and, even though the seven-speed S tronic double-clutch gearbox likes to change up early in regular mode, it's rarely an issue: it also changes down swiftly when it needs to, and has sufficient surge to ensure it rarely needs to in everyday motoring.
Upping the dynamism via the Audi Drive Select profiler will have it hold on to gears for longer, revving harder and delivering real long-legged pace. However, even here, it doesn't quite have the character you'd hope of a V8. Fast and effortless but a bit too anodyne with it.
The brakes are excellent though - particularly the optional carbon ceramic discs. The S7 Sportback is a big, heavy car but the anchors have no trouble hauling it down from high speeds. We'd imagine their lesser unsprung mass also improves handling, but only a back-to-back would reveal this.
Ride and handling
Again, the S7 doesn't quite have the character we found in the Audi S6 that was launched at the same time. Occupants sit lower, within a car that's 32mm less tall, and it also has wider tracks than the S6 which should mean it corners flatter and with more stability.
there's no denying its foursquare tenacity
Indeed, there's no denying its foursquare tenacity, particularly on snaking roads taken at high speed. But the feel is lacking. Steering, for example, is pretty lifeless and lacking in feel, even with the extra weight of 'dynamic' mode in Audi Drive Select added on.
And although it's quite precise and better controlled than a standard A7 Sportback, the S7 still doesn't quite feel as satisfying as we found the S6 to be. It just feels a bit too big, a bit too weighty - and even though Dynamic mode makes it a lot more reactive, the natural feel of a BMW remains lacking.
What it does do is ride very well. It displays a sporting firmness but the air suspension is very well damped and compliant at speed, and also soaks up surface nasties better than sporting Audis of the past have done. Again, Dynamic mode makes it stiffer, but it's still not intolerable.
Up front, the S7 is identical to the S6. It has the same ultra-high quality fascia as the standard A7, that's been a real step on for Audi both in terms of style and finish: as always, there's no faulting the build quality either.
Front seat occupants sit low atop neat pleated leather sports seats, which hug hips impeccably. This deep, cocooned feel is complemented by a beautiful dashboard that may be shared with the S6 saloon but is no less satisfying because of it.
Front seat occupants sit low atop neat pleated leather sports seats
The S7 details, such as a sports steering wheel, bespoke dials and some beautiful dashboard trim options, enhance it all perfectly. The attention to detail even goes as far as Audi fitting a red ring around the starter button, for added purpose. We also love the flashy startup sweep of the dials.
The S7 has a big 535-litre boot that's easily accessed via a massive hatchback, and has ample space in the rear for both passengers or, if you fold the seats, up to 1,390 litres of luggage. The crowning touch are the frameless doors, giving a true sporting coupe feel with front and rear windows lowered.
Economy and safety
This is the least efficient Audi A7 Sportback on sale but, given its performance, we don't think an average of 29mpg is all that bad. The 2.8 FSI quattro can only average 35mpg and that car has half the power of this.
Quattro four-wheel drive grip and traction gives massive confidence behind the wheel, all the more so when the weather gets worse, meaning this is a confidence-inspiring performance car too. Naturally, it's well supported by both leading-edge passive and active safety kit.
The MSN Cars verdict
We wanted to really like the S7: the S6 impressed us and we would have loved it to be a leftfield modern-day replacement to the old Rover Vitesse. Sadly it isn't, because of a lack of something the Rover had in spades - character.
The S7 is effortlessly (and very) fast, with a delightful engine and a wonderful interior. The styling is distinctive and the sheer efficiency of it is undeniable. But given the choice between this and the S6, we'd have the saloon every time. Add in a massive £8,000 price jump and we're clear: the S7 club isn't for us.
Read more Audi car reviews
First drive: Audi A7
First drive: Audi S6
|Need to know||Audi S7|
|Engines, petrol||4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo|
|Torque, lb ft||405|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.7|
|Top speed, mph||155|