►RS6 power wrapped in gorgeous coupe styling
►Sledgehammer performance and soundtrack
►Laden with tech; some of it useful
Want the biggest and most powerful Audi RS car that isn’t an SUV? You’re looking at it: the RS7 Sportback. It’s twinned with the RS6 Avant, meaning you have a terrible (or brilliant) dilemma of which 592bhp, 174mph five-seater to choose from: coupe or estate? Either way, it’ll eat supercars for breakfast.
How does it feast upon these supercars?
With a 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 making 592bhp and 590lb ft – that’s how. It’s a lightly modified version of the previous RS7’s engine, now with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which is said to improve fuel consumption and emissions output considerably compared with the last one. 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 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. While Audi claims extensive use of high-tensile steel and aluminium in its construction, the RS7 still weighs a portly 2065kg.
Any handling tech?
It needs plenty to combat all of that heft. In the UK, the RS7 has the aforementioned Quattro all-wheel drive with a sport differential, along with all-wheel steering as standard.
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.
Adaptive RS air suspension is standard, while optional ‘RS Sport Suspension Plus’ includes the brand’s Dynamic Ride Control that minimises roll and pitch. As standard, the RS7 has 21-inch cast aluminium wheels that can be upgraded to 22s on Carbon Black and Vorsprung-spec models, while ginormous carbon ceramic brakes and a sports exhaust are on the options list.
What else is different about the RS7?
It looks a lot different – sportier and a lot more menacing – 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.
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 tacho, 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 Comfort and Auto mode, it’s a gentle background rumble most of the time, but in Dynamic or any of the configurable RS modes, 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.
The two suspension options are both air-sprung, with the standard option being the best for long-distance cruising in superior comfort. But even the ‘plus’ version, riding on the larger 22-inch wheels isn’t exactly uncomfortable; you only detect the car’s enormous wheels at lower speeds over considerable ruts – it’s impressive how well Audi has tuned the suspension to match such massive wheels.
As you’d expect, leave the RS7 in Comfort and it’s at its most settled for cruising, with the steering lightening up for easy drives. But if you think that makes it 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’s a two-tonne car, but never enough for it to get in the way of having some fun. While an accomplished B-road attacker, the steering isn’t as alert as an M5 Competition, but does ride more smoothly. Sensible Audi hasn’t crammed in anything reminiscing a drift mode here, like the AMG E63, or ‘detachable’ all-wheel drive like BMW’s super-saloon – if you’re all that bothered.
Audi RS7: verdict
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.
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.
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.
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