TO MAKE sedans cool again, car makers are squashing their roofs, figuratively speaking, as they aim to find a niche that will appeal to increasingly fussy buyers.
This is typifies by the sleek second-generation Audi A7, designed to slot between the A6 large sedan and A8 limousine. An interesting beast, it has coupe-like proportions, the roominess of a four-door sedan and a cargo hold that's bigger than a hatchback and not far off some SUVs.
Despite the low roofline, there's plenty of room front and rear for heads, shoulders, knees and toes feet but most people will buy for the styling alone.
This is only the second generation A7 after the original went on sale in 2010.
Its bold lines and proportions are designed to make it look as if it's hugging the road.
There will be three models initially, starting from $113,900 for the newly named 45 TFSI powered by a 2.0-litre turbo.
Prices jump to $131,900 for either the 55 TFSI with 3.0-litre V6 turbo or the 50 TDI, powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel.
Only the 55 TFSI arrives this year and the others are due early next year.
The high-performance S7 and RS7 are due follow over the next couple of years but details of those have yet to be released.
The list of standard equipment is comprehensive. The A7 is available with all of Audi's safety technology and the maker claims the simplified options list makes it easier to order a car.
It should also make it a little quicker to get you in the traffic, with less complexity among the cars already held by the dealer network.
These are all positive steps, especially if you're an impatient buyer. Audi still knows how to charge - the examples tested on the media preview each had between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of option packs, most of them bundled for ease of ordering.
Audi predicts most customers will choose the Premium Plus option at $8000, which adds adaptive air suspension, 21-inch alloys, panorama sunroof, tinted rear glass, four-zone airconditioning and LED interior lights with 30 colour choices.
The $4200 four-wheel steering option tightens the turning circle and helps the car corner more sharply.
Superb LED "matrix" headlights mask oncoming cars and traffic you're following - Audi claims its high-beam can penetrate further down the road than other LED lights. It's an extra $2500 as an option and a massive $12,000 each to replace after a crash.
Audiophiles can splash out $11,700 on a 19-speaker, 1820W, "3D" sound package by Bang & Olufsen, though the standard B&O arrangement will suit most tastes.
As it's a luxury car with a performance bent, owners might expect aural excitement from the engine.
Audi engineers have done almost too good a job at suppressing cabin noise. There's a subtle growl from the turbo V6 but the most conspicuous indicator of the mumbo under the bonnet comes when you floor the throttle.
It truly shoves you back into the seat, with acceleration that's not only seamless but feels as if it could last forever - or at least until the next corner.
The A7 also impresses with the way it copes with bumps. On test, riding on optional 21-inch wheels with low-profile tyres, the A7 did an outstanding job of flattening patchy pavement.
The cars tested were also equipped with optional air suspension, no doubt contributing to the magic carpet ride.
What it drives like on standard suspension and 20-inch wheels is another matter. Intending buyers should take the regular version on a decent test drive over patchy roads before signing on the dotted line.
Looks sharp, drives well and has ample tech - but for such an impressive piece of engineering, it lacks a little character.
Price: The starting price has been trimmed by a few hundred dollars to $113,900 but initially only the dearer 55 TFSI will be available.
Tech: The A7 is fitted with every piece of Audi safety tech, including door exit warning that senses approaching cyclists and cars.
Performance: The launch model 3.0-litre V6 turbo is matched to a seven-speed auto and AWD. It does the 0-100km/h dash in a brisk 5.3 seconds.
Driving: Audi engineers have made the most of new platform with bigger footprint. Ride is outstanding and acceleration seamless.
Design: This second-generation A7 is new from the ground up. It's slightly longer and wider than before. The body has a mix of aluminium and steel panels.
Audi A7 55TFSI
Price: $131,900 plus on-road costs
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unlimited; $1930 for 3 years
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo, 250kW/500Nm
Safety: 8 airbags, not tested, 22 radar and laser sensors for crash avoidance, 360 camera