►RS6 power wrapped in gorgeous coupe styling
►Sledgehammer performance and soundtrack
►Laden with tech; some of it useful
Audi has rounded off its performance RS range with the range-topping RS7 Sportback, offering performance car fans the choice of this, or its identically-powered RS6 Avant. For those with the terrible dilemma of deciding which 592bhp, 174mph five-seater to choose from, your choice is now quite simple - is it a coupe or estate? Either way, there’s no SUV (yet), and it’ll eat supercars for breakfast - especially in the wet.
First thing worth saying is that from a performance car perspective, Audi should be applauded for sticking with a lightly modified version of 4.0-litre V8 used in the previous-generation RS7. Okay, it’s out of step with an increasingly eco-conscious world, and as the world heats up, it might not seem like the correct message to send by Audi – but at least it can say that it has 30 electrified models due to go on sale by 2023.
We can talk about primary and secondary pollution all we like, but that doesn’t change the fact that this Audi is seriously fast and addictively tuneful. Maybe it’s Quattro GMBH’s last petrol-powered hurrah. We’ll see.
What’s under the bonnet?
You know the numbers already, and the fact that it makes 600 metric horsepower for the first time as a baseline. It comes with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, is said to improve fuel consumption and emissions output considerably compared with the last RS7. You also get Cylinder on Demand or (COD for short), which means it’ll run on four cylinders depending on load, and it’ll even coast along under its own momentum. Bucket of water over an oil rig fire springs to mind.
An eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox is standard, as is Quattro permanent four-wheel drive, which can send up to 70% of power to the front wheels and up to 85% to the rears depending on driving conditions and drive mode. The power split is 40:60 front/rear by default, and this is welcome added security for driving in typical UK weather conditions. Audi’s extensive use of high-tensile steel in its construction means this lithe coupe weighs 1815kg - less than a BMW M5 or Mercedes-AMG E 63 S.
Any handling tech?
It needs plenty to combat all of that heft. Adaptive RS air suspension is standard, while optional ‘RS Sport Suspension Plus’ includes the brand’s Dynamic Ride Control that minimises roll and pitch. Audi’s much maligned (in older guises, at least) Dynamic Steering is paired with all-wheel steering on the options list, as are gigantic 440mm front/370mm rear carbon ceramic brake discs. As standard, the RS7 has 21-inch cast aluminium wheels that can be upgraded to 22s on Vorsprung-spec models.
You also get wheel-selective torque control, which brakes the wheels with reduced load on the inside of a bend slightly before they can begin to spin. The Quattro sport differential shifts the drive torque when cornering at speed as required between the rear wheels, thus improving traction, stability and dynamics. In short, this car has massive safety margins, but it should still be playful enough to keep keener drivers entertained.
What else is different about the RS7?
It looks a lot different - sportier, more evil, and certainly dripping with more road presence. It’s 40mm wider than a regular A7 and when you drill into things, it shares only its bonnet, roof, front doors and tailgate. The grille is less smiley, as it’s all black and has no contrasting border. There are large front air inlets, a deep front spoiler and RS-specific matrix LED laser headlights. It’s all about visual drama, and being aggressive without too much aggression. In the flesh, we think it’s struck a decent visual balance.
Inside, it’s just like any other A7, but you do get Valcona and Alcantara-trimmed sports seats, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster and a flat-bottomed wheel. There’s also the Audi Drive Select button and RS mode selector on the steering wheel, as well as a Performance setting on the Virtual cockpit. For RS7 drivers in a hurry, this is a must-have – it displays a racing car-style techo, lap times and g-force readings. Should keep you amused on the M25.
What’s it like to drive?
Fire up the V8 and - thank heavens - it rumbles into life with all the drama and theatre of a proper old-school performance engine. Audi’s decision to stick with its larger displacement engine and the correct number of cylinders for its performance flagship is the right one - at least from this perspective. This is especially so the first time you blip the throttle.
Despite that, inside it’s never over-loud, although its volume level can be tailored by whatever Drive Mode is selected. In standard mode, it’s a gentle background rumble most of the time, but in Sport it’s agreeably louder, but never intrusive. Around town, it’s soothingly quiet, and the mild-hybrid system and cylinder deactivation tech smooths out gentle driving. Acceleration is a laugh - elastic, instant, ample and enough to see off just about anything else on the road. For a car that’s so large and accommodating, we thoroughly approve.
That’s no surprise. But the excellence of the handling and its overall poise are more of an eyebrow-raiser. Its sophisticated five-link suspension set-up and RS Sport adaptive air suspension have been tuned most effectively and employ tricks such as self-levelling and a drop in ride height at motorway speeds. For its natural habitat - the outside lane - that’s perfect, as it’s planted, comfortable, and ready to devour anything in its path.
Its adaptive air suspension set-up has a number of drive modes, but we didn’t get chance to delve too deeply on our heavily-trafficked first drive. However, what we did find is that if you want the best all-round compromise on the road, you’re best leaving the RS7 in comfort. Not only does the ride settle down nicely, but the steering balance also feels better this way. But if you think that makes is a lardy cruiser, don’t worry too much - you can sharpen it up and play with it on twisty roads.
Here, the RS7 works well in all configurations, with excellent body control, and a brilliant capacity to stave off understeer unless you’re being particularly ham-fisted with the controls. Yes, finally, Audi has delivered an air suspension set-up that works well. The four-wheel steering also helps massively with the car’s agility - on twisting mountain roads, it feels agile and controllable, and you soon get used to the sensitive turn-in. Familiarity soon has you lose sight of the width, and has you throwing it into the apex with plenty of confidence.
Of course, it doesn’t completely hide its weight, and you’re always aware it nears two tonnes, but never enough for it to get in the way of having some fun. It’s not quite as agile as an M5 in these conditions, but the steering feels nicer, while we’ll give it the nod over an E 63 based on this brief, early drive. To be even better, we’d like more feel from the steering, even though the weight and gearing are pretty much spot on in Comfort mode, surprisingly.
When can I get one?
Expect a price tag of around £90,000, or £100,000 plus for a one with some options on. First deliveries arrive in January 2020.
In many ways, the RS7 Sportback is exactly how you expect it’s going to be. Tech heavy, beautifully built, fantastic on the autobahn and completed by a tuneful V8 soundtrack. As it’s based on a large five-door fastback, that it’s practical as well as good looking is also what you’d expect.
But there are surprises. For one, it’s sticking with the old V8 formula, albeit with some planet-saving mild-hybrid tech. Secondly, it’s actually blessed with decent handling, and should help dispel any lingering doubts that Audi can’t build effective driver’s cars. It’s highly likeable and based on our first drive in Germany, we’d happily recommend one - which given what it’s up against is saying something.
It is perfect? No. It’ll take an age to get all those drive modes hooked up into something that works for you, while the new twin-screen control set-up lacks the simplicity and tactility of the old MMI system, and takes too much focus off the road. Also, until we know what the price, CO2 and fuel consumption figures are, we don’t quite know where it sits alongside its opposition. But it’s fast, comfortable, sounds great and has agile handling - and as long as you don’t feel guilty about driving it, you’ll find it a very capable all-rounder capable of raising a smile now and then.