Audis sleek $60,000 A7 hatchback gobbles distance

Whether you adore or abhor the A7, you Whether you adore or abhor the A7, you can't help but look at it.The A7 is the expressive alter ego to the more staid 2012 A6 that it is based on. Photo Credit: MCT/Jeff Amlotte

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Sleek. Few words are as overused in describing consumer products. A superficial term often applied to overpriced objects that turn out to be obsolete in six months.

The new Audi A7 is sleek. Shiny and slick as well, two other words I dont particularly like.

Odd, then, that I deeply desire it. Thats despite -- okay, because of -- its utter slick n shiny sleekness. I cant help myself. My brain easily rebuffs the need for an iPad 2, but those pleasure receptors get all tingly when presented with this overly stylized $60,000 car.

Im driving the A7 down a wide freeway through New Jersey in the dead of night, a sliver of moon overhead. Theres almost no traffic and the adaptive xenon headlights create a silvery tunnel through the asphalt darkness.

The Bose stereo, quite good, is pumping. The interior is gently lit by ambient LED lights tucked inside the door handles. The sunroof is open and the warm outside air smells of greenery.

2012 Audi A7 Photo Credit: Audi USA

I could happily drive all night. Im two states away from my destination, but would easily go twice as far. This is what a car like the A7 is designed for. It gobbles up distance, leaving the occupants in crisp comfort.

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Unlike some highway barges, however, its essence doesnt bore or lull, prodding drivers to a nearby motel for a bit of shut-eye. Rather I constantly drop my gaze to the speedometer, making sure my speed hasnt crept beyond an acceptable threshold. New Jerseys state police are nice, but Id prefer not to meet them tonight.

Night Shift

The 3.0-liter V-6 isnt loud or rough-sounding. I cant hear it over my selection of night-driving songs. But it is punchy at low speeds and brilliant at a freeway pace. The gearing is managed by an imperceptible eight-speed transmission that acts quickly to downshift when you ask for extra power.

I drop off the freeway to an exit ramp, barely reducing my speed. My test car has 20-inch wheels with summer performance tires and traction is good. All-wheel-drive is standard.

I roll onto a side street, looking for gas. The A7 gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway: Not bad considering the 310 horsepower. The engine is supercharged and direct injected.

As I maneuver to the pump, Im cursing the steering. Like the new A8 sedan, the power-steering is electric and speed sensitive. It feels about as organic as a block of Velveeta cheese. Just as rubbery, too.

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Loose Steering

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Its designed to turn extra easily at low speeds -- so you dont strain yourself with the superhuman effort of maneuvering in a parking lot, for instance. (Yes, thats sarcasm.) As you go faster, the resistance gradually builds, firming by the time youre on the highway.

BMW uses a similar system, which doesnt bother me. Audi still hasnt perfected its feel, however. Its far too loose when driving around town. My irritation fades as I begin pumping gas and gaze over the sheet metal.

Audis A6 sedan is bigger and plusher than the A4; shorter and less luxurious than the A8. So the A7s odd-numbered nomenclature kind of says it all. It doesnt fit an elemental function, but rather fills a quirky niche.

This is for the driver who wants to exhibit her or his uniqueness while still showing off.

The A7 has four doors and a rear hatch. Most striking when viewed from the side, its defined by a sloping roofline, which arcs in an uninterrupted line into the trunk to form the hatchback.

Mercedes Fastback

This fastback design became popular again when Mercedes-Benz introduced its beautiful CLS sedan in 2004. Benz has just released the second generation of that car.

The A7 has an extremely thick shoulder-line running from the fenders to taillights, a feature that stands out nearly as much as the shape of the roof. The extrusion, situated between the window sill and door handles, is so prominent that Im able to rest a nickel on its ledge.

While the large sedan will seat only four, ceiling height in the rear is acceptable. Folding the rear seats down flat results in a cavern of space, into which I easily slid a bicycle. The hatch opens and closes electronically. The downside of the configuration is thick pillars in the rear, resulting in a potential blind spot. Optional side sensors are $500.

Neat Navigation

My test car had the $6,330 Prestige package, which includes sportier-looking bumpers, the Bose stereo and a navigation system. The extremely thin navigation screen does a neat trick of sliding out of the dashboard horizontally and then righting itself.

Audi is aiming at technocrats. You can choose to view maps in Google Earth view, and see related photos or Wikipedia entries. The car can even function as a traveling Wi-Fi hot spot. Strictly necessary? Not really, but real-estate agents, Silicon Valley wunderkinds and teenagers will surely be impressed.

Me? Im just ready to get back inside, get up to speed and blow through the night in my sleek ride.

The 2012 Audi A7 at a Glance

Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, with 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 18 city; 28 highway.

Price as tested: $68,630.

Best feature: Hatchback practicality in a fabulous package.

Worst feature: Speed-sensitive steering.

Target buyer: Those who appreciate a niche (and odd- numbered) player.

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