Hauling Art (and Ass) with the Audi S7

Hauling Art (and Ass) with the Audi S7

My phone rings and it’s the press fleet representative from Audi, who’s waiting for me outside at precisely 11am as promised to deliver the S7 “five door coupe” I’ll be driving for the next week. I walk through my front garden to the street where she stands, clipboard in hand, fresh white polo shirt tucked into khaki slacks, smiling and chirpy as she says hello then asks if I have any questions before she leaves the car and I to our own devices.  I’m tempted instead to tell her what a peculiar yet exciting moment this is for me: despite coordinating press loans to journalists as an automotive publicist for many years, I’m now on the receiving end of this transaction for the first time. I almost want a photo to commemorate the occasion. But I forgo the awkward moment as she surely has other places to be this morning, and likewise we – meaning me, my husband, our dog and "new car" - have plans awaiting us 350 miles away in San Francisco. So instead I tell her I’m all set, blindly sign Audi’s triplicate liability agreement without scrutinizing a single word of its fine print, and once she’s handed me the yellow copy together with her card and the key to the S7, she climbs into her colleague’s car and is gone.


Now I’m alone with my quarry, a hunt that began 18 months ago when I first laid eyes on the S7 as it premiered at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Before the unveiling I had worried the devastatingly handsome and understated A7, which is among my favorite cars on the road today, would be cluttered with go-fast gimmickry like spoilers and air-scoops when transformed into its high performance version, the S7, but there was no cause for alarm. More Clark Kent than David Banner, the Audi S7 flexes its muscles with élan and restraint, and is visually distinguished from its milder-mannered alter ego by just a few telltale details including its more aggressive grille and bumpers, a smattering “S7” badges at the front, side and rear, and four exhaust pipes at the tail (in place of the A7’s dual exhaust). Although its manufacturer claims my $94,570 Midnight Blue Audi S7 will charge to sixty miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds (Motor Trend managed it in just 3.9 seconds), it’s what Europeans call a “Q-Car,” meaning its exterior offers few clues to the power that lurks within: what better way to make haste to San Francisco without attracting the unwelcome attention of the Highway Patrol?


Once packed into the S7 with our luggage, the rear seats of its spacious and beautifully appointed black and “lunar silver” leather-trimmed cabin papered strategically with beach towels to ensure minimum transfer of Diego’s dog hair, I press the “Start” button (turning a key is so passé) and the engine whirrs to life, the Audi “MMI” (Multi Media Interface) display panel pivots into view from its hiding place in the center console to welcome us, and the tweeters of the optional Bang & Olufsen stereo rise from opposite corners of the dash like miniatures of the Palm Springs “Volcano” house designed by John Lautner for Bob Hope. As we pull away, I notice the overall sense of composure and hush created in part by the S7’s noise-cancelling system that uses hidden microphones to monitor ambient cabin sounds then counters the clamor using the stereo speakers.

Parting traffic like a torpedo near silently through water, I start getting acquainted with the S7’s 420 horsepower, 4.0 liter, twin-turbocharged V8 as we merge onto Interstate 5 North while fiddling with the ample technological gadgetry on board. The resolution and detail of the Google-maps (and Google-traffic) enabled navigation system is superb, making the rudimentary directions provided by many of its competitors' systems look like a Thomas Guide. The adaptive cruise control slows and speeds the S7 in sync with traffic ahead, and the active lane assist senses when you may be straying across the dotted lines unintentionally, politely nudging you back into place with a gentle tug at the steering wheel which is a little unnerving at first (and can be switched off if you prefer). As I notice the heads-up display projecting the speed and other vital information to my side of the windshield, Guillermo suggests that I focus on the road as I’ve just missed our very first turn, the ramp to the 101 North freeway. It’s a fair point, and duly noted.

We’re heading to San Francisco to retrieve two large paintings given to us by friends who have sold their apartment fully furnished, and fortunately for us the new owners don’t want the art to remain. Doubly fortunate for this occasion, and the linchpin for this road trip, is the S7’s amazing cargo capacity thanks to its hatchback, or as Audi prefers to call it,  “Sportback” design. Whereas I find their versatility and style incredibly appealing, hatchbacks have traditionally been small, utilitarian modes of economical transport (think Toyota Tercel, Honda Matrix, Ford Fiesta). But now along side the tremendously successful Porsche Panamera (which can be credited with seeding this trend) and the more recent Tesla Model S, the S7 is among the new generation of large, premium hatchbacks that are breaking that mold. The trend is also taking shape in the uppermost tiers of the automotive kingdom, gracing cost-is-no-object cars including the Ferrari FF and F12berlinetta, Aston Martin Rapide, Rolls Royce Wraith, and the upcoming Bugatti Galibier.

