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2012 Audi A7: Don’t Call It A Crosscar

I have a confession to make.  I was cautiously optimistic with the idea of the A7 when I first heard that Audi had green lighted the program.  Yes, I am fond of hatchbacks but one image was burned into my brain: Accord Crosstour.  The Crosstour was a great idea on paper and a gave people who worship at the church of hatchback another option.  Sadly, the final product hasn’t been much of a sales success as Americans shun hatchbacks.  I won’t mention the fact that many crossovers today are actually hatchbacks but calling them that would be a marketing faux pas.  The Crosstour is looking like another nail in the coffin of slow selling hatchback designs for the US market.  Could the company that brought us the R8 strike out like the Crosstour or hit a home run to change the hearts and minds of hatchback haters?  Read on to find out.

If I said I was going shopping for a new car and I was looking for a four-seater, you might think it was a sporty convertible or maybe a B-segment car around the size of a Fiesta.  How about a hatchback with four doors and the overall length is only an inch and a half shorter than a 2011 Ford Explorer?  Yeah, hatchbacks have never been popular in America…until now.  The 2012 Audi A7 will change the minds of people who think hatchbacks are for young consumers or cheap econoboxes.  The A7 has some of the cleanest lines on the road today.  The front fenders are folded over to start a shoulder line that draws your eyes to the flare of the side of the car.  The A7 dazzles your eyes in direct sunlight.  The tops of the doors contrast the lower part of the door to give the exterior a unique profile on the road as the sun reflects off of the broad shoulders.

The interior is tasteful, well-constructed, with the bar set high once again for interior fit and finish.  The door windows are frameless which had me ready for wind noise or even the occasional rattle over Michigan’s moon crater potholes.  This car is quieter than a tomb.  No windnoise.  No rattles.  Just smooth cruisin’.   The best part of the interior is the display which folds out to greet you and then asks you if you’d like to connect to T-Mobile’s 3G network for data service.  Say what?  Yup.  The A7 is the first car with an embedded SIM that connects to a 3G GSM network.  The subscription is an all-you-can-eat plan for around $25-$35 a month. You might be thinking that is a lot of cheddar for ANOTHER internet connection when you already have one on your phone.  True, but many smart phones have capped data plans now and your phone wouldn’t be capable of handling the stream of data needed to download Google Earth.  Google fans, unite!  This is the coup d’état of navigation systems.

The A7 is the first vehicle on the road with Google Earth as the navigation system.  Your searches for POIs are all done over the air.  You’re getting the latest info downloaded as you drive.  Even when I hit the 2G EDGE network at 70 MPH, the navigation system had no problem keeping up.  Imagine never needing a map update ever again.  I know I can get something similar on a smart phone but if you’re shelling out $66,000 or more for an Audi you really don’t want a smartphone Band-Aided to your instrument panel.  Another benefit is a rolling WiFi hotspot which can let you listen to Pandora over your iPod Touch, allow passengers to play Words With Friends, or even watch a quick YouTube video.  I was able to listen to Pandora over the A7’s hot spot and then broadcast it over Bluetooth streaming audio.  It was flawless, even while downloading Google Earth images.  I used just over 300 MB of data for the week.

The most overlooked feature is the * (asterisk) button on the steering wheel.  At first I thought it was the road rage button but it was missing a few characters like #@!% for certain four letter words.  Actually, this button is something I’ve been asking for!  It’s a configurable button…a jack of all trades button.  It can be configured to do one of the following tasks: turn voice guidance on or off, flip the navi map between day and night mode, change the radio/media source, or the next track/station/channel.  Yes, the boys in Ingolstadt have outdone themselves again in an effort to reduce the amount of steering wheel buttons and make better use of the ones that are there.

All of these gizmos and entertainment are great but let’s look behind the driver’s seat for a minute.  The two rear seats have decent legroom and were also heated.  But the fun starts when you fold the seats down and the A7 transforms into something that would resemble a crossover.  The interior goes from comfortable to cavernous.  For those people who don’t need a crossover but do need some occasional room, the A7 is your answer.  SUVs have been getting more like cars for years.  How about a car that is more like an SUV?  It has quattro all-wheel drive and loads of room.  Yeah, you could sleep in there.

The supercharged 3.0L V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic.  My A7 had issues with the transmission clunking between 15-25 MPH while coasting.  In a vehicle this smooth it was very noticeable.  Acceleration was more than acceptable and handling was more comfort cruiser than sporty hatch.  Wait for the S7 if this is too tame for your liking.

If the amount of people stopping to look at the A7 in parking lots or the thumbs up on the highway is any indication of the public acceptance of the A7, Audi better crank up the overtime at the assembly plant.  The A7 has restored hope and reignited lust for hatchback fans everywhere after Accord Crosstours scarred us for life.  A usable and fashionable crosscar, err, SportBack.

The A7 that I test drove rang in at a cool $66,000.  A fully-loaded A7 can top $80,000, but keeping in mind that an A8 starts at $78,000, the thought of an A8 becomes rather enticing…for three seconds.  The A8 has been my favorite car in the Audi lineup, but the interior and exterior design of the A7 is so radically different that I might have to go with the lucky 7.

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