In The City — 05 January 2013
Behind the wheel of the elegant Audi A7

The 2013 Audi A7 did something I didn’t think was possible: It made me want to catch a red light, a long train, an open drawbridge. In other words, it made driving around South Florida an endless pleasure. Because when I was stopped I could turn my eyes from the road and gaze at the photograph – courtesy of Google Earth – that appeared on the small screen that automatically slid out of the dashboard as soon as I turned on the engine and then, just as magically, stood straight up, to show me my world as seen from on high.

By going to the menu – working the buttons on the console separating me from the passenger seat – I could switch to a detailed map. But I preferred the aerial views, which also identified major streets and even showed me – using the international sign of a thick white bar on a bright red background – which parts of A1A were closed. (I was driving the Audi the weekend of Sandy.)

You might think that seeing from above the cityscape you’re driving through would be a distraction, but after a while you get used to the real-time film of your automotive life. Though you’re constantly awed by the number of vast, flat roofs in South Florida, especially along I-95. And it’s fascinating, when stopped, to zoom in – “There’s my condo building!” – and out: “There’s the Atlantic Ocean!” Also, test driving a $66,000 car tends to concentrate the mind – and focus one’s eyes on the road.

I had picked the car up at Prestige Imports Miami, where Audi brand specialist Gene Elperin went over the elegant vehicle with me. A four-door coupe, it is something of an oxymoron: a sleek family car. Spacious and sporty. The four-wheel drive, he said, gave it excellent traction in the rain. To help with parking, there were cameras and sensors. The car came with so many extracurricular features – WiFi, streaming Bluetooth – that I wondered if I was supposed to drive it or use it as an office/man cave for the weekend. There was even a video feature, Gene said, but it only operated when the car was in “park.”

But a lot of the bling had practical purposes. For instance, if I said “I need gas” the car would show me the locations of the nearest gas stations. Gene also explained that, sometimes at red lights, the engine will automatically shut off, and then come back on when you tap your foot on the gas. The Audi A7 is for people who don’t mind driving a car that is smarter than they are.

Saying goodbye to Gene, I pulled out of the lot and headed home on U.S. 1. The leather seat was incredibly comfortable. At every light I looked at the screen and saw the ocean.

As I pulled into my condo garage, Google Earth disappeared, replaced by a view of my parking space, with two curved lines showing the trajectory the Audi wished me to take. (Told you it was smart.) As I inched closer to the wall, the beeps of the sensors grew more frequent. A constant beep, my wife told me that evening, as she read the owner’s manual, signified that I was one foot away from an object and that I should stop.

That evening I also discovered that, to ensure that I heard the sensors, the volume of the radio automatically lowered while I was parking – or leaving a space – and then, once I had successfully deposited – or extricated – the car, it returned to where I had set it. Another clever, helpful feature, especially for drivers who blast hip hop.

The following day I went for a Sunday drive, trying the different driving modes: Comfort. Auto. Dynamic. Individual. The most distinctive was Dynamic, which gave the car something of a hot rod feel, and made red lights, or more precisely their immediate aftermath, even more desirable.

—Thomas Swick


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