While a six and a half hour lope along the highway at a steady 85mph won’t reveal much about a car’s performance thresholds or cornering capabilities, the experience of near-total immersion tells a great deal about the car’s overall character and merits as a long-term companion. The S7’s vast power reserves make short work of passing maneuvers at speeds that would be unwise (and alarming to napping dogs and spouses) in lesser cars, and together with its long legs and well-damped yet communicative ride, commodious interior, and sparkling Bang & Olufsen sound system which enables wireless music playback from Bluetooth-equipped devices, it is ideal for long drives like this. I also learned the reverence it commands from other in-the-know motorists, particularly fellow Audi drivers, two of which ogled the S7 from a distance as I refueled before taking a closer drive-by pass as they returned to the highway. A few hours later, checking into the Hotel Vitale on Mission Street before heading out for dinner, I noted our fuel economy for today’s journey was a respectable 24.5 mpg.


Following breakfast the next morning, we cross the bay to Sausalito to attempt a beauty shot of the S7 with San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge in the background which, as you can see from the middling results, is more difficult than it looks, before heading back into the city to pick up the paintings. Here I must make the confession that, while I had the measurements of the paintings, I had not compared them with the dimensions of the S7’s trunk to see if they would certainly fit. If I had learned they would not, then it would have killed the 700-mile road trip, and why let the truth get in the way of a good story? Guillermo was not aware of my deliberate oversight, and I suppose he’d be well within his rights to berate me if we were driving home empty handed as a result. After a moment of suspense, with the parcel shelf removed and the rear seats folded down, the paintings rested comfortably on the S7’s rear floor with room for Diego to spare. With the booty in the boot, we were on the road back to Los Angeles just past 1pm, and the art was hanging on our walls by 9pm.

While the past 36 hours had taught me all about the S7’s exceptional practicality and comfort for long journeys, now I need to know how it feels when I put my right foot all the way to the floor unencumbered by the passenger, pet and cargo that had previously made such behavior impossible. So I head to the Angeles Crest Highway, which is about 20 minutes from my house, to explore its fast, sweeping turns and see how well the S7 hauls ass rather than art.

Hustled along the mountain road, the S7 behaves with a composed and unruffled demeanor in keeping with its slinky yet substantial, purposeful yet elegant aesthetic. This is not a white-knuckle ride but rather a velvet hammer, a tool for brute force sheathed in a calm, cool and collected wrapper, with seemingly endless torque smooth as a turbine accompanied by a brawny, confident exhaust note rather than a hooligan’s war cry. Burying the S7’s accelerator delivers a gust of turbocharged power like a swift wind to your back, almost too pneumatic to be mechanical, propelling you to the horizon. Audi’s famed “quattro” all-wheel-drive bestows the S7 with uncanny, unshakeable grip, even when accelerating at full throttle on an uneven surface, or performing more mundane tasks like pulling swiftly from your driveway ahead of advancing traffic. It tackles corners with a hunkered-down, drama-free stance, and frankly its capabilities are so much higher than my own that I decided to ease up and keep both my “good driver” insurance discount and a good working relationship with the kind folks at Audi PR intact.

My emotional connection to the Audi S7 stems not from its stellar performance or how easy I found it to live with in the days that followed, but rather from the fact that I can’t take my eyes off the thing. Its silhouette reminds me of a favorite design from the 80s, the Rover SD1 (which despite being a terrible car is very easy on the eyes as it draws heavily from Italian sports cars of the 70s for its inspiration, specifically the Ferrari 365 GTB Daytona and 365 GTC/4). In turn, the S7 carries a certain Italianate flair, particularly at its tapered Sportback rear. I find that many new cars are starting to look the same, and I’ll offer some facts – together with plenty of bias and conjecture – pondering why this is the case in an upcoming post. But first I recommend a cure for this malaise of sameness: the incredibly gorgeous, fast and sublime Audi S7.