The new Audi RS7 is a conflicted car. It’s a five-door hatchback that can run neck and neck with a Ferrari 458 in the quarter mile. It marries straight-line performance with unexpected utility, and does it at a price that undercuts its similarly power-mad German competitors. Yet it’s not the vehicle you want to take to the track—the power overwhelms, and the Audi S7 is the better choice if you actually want to turn at high speeds.
But, good grief is this thing fast! Full throttle, the RS7 is 4,500 pounds of luxury hurtling forward like anti-aircraft fire. Say another nouveau-riche fellow pulls up next to you at a stoplight in his 458. Fear not. You’ll match him right through a quarter-mile drag race. As the two of you speed forward to 60 mph in around three seconds, he can ponder the fact that his $233,000 (at least) two-seat sports car is holding even with a ride that holds four people and their luggage comfortably.
With the RS7, Audi tips further away from its characteristic tight-lipped restraint than with any other car it makes, including the R8 V10 Plus.
America’s Most Powerful Audi
Based on Audi’s A7 Sportback, the RS7 is the company’s top dog performance sedan, a notch above the S8 in dynamics if not price. It starts for $104,900, we tested one worth $122,545. It’s the most powerful Audi ever offered in the United States, boasting a 4.0 liter twin turbo V8 that makes 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. The engine makes so much power that the regular A7’s 7-speed double-clutch transmission can’t handle the torque.
Instead, the RS7 gets an 8-speed ZF single clutch transmission that sends power to all four wheels via the Quattro AWD system. The resulting 11.5 second quarter mile dash is Gran Turismo easy – just plant your foot, no drama.
Driving the car, these giggle-inducing numbers feel like lowball estimates. After sprinting off the line, the RS7 pulls like a rocket sled to an electronically limited 174 mph (an optional “Dynamic” package bumps top speed to the same 189 mph ceiling you get in the European version of the car).
A Practical Ride
Yet it’s still a practical car. There really are four habitable seats, though your head will be bowed in the back if you’re over 5’10”. The space available easily exceeds what you get in competitors like Mercedes’ CLS63 AMG, Aston Martin’s Rapide, and BMW’s M6 Gran Coupe. The rear hatch and folding rear seats yield 49.1 cubic feet of cargo space, more than a BMW X1 crossover.
The interior nods to fun, spiced up with aluminum pinstriping across black wood dash and door inlays, web stitching on the excellent seats, a perforated steering wheel wrap, and machined-out aluminum door handles. On startup, little Bang & Olufsen tweeters—ostensibly there to improve acoustics, really made for impressing friends and dates—rise from the dash in sync with the 7-inch MMI display screen.
The exterior signals aggression with 21-inch wheels enclosing 15”/14” wave-design rotors and a huge black gloss grille. Our Misano red pearl test driver had matte aluminum trim and a pattern based on the Audi quattro ring in the tail lamps. The effect is handsome, but borders on vulgar in bright red.
There are other bits of awkwardness. Small aluminum steering wheel shifter paddles indicate Audi doesn’t think you’ll paddle shift much (it’s probably right). The brake ducts on the front splitter are cosmetic only and the plastic cover over the engine keeps you from ogling the fabulous twin-turbo V8. Too bad, because beneath it you find the turbos mounted atop the intake manifold. The layout largely eliminates turbo lag, but Audi doesn’t say how it keeps the turbos cool.
The RS7 doesn’t drive perfectly. It corners and stops very well, until you push the power close to the limit. The chassis is marvelously stiff but the power out-muscles the suspension. The rear sport (electronic) differential over-speeds the outside rear wheels in hard cornering but it cannot defeat the inevitable AWD understeer. Nor can it make up for the RS7’s mass. Steering feel is vague and the air suspension doesn’t communicate what’s happening underneath.
What all that means is that when you barrel into a corner 40 mph quicker than you expected (likely at first) the car lurches, struggling mightily with front-end plow as you add more and more steering. The well heeled toffs who can afford an RS7 may not instinctively understand this.
For all its gobsmacking power, the RS7 really isn’t an emotional car in driving terms. On long highway drives, it’s nice to be isolated from noise and vibrations, but it takes something away when you want to really feel the car. Fortunately for Audi, the competition isn’t much more involving.
But at least it’s the dominant sort of isolation, the kind that allows you to look through dark sunglasses at the sucker next to you and rev the engine with confidence.
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