Business In The Front, Party In The Back
Everyone is, based on taste, stage of life and quantity of stuff, a person of a certain kind of vehicle category. You're an SUV girl, or a sports-car guy, or a truck person. Or maybe you've got some self-confidence, and you're willing to openly refer to yourself as a minivan man or a wagon lady.
Rides like Audi's new A7 are making it harder to fit neatly into those categories. Built on the same skeleton as the midsize A6 sedan, the A7 is a swoopy-, coupy-looking four-door with an honest-to-goodness hatchback on the tail. Audi calls it a four-door coupe, whatever that means. We took one from our Connecticut offices to Vermont for a four-day golf weekend to find out if it could render the A6's standard trunk obsolete.
What makes the A7 different from the standard sedan--aside from the modified tail--is the low-slung roofline and the split seat in the back, which carries only two people versus the A6's three-wide bench. The hatch also swallows almost twice as much luggage and gear as the regular trunk--in our case, two golf bags and three suitcases. Aside from that, the frames of the two cars are identical, and they both use the same motor, Audi's 310-horsepower supercharged V6. You'll also pay more for the sleeker A7. It starts at $59,250 for the "base" premium model and escalates to just more than $80,000 for a loaded, all-wheel-drive Prestige edition like the one we tested. That's about $8,000 more across the line than an identical A6, but a good $15,000 less than a similarly equipped Porsche Panamera, which runs in the same rarefied "fancy fastback" category.
The car we took on our drive was loaded with the expected luxury goodies, like 20-inch wheels, a high-end sound system and adaptive cruise control, but it also had some dangerously addictive technological flourishes. The A7 has its own Wi-Fi hotspot (Audi connect) so you can use the Internet through the navigation screen to search for addresses and phone numbers, or link up a passenger's iPad for interstate Web surfing. And the nav system overlays satellite images from Google Earth onto the standard road graphics, giving you a realistic view of the route.
The A7 is roomy and comfortable, and it drives smaller than it is. You feel like you're down in the car, sitting closer to the road--no mean feat in a car that weighs more than two tons. And the utility of the larger access door in the back more than makes up for the loss of the middle seat in the back. With a pair of cashmere-lined sleeping bags and the rear seats folded down, you could stretch out in the back, watch streaming video of your favorite show and retire for the evening if your hotel proved to be unsatisfactory.
Happily, that wasn't necessary at Stowe Mountain Lodge. The massive ski complex is best known as a winter destination, with its 116 trails and extensive system of lifts. But the luxurious rooms in the sprawling main lodge are a relative bargain in the summer season, and resort guests have access to the Stowe Mountain Golf Club. Built in the foothills and canyons along the base of Mount Mansfield, the 6,411-yard Bob Cupp design forces you to throw away the yardage book with its elevation changes.
Holes No. 5 and 6 climb to the apex of the property and provide both panoramic views and anxiety-inducing course-management decisions. We nosed the cart up to the warning sign on the right edge of the fall-away fifth fairway advertising the dangers of failing to lock the brakes: a fall hundreds of feet into a heather-lined canyon. The approach shot was no less scary--a 140-yard carry over the edge of the ravine to a green 50 feet below, protected on three sides by more drop-offs. The tee shot from the sixth is a cruel schoolyard trick from the back tees. It measures only 271 yards from back there, but you have to negotiate a 50-foot-high rock-lined face 125 yards off the tee. Play something too short or too low and your ball ricochets off the granite like a BB from a street sign.
The resort is configured to handle scores of weekend skiers, which makes it ideal for the smaller summer crowds. A foursome can book anything from a standard hotel room for $390 to a four-bedroom mountain cabin, which runs $2,400. The hotel rooms have sitting areas and balconies overlooking the massive, year-round heated swimming pool.
For dinner, take the gondola 3,500 feet up the side of Mount Mansfield to the rustic Cliff House just before sunset, and watch from the patio with a glass of surprisingly good local red.
When you leave, follow Vermont 108 up the single-lane switchbacks through Smugglers' Notch. The road snakes around giant boulders and outcroppings and has dozens of blind hairpin turns--making it impossible to plow in the winter. Taking it slow to enjoy the view, we moved over for a parade of sport bikes carving down from the Notch's apex.
Just then, I wanted to be a motorcycle guy.