FRANKFURT, Germany—Earlier this month, we checked out the new Audi RS6 Avant, a 591hp (441kW) station wagon that is finally—after much pleading and begging—coming to America.
But Audi Sport’s big reveal at the Frankfurt auto show was actually that car’s mechanically identical but even better-looking twin: the RS7 Sportback. And since we were going to be in Germany for the auto show anyway, Audi invited us to spend the day driving the RS7.
Unlike the sporty station wagon, the RS7 is no stranger to our roads. The first-generation car was sold in the United States, and it was . Probably the best car in Audi’s lineup, in fact. You see, Audi has earned a reputation for building cars that are elegant to look at and luxurious to ride in, but they are often boring to drive. As the company frequently tells me, boring luxury is what its customers want, or at least most of them. For drivers who want something pulse-quickening, there’s Audi Sport. Based in Neckarsulm, Germany, it’s Audi’s in-house tuning and race shop, and it’s gotten pretty good at adding excitement to otherwise staid cars down the years.
The recipe is straightforward. In this case, take the attractive but dull-to-drive A7 fastback and give it a twin-turbo V8, uprated suspension, and a clever torque-vectoring rear diff, then build a few thousand each year. This recipe worked extremely well in the first-generation RS7, and I’ll admit I was terrified that the sequel wouldn’t quite live up to expectations. So finding out the new RS7 is actually even better is a great relief.
The new RS7 certainly looks the part. This time, the only body panels it shares with the regular A7 are the hood, roof, and front doors. The sides are flared out to cover a 40mm-wider track and huge (21- or 22-inch) wheels wrapped in skinny black bands of sticky summer tire. There’s no chrome anywhere, and plenty of air vents at the front keep everything cool. A large rear diffuser frames the exhausts, and the LED head- and taillights get a custom startup animation compared to the ones in the lesser A7s.
The heart of this car is its twin-turbo 4.0L V8. The engine block is the same as you’ll find in Porsche’s V8-powered Panameras and Cayennes, but much of the rest—pistons, turbos, and so on—is unique to Audi Sport. The RS7 is a little more powerful than the old version, thanks to bigger turbos, a 3mm larger compressor wheel, and an increase in boost pressure from 1.2 to 1.4 bar. That all adds up to 591hp and 590lb-ft (800Nm), which is sent to all four wheels via that excellent ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic transmission I keep going on about.
There’s now also a 48V mild hybrid system to go with cylinder deactivation, so this new one is a bit more economical to drive, particularly in traffic and real-world situations. The system can regen up to 12kW under braking. An EPA rating won’t be available until closer to the car’s official US launch, and we don’t even have a date for that yet, but under the European test cycle the car delivers a combined 11.6-11.4L/100km. That translates to 20.4 US mpg, and if the comparison is fair, this is an improvement of about 3mpg on the old car. However, US-spec RS7s will lose the car’s ability to coast for up to 40 seconds at speeds between 34-99mph (55-160km/h) in certain drive modes, and US and EU fuel efficiency figures don’t always line up.
By default, the RS7 will split the engine’s available torque 40:60 front to rear, but up to 70% of the torque can go to the front wheels, or 85% to the rear, depending upon conditions. If you tick the option box for the dynamic package—and you really ought to—the car also gets that GKN’s very effective twin-clutch torque-vectoring rear differential. This will bias power toward the outside wheel during cornering, and it works together with the car’s adaptive suspension most effectively.
There are actually several different suspension options for the RS7. Adaptive air suspension is standard, and it’s similar to the normal A7 but with a 50% higher spring rate and a ride height that’s always at least 10mm (0.4 inches) lower than an A7 across the different drive modes. (These are auto, efficiency, comfort, and dynamic.) But if you’ve picked the sport differential, you may as well also add on the RS Sport suspension with dynamic ride control. This replaces the air springs with steel ones, while three-way adaptive dampers work to reduce unwanted yaw movements under braking or acceleration. The RS sport dampers also fight body roll when cornering.
Finally, the RS7 also features rear-wheel steering. Below 37mph (60km/h), the rear wheels will steer up to 5˚ in the opposite direction to the front wheels to decrease the turning circle. Above that threshold, they turn with the direction of the front wheels, up to 2˚, to extend the wheelbase and provide more directional stability.
The end result of all of that is a car that can pottle sedately about town with the best of them. While the RS7 can cosset its occupants in Alcantara and leather-wrapped comfort, it can also respond with vigor when you grab it by the scruff and throw it down a twisty country road. Our test route took us from the outskirts of Frankfurt to the Hessian countryside, including a couple of laps of what used to be the Feldbergrennen.
The transformation from the A7 is remarkable. That car is pretty darn good when it comes to cruising on highways and the day-to-day grind, but it doesn’t respond well to being “hooned,” as my friends at Jalopnik might say. The RS7 exists to be driven like that. The steering feels positive but relatively light as you grip the Alcantara-wrapped wheel, and it responds to inputs with no discernible slack. In Dynamic mode, you can feel the torque being vectored and the rear wheels being steered in tight turns, and the RS7 has an agility that belies its 4,553lbs (2065kg) curb weight.
Zero to 62mph (100km/h) requires 3.6 seconds, with 124mph (200km/h) available in 12 seconds. Top speed varies based on options: by default, it’s 155mph (250km/h), but that changes to 174mph (280km/h) if you have the RS Dynamic package or 190mph (305km/h) with the RS Dynamic package plus. Although our route did include some stretches of derestricted Autobahn, traffic density was such that we weren’t able to get much above 130mph (210km/h). As for the infotainment and practicality, all that remains the same as the A7, although there is a snazzy new RS-specific UI for the main instrument panel.
About my only complaint is that the car isn’t nearly as sonorous as the old RS7, but I’m told a slightly louder exhaust is planned for the US market. Pricing will have to wait until we close in on the car’s official launch here, and we don’t even have a firm date for that yet. But as with the RS6 Avant, the new RS7 is unlikely to cost less than $120,000.