Beauty and power are worth the extra money.

There’s a happy medium between performance and practicality – at least that’s what the Audi S line of vehicles tries to achieve. A bit spicier than the base A models, but shy of the fully-leaded RS line, the S cars are a necessary intermediary for the brand. This balancing act is a hard stunt to pull off, and admittedly not every Audi S car is great. But the 2020 Audi S7 is a different story, and a spirited drive along a California mountain road is the receipt.

But before getting carried away with superlatives and compliments, some context. The S7 is not a cheap date – it starts at $83,900. That’s a full ten grand over the mechanically identical and more practical S6 sedan. Spend enough time ticking option boxes and the S7 jumps into six-figure territory.

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“Then why, Clint, should I buy the more expensive S7 which is also more cramped than the S6?” Thanks for asking. In the simplest terms, it’s a matter of emotional appeal. There’s a presence to the S7 that the decidedly more pedestrian S6 can’t match. Make the jump from six to seven and you end up with the perfect Audi S car: a good-looking, pleasant-on-road, much better product than its A sibling.

2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive

Love At First Sight

Of course, the S7’s appeal stems from its sumptuous shape. In place of the S6’s mundane sedan proportions is a streamlined, “four-door coupe” body. Add on the $1,750 Black Optics package and the S7’s charm is undeniable. Cues like the angular darkened grille, black side mirrors, and 21-inch wheels look fantastic complementing this test car’s Glacier White Metallic paint. Additional S-specific touches like the quad exhaust tips add some necessary aggression to this design.

The S7’s cabin is mostly reminiscent of what we’ve already seen in the A7, just with most standard features due to its higher starting price. A 10.1-inch touchscreen running Audi’s MMI interface with navigation, four-zone climate control, a surround-view camera, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster come standard in every S7. That’s plenty to satisfy just about every tech snob, though a $4,900 Bang & Olufsen upgraded sound system is available for those who desire it. As is the $5,600 Prestige package, which adds rear cross-traffic alert, rear collision detection, dual-pane glass, heated rear seats, interior ambient lighting, and Audi’s laser headlights. That’s a hefty price to pay, but this package includes enough sought-after features to justify the extra money; the headlights and ambient lighting being the best of the bunch. The most significant change, however, is under the hood.

In place of the A7’s turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 is a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6. Both engines include an electric compressor powered by the on-board 48-volt mild-hybrid system, though power jumps from 335 in the A7 to 444 horsepower here. Torque improves by a hearty 74 pound-feet, up from 369 to 443. Audi also replaced the seven-speed dual-clutch in the A7 with an eight-speed automatic (also found in the RS models). An Audi product planner tells us the eight-speed better manages all that torque. Remember, the S7’s biggest selling point over the A7 is the engine upgrade, so this V6 has to be good. And it is.

2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive

Dancing In Dynamic Mode

The mountain roads running through the Northern California town of Woodside are, in a word, sensational. They’re tight and challenging, providing the perfect playground to put the S7 through its paces.

With a big, all-wheel drive sedan like the S7, the topic of understeer immediately comes to mind, especially on these twisty roads. Audi baked its retort to the car pushing wide around turns into the $4,000 S Sport Package, offering all-wheel steering and a sport differential. As in other cars, the all-wheel steering enables the rear tires to turn in just slightly, shortening the S7’s turning radius. And that trick rear differential shuffles extra torque to the outside rear wheel during cornering as needed, also cutting down on understeer.

With both axles steering the car, turn-in feels extremely sharp. Even though some amount of understeer is inevitable in an all-wheel drive car of with this big of a footprint, the S7 bombs around high-speed corners happily. The aforementioned systems add up to make this big sedan feel much smaller than it really is.

2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive
2020 Audi S7: First Drive

There’s more good news to report regarding the S7’s fantastic soundtrack, with extra thanks to this car’s optional sport exhaust. The V6 is church-quiet up until 4,000 rpm, but roars proudly after that, barking and burbling with each upshift. Controversial as it may be, this engine sounds better than the V8 stuffed into the RS models. It’s power delivery is also exciting. Audi boats “zero” turbo lag thanks to its electric compressor, which kicks in before the old-school turbos, but that’s not totally true. There’s some delay in response, albeit very small. Still, the big sedan pulls hard from down low and rewards the driver with noise as the engine speed climbs. The ZF-sourced transmission exhibits excellent behavior, just as in the countless other products that feature it. Around town, the powertrain is docile and agreeable, but when provoked, there is enough grunt (and sound) to make any work commute a fun one.

As gratifying as it is to push the S7 through the bends, there are two downfalls worth mentioning. The car’s steering feel is less inspiring than the rest of its hardware. Not only is there a massive center dead zone, but also very little feedback returned through the rack. Switching to Dynamic mode adds some heft, but it doesn’t communicate any better to the driver. The only other gripe is the optional $350 steel suspension, which frankly shouldn’t exist at all. This setup is unforgiving and needlessly stiff for a luxury sedan, especially a non-RS model. Luckily, time spent behind the wheel of an S7 equipped with the standard adaptive air suspension is much more enjoyable.

2020 Audi S7: First Drive

Dollars Vs Sense

Mercedes-AMG and BMW both took note of Audi’s S line success and made some pretty great versions of their own. The CLS 53 AMG and M850i are both phenomenal options, each of which is worth considering. In fairness, the BMW is $20,000 pricier than the Audi or Mercedes, but also has a V8 good for 523 horsepower.

Even surrounded by tough competition, though, the Audi S7 shines. All of the base content from the A7 is present, like the good looks and exemplary technology suite, but with a more invigorating driving demeanor. Spending six-figures on a mid-range product is a tough pill to swallow, but the S7 is the best example of an Audi S product currently on sale. Emotional appeal isn’t always logical, but it’s most often unforgettable.

Gallery: 2020 Audi S7: First Drive

2020 Audi S7

Engine Twin-Turbocharged 2.9-Liter V6
Output 444 Horsepower / 443 Pound-Feet
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Speed 0-60 MPH 4.5 Seconds
Efficiency 18 City / 28 Highway / 22 Combined
Weight 4,597 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 24.9 Cubic Feet
Base Price $83,900
As-Tested Price $102,090