ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- From the southbound lane of State Street in Ann Arbor, a right turn into the freeway on-ramp for I-94, USA's northern interstate corridor, leads westward across Michigan toward Chicago, Minneapolis and, if you keep on driving, the end of the road on Puget Sound at Seattle.
For this shot on I-94, our drive plan doesn't include such an ambitious trek as we're only running a few miles out to the Mich. 52 exit at Chelsea, but that's long enough to feel the super strength at freeway speed for a luxurious new car that's stunning in style with a projectile prow and pronounced shoulders yet a graceful arch of roof rails sweeping back to a blunted rump.
Our vehicle -- the latest clever concept from Audi of Germany -- carries a badge of A7 and slots into the mid-size class in configuration with a 2+2 cockpit and four doors for passengers plus a tail-side portal.
With a low roofline and integrated rear doors, the A7 looks sleek and swift like a curve-craving coupe, yet it provides the four cabin doors of a practical sedan and carves out additional cargo room in the hind quarters like a functional wagon.
It's as if Audi's designers tossed a coupe, sedan and wagon into a gigantic blender and mixed all ingredients until the sleek A7 emerged.
Then Audi stocks the A7 with serious performance hardware including a powerful engine enhanced with supercharger and an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic shifter plus electronics governing all aspects of the car's dynamic movements as well as communications, navigation, comfort, even entertainment.
A super-rigid structure blends lightweight aluminum body panels with a steel frame.
And weight-saving aluminum components make the suspension, tuned and tweaked for precise and predictable action, feel light and lively, while Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive (AWD) system for traction at every wheel sets up the tire grip of a sidewinder snake in sand.
Using a self-locking center differential with rear-biased torque split, the Quattro device automatically shifts the majority of all engine torque to whichever wheels, front or rear, attain the best bite of traction.
Normal operation divides the engine's torque at 40/60 percent (front/rear), so the torque bias works like a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) car. Yet with wheel slippage the differential can channel more than 60 percent of the power to the front wheels or more than 75 percent to rear wheels.
Another mechanism applies electronic locking to front and rear differentials in a process that can sense and block an individual wheel from spinning, then redistribute the driving torque from one side of the axle to the other.
Steering, using a rack and pinion arrangement, is quick and Servotronic power assistance is standard, varying the degree of boost according to road speed.
Brakes, with a big disc at each wheel, rely on electronic and computerized links to tame the tires. Anti-lock brake (ABS) controls are standard, along with electronic brake distribution (EBD) plus Audi's electronic stabilization program (ESP) which automatically checks lateral vehicle slippage and skidding.
Now consider that power package in the A7.
It's a dual-cam aluminum V6 displacing 3.0 liters and rigged with a supercharger and dual intercoolers plus Audi's remarkable FSI (fuel straight injection) technology applied.
Power rips to 310 hp between 5500-6500 rpm with max torque of 325 lb-ft from 2900-4500 rpm.
The transmission is Audi's dual-clutch S tronic eight-speed Tiptronic automatic with DSP (dynamic shift program).
Audi leads the auto industry in cockpit design and the interior scheme on A7 seems quite handsome using soft leather hides and aluminum metal or wood veneer trim.
A wraparound sky-liner dashboard envelops driver and passenger seats as cabin trim comes in choices of two aluminum variants and two types of wood.
The pair of individual rear seats provides generous room for legs and heads, or the seats fold to expand the rear cargo bay.
Audi builds the A7 with three trim packages.
A7 3.0 TFSI Premium provides 18-inch aluminum wheels and all-season tires, xenon headlamps, leather upholstery, power controls and heat elements for front seats, a tri-zone automatic climate system, power tailgate and power sunroof, Keyless Go, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius satellite radio and Audi Music Interface.
A7 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus package adds 19-inch sport wheels, a driver information system with 8-inch MMI screen, MMI navigation plus, front and rear parking sensors, a CD changer, HD Radio and Jukebox.
A7 3.0 TFSI Prestige package brings S line trim on bumpers and grille, adaptive headlights and cornering lights, Advanced Key (keyless entry), quad-zone climate controls, ventilated front seats and a Bose sound system.
Optional equipment packages include Innovation (Audi Pre Sense Plus, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Audi Side Assist, Head Up Display, Night Vision Assistant); Sport (19-inch or 20-inch wheels with performance tires, sport suspension and a 3-spoke sport steering wheel with shift paddles); Driver Assistance (Audi Pre Sense Plus, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go and Audi Side Assist); and a 1300-watt Bang & Olufsen sound kit with 15 speakers.
Audi starts the MSRP chart for a 2012 A7 at $59,250.