EVERY SATURDAY MORNING, WEATHER permitting, car buffs and industry types begin their weekends with coffee and cars in the parking lot of a Birmingham, MI, automotive book store.

They arrive driving classics, concepts and project cars or just to gawk at sheet metal. Stock production cars normally don't draw much interest, but the Audi A7 arrives like the royal wedding. A crowd rapidly surrounds the car to take in the best Ingolstadt has to offer.

It's as if the beautifully styled A7 exudes a healing aura, and the enthusiasts want to be close enough to absorb the spiritual glow.

Audi is in the midst of launching a Holy Trinity of its most expensive luxury cars, all springing from the same modular MLB architecture: The flagship A8 arrived last November, and the redesigned A6 comes later this year.

But the A7 is destined to stir the Audi faithful with its coupe-like silhouette, ground-hugging disposition, short overhangs and a front end that could be mistaken for the gorgeously sleek Audi R8 2-seater.

Did we mention it's a hatchback? Ironically, the body style vilified 30 years ago in cheap economy cars is precisely what gives the A7 its flair, wonderful proportions and flexibility. The two rear seats fold to yield a nearly flat load floor.

The A7's nearest competitor is the slightly larger (but heavier) BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo, which can accommodate five while the A7 seats only four.

Beating both the A7 and BMW GT to market by several years was the Mercedes CLS 4-door coupe. The second-generation CLS550 goes on sale this summer.

Although the A8 and A7 share architectural underpinnings and the 8-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission, Audi does a good job delineating the two.

They have different engines, suspensions, dimensions and interiors, which makes sense because A8 pricing starts nearly $20,000 above the A7's $59,250 (without $875 destination/dealer charges).

While the A8 offers a direct-injection 4.2L V-8 and — later this year — the 500-hp FSI W12, the A7 makes do with the more efficient supercharged 3.0L TFSI V-6 that has earned Ward's 10 Best Engines honors the past two years in the Audi S4.

The A7 weighs 573 lbs. (260 kg) more than the S4 (with manual transmission), which illustrates the remarkable versatility of the direct-injection V-6.

Some 20% of the A7's body is made from aluminum, including doors, hood and trunk lid. The styling invites the driver to treat the A7 as if it were a V-8-powered sports car, and it does not disappoint on winding backroads.

Able to reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.4 seconds, the A7 is no patsy, with quattro permanent all-wheel drive.

In normal driving conditions, the car is sedate and quiet. But under hard throttle, the dual exhaust trumpets a heavenly chorus worthy of Westminster Abbey.

Some buyers in this segment require more horsepower. Could the 4.2L V-8 fit in the A7's engine bay, in the event the brand wanted to introduce, say, a sporty S7? Absolutely, according to Audi insiders. A 3.0L TDI turbodiesel V-6 is available in Europe but has not yet been confirmed for the U.S.

Although the A7's sheet metal is smooth, it bends in the right places, with wheel wells that flair softly but provide perfect contour to the 20-in. alloys.

The most dramatic styling cue, seen from behind, is at the beltline, where the body-side panels collapse inward to a smallish greenhouse, much like a Porsche 911.

The exquisite design carries into the interior, where brushed aluminum, muted wood trim and premium leather strike a balance between lavish and sporty.

While the A8 instrument panel is more uniform and horizontally arrayed, the A7's “sky-liner” wraparound dashboard uses asymmetrical air vents and flowing lines to distinguish itself.

Sight lines front and rear generally are good, but lateral vision is hindered by a massive B-pillar several inches wide. Add in the oversized front head restraints and the sloping roof line, and the A7's blind-spot could prove problematic.

A remedy comes in the form of Audi Side Assist, which uses radar to monitor the area behind and beside the vehicle.

The A8 and A7 interiors are distinctly different, as the flagship sedan rightly offers unique features, such as the Alcantara suede door-panel inserts.

The A7's vivid display incorporates Audi Drive Select, which allows the driver to choose between “comfort” and “dynamic” settings for seatbelt tension and engine response. The system works well in significantly altering steering feel from firm to relaxed.

But oddly enough, it cannot adjust suspension feel, even though that feature is becoming common in luxury cars. A standard air suspension on the A8 offers that variability.

Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen tells Ward's he thinks the A7 can find 6,000 customers in its first full year. Ambitious? Perhaps.

But the A7, built in Neckarsulm, Germany, is a divinely stylish niche luxury car with few rivals. Don't be surprised if you feel the urge to genuflect the first time you see this car in person.

PROS/CONS

+

  • Positively radiant styling
  • Typically excellent interior
  • Reasonable price for segment

-

  • Only seats four
  • Large blind-spot
  • No adaptive suspension

'12 Audi A7

Vehicle type: Front-engine, AWD, 4-passenger, 5-door coupe

Engine: 3.0L supercharged DOHC direct-injection all-aluminum V-6

Power: 310 hp @ 5,500-6,500 rpm

Torque: 325 lb.-ft. (441 Nm) @ 2,900-4,500 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic auto

Wheelbase: 114.7 ins. (242 cm)

Overall length: 195.6 ins. (497 cm)

Overall height: 55.9 ins. (142 cm)

Curb weight: 4,210 lbs. (1,910 kg)

Base price: $59,250

Fuel economy: 18/28 (13-8.3 L/100 km)

Competition: Mercedes CLS; BMW Gran Turismo