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Car Report

2012 Audi A7

2012 Audi A7

 (Audi)

So, this is what the Porsche Panamera could’ve looked like?

Theoretically, yes. The 2012 Audi A7 shares the same five-door layout as the plump Porsche. The difference is…well, isn’t it obvious?

The A7 is simply a knockout. While the Porsche has presence, its VW Group cousin has polish. It’s been said that Americans hate hatchbacks. If that’s true, it’s because don’t see too many like this.

But it’s not just the gentle way that the rear end is handled. The entire A7, from its supercar face to its athletic flanks, is a work of four-passenger art. It fulfills all of the promise of 2008’s gorgeous A5 coupe that was not quite fulfilled by the handsome, but safe A4, A6 and A8 redesigns that followed it.

The A7 is built on the same platform and wheelbase as the middle child of those, the A6, but is lower, a little longer and a touch heavier, despite being one seat short. The dashboard design of the two cars is identical and a masterwork in wood and soft-touch plastics. Slightly recessed below the base of the windshield, its vaguely ocular shapes are a delight to the eyes and more than make up for the fact that there isn’t a swatch of leather in sight.

Instead, the A7 gets high tech features like a thin-film display filling the space between the analog gauges in the instrument cluster and an 8-inch monitor that slides out of the center console. Along with typical infotainment functions, the navigation system has a Google Maps satellite view that’s entirely unnecessary, but very cool, and a news service provided by Agency France Presse. It is a European car, after all.

More interesting is a built-in WiFi hotspot, courtesy of a T-Mobile cellular connection. Eight different wireless devices can connect to it simultaneously – handy in a four-passenger car - and it works on the move. Well, usually. Go on a long road trip and you’ll discover that the service can be a little spotty – who even knew 2G still existed? The data plan is free for the first 6 months, and $25 per month after that. In a car that starts at $59,250 it’s a relative pittance, as long as you expect to have other people in the car most of the time. Otherwise, it’s kind of useless unless you spend a lot of time sitting around parked cars, weirdo.

There is an even more novel feature that’s just the thing for a solo commuter, however. Next to the lever for the 8-speed automatic gearbox is a touchpad that lets you scribble in the names of destinations with your finger. It works well, but if it’s not your thing you can always use the Multi Media Interface dial next to it, or your voice for most functions.

Fold down the rear seats – which you can do with the fronts positioned all the way back – and this executive cruiser transforms into a cavernous cargo carrier. There is a station wagonesque amount of room back there, and a six-footer can even lie down comfortably for a stylish camping trip or other weirdo activities. It’s a satisfying bit of functionality, and with the rear seats up and the hard luggage cover in place still holds over 24 cubic feet of stuff, 10 more than the traditional trunk on the A6 can handle.

Tucked into the other end of the car is Audi’s turbine-smooth 3.0-liter supercharged V6. Here it puts out 310 horsepower and, thanks to all of those gears to the box, gets the A7 off the line with the urgency of a pro stock dragster while allowing it to cruise down the highway barely above idle. Fuel economy is 28 mph highway. Please let us know if you can find a car this big with this many doors and this much horsepower that can do better.

On A7s fitted with Audi’s Drive Select, you can change the steering feel, throttle response and transmission logic independently to fit your mood. Unfortunately, and unlike some other Audis with the system, you can’t adjust the suspension, which would make this a much more appealing option. As it is, the A7 is tuned to the sporty side of the spectrum. On the 20-inch wheels that my test car was fitted with, perhaps too much so for the urban grind.

But hit a patch of stimulus-smooth highway and it all coalesces into a blissful clarity of German engineering. The sleek, aerodynamic shape cuts through the air in near silence, while the wheels make love to the tarmac, fed by the rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system. A sports car it is not, a sports sedan it is, even if it’s not really a sedan.

All told, this could be the perfect luxury car for the family of four…that doesn’t want to look like one.

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2012 Audi A7

Base Price: $59,250

Type: 5-door, 4-passenger hatchback

Engine: 3.0L supercharged V6

Power: 310 hp, 325 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

MPG: 18 city/28 hwy