Driven: 2013 Audi S7
By Brandon Turkus
July 09, 2013
—Lake Orion, Michigan
Rule number one of the S7 has to do with where it sits in the world—it is not merely a V-8 variant of the A7 (albeit a biturbocharged V-8 with 420 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque). That’s a difficult rule to remember, particularly when one looks at Audi’s current lineup.
The most potent A7 you can get comes with a 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6 that can generate 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. That makes it ill equipped to combat the four-door-coupe segment’s standard bearer, the eight-cylinder-only Mercedes-Benz CLS550.
So, yes, it’s easy to dismiss the S7 as just a more potent A7 (just like it’s easy to dismiss the S4 as a faster A4, and so on and so forth). But there’s much more to this car than a simple engine change.
Audi has swapped the eight-speed auto from the A7 for one of its seven-speed, dual-clutch S-Tronic units. Mated to a new 4.0-liter, 420-horsepower, 406 pound-foot, biturbocharged V-8, the S7 trims the A7’s 0-60 down from 5.4 seconds to just 4.5 seconds. Not only does that demolish the standard car’s time, but it does a number on the CLS550, which takes 5.1 seconds to hit 60.
The standard five-link front suspension has been ditched in favor of an adaptive air suspension with variable damping, to deliver a ride that is both sportier and more comfortable depending on the driver’s whims. The ride is .39 inches lower, and the entire car is set off by S-specific 19- or 20-inch alloys.
Hiding behind those wheels are meatier brakes, with rotors growing from 14 inches in front and 13 inches in back to 15.7 up front and 14 inches in back. A set of matte black calipers with the S7 emblem rounds out the braking upgrades.
The centerpiece of the revised cabin are the new sport seats. Sporting an embossed S7 logo in the Valcona leather, customers have the choice of 12-way, heated seats or 22-way heated and ventilated seats. The 22-way seats sound nice, but buyers will be missing out on the striking diamond-patterned contrast stitching.
Our tester’s 12-way seats were exactly what we’ve come to expect from Audi’s S cars. There’s plenty of support, along with reasonably sized bolsters that don’t inhibit ingress and egress too much. Adjustability is good, and finding a comfortable seating position isn’t difficult at all. Still, at nearly $80,000 for a base model, we kind of feel like Audi should just be including the 22-way seats and ventilation as standard.
A three-spoke sport steering wheel has been fitted, complete with a set of aluminum paddle shifters. Fans of the excellent flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheels found in the S4 and S5 should be prepared for disappointment, though, as the S7’s wheel is in a more conventional shape. That’s not to say it’s bad to use. Although we found it a bit too big, it was finished in soft, grippy leather and was quite an enjoyable piece during our week with the S7.
It shouldn’t be a shock, but this degree of parts swapping delivers a very different driving experience. While we liked the A7 plenty, with one former editor going so far as to drive it from Detroit to New Orleans and back, the S7 is on an entirely different plane in terms of its charm and driving demeanor.
Key to controlling all the new features is Audi’s Drive Select system. Covering even larger portion of the S7’s systems, Drive Select manipulates everything from the throttle response and shift speeds, to the air suspension’s stiffness, to the way the engine sounded. Hell, there’s even an ADS setting for the adaptive cruise control.
The new 4.0-liter, biturbocharged V-8 is fantastic, and feels very different from the iteration we sampled in the Bentley Continental GT. It’s far more alive and revvy and will gleefully streak to its 6400-rpm redline. Give it a full boot along the way and it will get you in trouble with the law.
Power is ample across the rev range, with the S7 pulling hard away from the lights. The power delivery is linear and smooth, though, and it’s more the way that this engine revs than the way it arrives at its power that shocks.
It sounds fantastic as well, with a racy V-8 note under heavy throttle. That said, the S7 could stand to be a bit louder. The exhaust sounds nice, but it lacks the acoustic presence that its quad exhaust tips demand.
Slot the vaguely T-shaped shifter into manual mode by sliding the lever towards the passenger, select Dynamic on the Audi Drive Control (more on that soon), and the full potential of this engine-transmission combo comes to life.
The quick revs are matched with equally quick upshifts and downshifts. Really, the immediacy of these shifts cannot be overstated. It is fast. Manual mode is a delight to use, thanks to the right-now shift speeds and the perfect placement and size of the aluminum paddle shifters.
In automatic, this car still swaps cogs quickly, although it isn’t quite as immediate as in manual mode. Dig into the throttle and the tach will quickly shoot up as a lower gear is selected. The shift logic in automatic is bang on, and Sport will happily hold revs after a boot full of throttle. Swapping out of Dynamic into Normal or Comfort lessens things noticeably, with a greater emphasis on seamless changes rather than lightning speed.
Still, in this sense the seven-speed dual-clutch works well. This is a gearbox with good instincts when it comes to choosing the right gear and knowing when to hold off on an upshift.
Making a 4500-pound car go quickly in a straight line isn’t a huge issue, as Audi has demonstrated with the S7’s excellent powertrain. Making it competently handle a bend without brutalizing its passengers on rough roads, though, is a real challenge.
Audi’s air suspension is up to the challenge, though. In Dynamic, there’s a surprising degree of agility from this big four-door coupe. It feels sharp and darty, with flat, neutral, and predictable handling. There’s not a lot of body roll, and what does show up comes on progressively.
Part of the S7’s handling abilities are its huge, sticky Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT tires. The 265/35 rubber provides plenty of grip, and thanks to the fairly communicative ride, it’s easy to interpret just when they’re about to give up.
Normal and Comfort modes are both firmer than we’d initially expected them to be. In Comfort, the ride is more compliant, but we were feeling too many impacts and bumps along the way. There’s also a lot of tire and road noise infiltrating the cabin. Still, for a car that can handle this admirably, we’re willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort overall. And we’d certainly feel confident calling the S7 a better balanced offering than something like a hardcore CLS63 AMG.
At $78,800, Audi has struck a sweetspot with the S7’s pricing. It’s about $6700 more than a base, rear-drive Mercedes-Benz CLS550. The BMW 650i Gran Coupe, meanwhile, has a starting price of almost $10,000 more. Porsche’s Panamera S starts at $93,200, making it nearly $15,000 more than the Audi.
The S7 delivers equal or better performance than all three vehicles listed above, while being considerably more affordable than two of them. Coincidentally, the cheaper CLS is the least engaging driver’s car of the four, in addition to being the slowest. We could hear an argument calling the Panamera the better driving instrument, but buying one over the S7 is like passing on a night with Kate Upton for a date with Roseanne Barr.
Audi has hit a bullseye with the S7, delivering a beautiful car that is at once comfortable and well appointed and faster than nearly any other car in its segment. It’s agile and fun to drive in a way that few vehicles of this size are, and considering its price relative to Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, it’s quite a performance and luxury bargain. The S7, as we said, is not a V-8-powered alternative to Audi’s A7—it’s just an alternative to everything else.
2013 Audi S7 Quattro
Engine: Biturbocharged V-8, 4.0 liters, 32v
Output: 420 hp/406 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.5 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph*
Weight: 4508 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 17/27 mpg
Base Price: $78,800