We know RS model Audis are a bit special but the RS7 Sportback is something distinctly rare and extreme. Now it's also available in an uprated 'performance' guise. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The Audi RS7 Sportback has always delivered a massive punch with its biturbo petrol V8 but for some, too much is never enough. That's why the standard 560PS version has now been joined by a 605PS 'performance' version able to improve the rest to 62mph time from 3.9s to 3.7s and push torque up by 50Nm to a thumping 750Nm. You'll need a vast budget for the privilege but the accompanying soundtrack might well be the clincher: pure V8 muscle car.
You never quite know what you're going to get with an RS-badged Audi. Some are excellent, others merely make great autobahn expresses while a few are just head-scratchingly patchy in their array of talents. Just lately, however, Audi has been on a decent run. The RS3 was a real fizzer, the RS4 is one of the better examples of its vintage and the RS6 is the best example of a big, fast Audi estate to date. Minded of this slightly hit and miss record, we were a little curious to see quite how this RS7 would turn out. We already knew it was good, the original version comfortably holding its own against rivals as good as the likes of the Porsche Panamera Turbo, the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG and the BMW M6 Gran Coupe. The price stands up well and it's the only one of the quartet to dip into the three point-somethings to 62mph. Is that really important? Maybe not, but it's always reassuring to know that when you're spending this sort of money, you're buying something genuinely and demonstrably rapid. You'll certainly get that if you opt for the uprated 605PS 'performance' version.
Whether you opt for the standard 560PS model or choose the even quicker 605PS 'performance' version, this RS7 offers genuinely devastating performance. Buyers get adaptive air suspension, a cylinder-on-demand (COD) system to save on fuel and a maximum speed that's nominally set at 155mph but which can be upped to 174mph or even 190mph with the addition of optional Dynamic packs. A massive 700Nm slug of torque is available between 1750 and 5500rpm, a figure that can be uprated to 750Nm in the 'performance' variant. Either way, the eight-speed ZF automatic box plugs you right into the meat of the action. The quattro four-wheel drive system is rear-biased, sending 60% of power to the rear axle, and it also features a limited-slip differential and torque-vectoring. A sport differential acting on the rear axle is standard and enables active torque distribution between the inside and outside wheel. You get RS adaptive air suspension as part of the package but as an alternative, the tauter RS sports suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) is also available, though it makes the ride rather over-firm. Both set-ups can be complemented by optional dynamic steering with a continuously variable steering ratio.
Design and Build
So what exactly is this RS7? As the second recipient of the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 after the RS6, is this merely a version of the estate in a posh frock? The 2915mm wheelbase shared by the two cars gives a clue as to how closely they're related but there are key differences. The RS7 is a little quieter than the RS6 thanks to a modified exhaust and less fresh air in the rear end of the car for the noise to career about in. The tyres are also slightly narrower on the RS7, which helps steering tactility and reduces tramlining a bit. The RS7 can be identified by its RS body styling including enlarged front air inlets, front spoiler, honeycomb design grille, rear diffuser, roof spoiler and side sill extensions. There are also matt-finished aluminium-look door mirror housings and 20-inch twin-spoke design alloy wheels. If that's not distinctive enough for you, there are three option exterior trim packages - matt aluminium, gloss black and carbon. Remember that despite its sleek lines, this is still a hefty chunk of automotive real estate, tipping the scales at some 1935kg. The cabin is designed to comfortably seat four adults - and can seat five - while the electrically powered rear hatch rises to reveal a sizeable boot that can expand to 1,390-litres with the rear seat backs folded. At motorway speeds, a rear spoiler extends from the rear hatch to improve stability.
Market and Model
You'll need an £85,000 budget for this RS7 Sportback once you've allowed for a few well chosen extras, so you're looking at a premium of around £21,000 over the already decidedly brisk S7 model. The 'performance' version costs over £91,000. While this car doesn't look bad value against the £100,000+ Porsche Panamera Turbo and the BMW M6 Gran Coupe which breaks six figures with one or two options, perhaps at this price point we should instead be looking at Jaguar's 545bhp XJR as a closer rival. Mind you, that car costs around £93,000..... As a range-topping car, there's no shortage of equipment thrown in as standard in an RS7. You get MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch - including an 8" colour display and 7-digit postcode recognition. The stereo features DAB digital radio and Bose surround sound, there's Bluetooth, an Audi Music Interface and a head-up display. That's on top of gear like the 3-spoke flat-bottomed leather multi-function steering wheel with gear shift paddles in aluminium-look, cruise control , four-zone air conditioning and an ambient lighting package.
Cost of Ownership
There aren't too many options that you'll feel overly compelled to plump for, so you won't need to worry unduly about inflating the list price. Still, this remains an expensive car with a big petrol engine and that's usually a guarantee of scary residuals. The fact that it'll be likely to shed 40 per cent of its value over three years is just something that owners will have to accept with their eyes open at the time of purchase. It's certainly no worse than any of its key rivals. On other measure, the RS7 is actually remarkably good for a car with this power output and which weighs in at nearly two tonnes, especially in this slightly cleaner and more frugal revised form. The running cost returns are the same, whether you opt for the standard version or the 'performance' model. The combined fuel economy figure is 29.7mpg - far from catastrophic, although it will be tough to resist putting the turbos to work in earnest. In day to day motoring, you'd be pleased to break 20mpg. The carbon dioxide emission return of 221g/km is also pretty good for a car of this kind. By contrast, a Porsche Panamera Turbo develops less power, is thirstier and emits more carbon dioxide.
The Audi RS7 offers all the grip, composure and sheer brawn most will ever need, especially in uprated 'performance' guise. If you were looking for the last word in driver involvement, you may find it a little aloof, but then buyers of this class of car tend to realise that vehicles of this sort are exercises in compromise, albeit artfully designed ones. It's not short of charisma and it makes all the right numbers but is there the kind of X-factor to this car that's present in the very best RS products from Ingolstadt? An X-factor that's there in its sister car, the RS6 Avant? That will likely be for you to decide, as these things are intensely personal. Audi has clearly gone about this car in a very correct manner. Some may see the RS7's automatic gearbox as a less focused driver choice than the twin-clutch S-tronic transmission that's fitted to the S7 but to drive it is to realise the genius in the eight-speed auto's logic and execution. All the constituent ingredients seem to have been assembled but whether they hang together cohesively is a question that doesn't always disappear. Over to you.