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Audi’s S7 is demure in the fast lane

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 1:20 a.m. CST

(Continued from Page 1)

Side by side, the 2013 Audi S7 and its sister sedan, the A7, look strikingly similar. But only one of these well-appointed man-wagons can simultaneously thrill the ladies with its luxuriously accelerative sex appeal and comfortably cart the kids on alternate weekends, without angering the ex-wife so much with ostentatious overkill that she'll sue for child endangerment and additional alimony. It's the sport-oriented S version of Audi's newly updated five-door coupe.

There's a stealth to the S7, a WASP-y elegance belying its over-the-top, under-the-hood endowments, that will inspire men of a certain age and income bracket to part with the additional $18,700 it will take to buy the S rather than the A. The S7 mimics many of the exterior lines of the A7, with an aerodynamic profile so sleek, lean and low it almost looks extruded. But it's powered with a significantly larger, 4.0-liter V-8 boosted with twin turbochargers that make the exhaust so satisfyingly throaty that a male friend, who usually lets me drop his kids curbside after play dates, was drawn outdoors by the siren call of the S7.

"What sexy beast is this?" he asked.

It was dark, but I could swear he left drool on the hood as I sped off into the night without properly demonstrating the car's 4.5-second acceleration from 0 to 60.The S7 isn't merely a straight-line machine. Heading into the switchbacks of Angeles Crest one weekend, I sped past a pair of motorcycles that didn't look like they were apt to drop a knee, confident that the S7 could slice and dice the canyons at least as effectively. And it did. Outfitted with permanent all-wheel drive and a sport differential that distributes the car's 406 pound-feet of torque between its rear wheels, the S7 was especially obedient as I shifted through its seven speeds. Accelerating through corner after corner on my upward trajectory through the Crest's 198 turns, I was blissfully unaware of the behind-the-scenes technology that pushes torque toward the outside wheel in the turn, yanking the car into the straights without under-steering and helping it accelerate with more grip and speed.

The S7 starts at $78,800. The version I tested: $94,570, which included an optional head-up display that reflected the car's digital speedo in the windshield, as if it were a dare to run it over.

The display is part of an innovation package that buys a number of safety features, including front-bumper cameras that seem able to peer around corners and alert drivers to lurking treacheries. A night-vision assistant detects pedestrians 1,000 feet ahead and will chime and show him or her silhouetted in yellow on the car's LCD if such a fool is deaf to the S7's sounds, blind to its speed, and strays into the car's anticipated path of travel.

Driving a V-8 in an era when gas prices find a new high with each passing year feels as indulgent as eating a banana split for dinner and creme brulee for dessert, but Audi employs various technologies to reduce the S7's gluttony. The S7 is equipped with start-stop technology that turns the engine off entirely when the S7 is fully stopped. The engine immediately starts back up when the driver releases the brake pedal to drive the car as it's designed – as if I needed to drive across the country and were only given a day to do so.

Its cylinder-on-demand system also ups the ante on the fuel economy, increasing it by 12 percent to a marginally less appalling 20 mpg (combined) by shutting down half of the engine's eight cylinders when the car is driving above third gear at highway rpms, completely unbeknownst to the driver. I sensed nothing as the car seamlessly switched from eight cylinders to four. Active engine mounts damp any changes in vibration, as well as audible frequencies that can be heard in the passenger cabin, from cylinder de- and re-activation.

The S7 I tested was equipped with a Bang & Olufsen upgrade that prompted two small speakers to sprout like mushrooms from the far corners of the dash when the car was fired up; I was so blissed out from the premium audio surround sound it was if I had taken actual psychotropics. Other Jeeves-like amenities come standard, such as the buttery leather seats, lighted door pulls and the sun visors, which, when the vanity mirrors are slid open, automatically turn on a light – the better to view drivers' dilated pupils from ill-advised attempts to max out its 420 horsepower.

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