We woke early to the weak light of a desert morning, put on the coffee, then wondered to the window to survey the driving day. And what to our wandering eyes should appear but 10 shiny new 2014 Audi RS 7s ($104,900) in alternating colors, perfectly spaced in a line far below us in the hotel courtyard. Never before have a shower and breakfast been finished so quickly.
Over its short tenure Audi’s A7 Sportback has garnered endless praise and multiple awards, and the sportier S7 has impressed wholeheartedly with its ramped up athleticism and rakish looks. But we were righteously eager that morning in particular because the maniacal RS 7 takes both and soundly trounces them to smithereens.
In Audi parlance, RS (short for RennSport, which is German for Racing Sport) cars occupy the very top tier of performance, meaning the most power, the best handling and the deadliest looks. The first vehicle to bear the badge (then manufactured in conjunction with Porsche) was the 1994 RS2 Avant, a car that can still easily keep pace with modern supercars. Fast forward 20 years and you get this RS 7 hatchback sedan: a glorious, sensuously molded physique tautly draped atop a straightforward but opulent cabin, all motivated by a gnashing, bloodthirsty twin turbo V8 power plant. The car feels like a secret weapon — the ultimate sleeper, a practical-looking vehicle with demonic intentions. It’s a brawler in a three-piece suit.
The RS 7 defines Audi’s vision for their quattro subsidiary, the arm of the company that deals almost exclusively with performance cars. They aim to produce “the most emotional product with rings on it”, according to the fellas who briefed us before our drive. Sure, there are other outrageous behemoths of style, power and fun in the quattro lineup, but the RS 7, with its sound, speed, curves and copious space, easily vies for top honors.
First its looks grab you: the impossibly sexy swoop of the rear flank looks muscular as an Italian classic but as classy as an English coupé, and the RS visual tweaks — huge 21-inch wheels, subtle ground effects and more — cause immediate salivation. From the matte aluminum mirrors and honeycomb grille (the pattern of which is repeated inside should you select the quilted leather sport seat option like our tester), to the real carbon fiber aero details to the massive oval exhaust tips, the senses are treated to a deluge of materials that are light on weight and high on sport. The “quattro” emblazoned across the lower front fascia on some of the models is our only niggle. Inside it’s simply gorgeous, as one would expect from the magicians at Audi: layered black wood and aluminum trim that fits perfectly with matched seams, sumptuous curves in the dash, beautiful wood, aggressively bolstered thrones and technology from corner to corner.
The car feels like a secret weapon — the ultimate sleeper, a practical-looking vehicle with demonic intentions.
But it’s the sound that does you in. The optional sport exhaust on our car rumbled forth something you’d never expect from a German luxury sedan: a popping, spitting, finely tuned dinosaur scream, which makes sense considering what’s underhood. While a stock A7 admirably lopes along with a supercharged 310-horsepower V6, the RS 7 sets itself apart mainly with its 4.0-liter V8, which, at 560 horsepower, outstrips the stock mill by 250 horses; the car itself is also lighter by 100 pounds than its A7 brethren. (The RS 7’s price surpasses the “regular” car’s price tag by a somewhat amazing $40k with its $104,900 sticker.) The engine is essentially the same unit Audi plops into the S8 sedan, only with bigger turbos, bigger intakes and additional coolers — and a net gain of 40 horsepower.
There’s just so much damn brawn underfoot, and it all happens immediately when the pedal is prodded: stomp on the go juice and you’ll reach 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, which is just a stupid number for a 4,475-pound sedan; you’ll also be blasted from highway speeds to don’t-tell-my-mom speeds almost faster than you can process. And because those clever quattro wizards designed the engine to circulate air through the intake system to keep the turbos primed at all times, all this happens without the slightest hint of turbo lag. Furthermore, because a dual clutch transmission wouldn’t be able to handle the RS 7’s torque, an eight-speed unit was wedged in, and its lightning-fast gear cracking provided some of the most enjoyable violence we’ve experienced in recent memory. While U.S.-spec cars are limited to “just” 174 mph, Euro models top out at 198 freaking mp-freaking-h. Keeping us well below those upper limits was the friendly State Police sergeant whose acquaintance we made alongside the road while we were taking some photos — a car guy sergeant who gladly parked his patrol vehicle for some staged (honest) photos alongside one of the straightest roads we’ve ever seen.
Beneath the RS 7’s hood, trick cylinder deactivation tech (seamlessly activating and deactivating in the span of just two revolutions of the engine) handily thwarts the dreaded gas-guzzler tax and pulls in 27 mpg on the highway. There are more marvels at the four corners: an air suspension that modulates the ride very nicely, floating over bumps when cruising and firming up delightfully when corning, will be standard, while Dynamic Ride Control, utilizing an active computer system to adjust diagonally mounted shocks and essentially eliminating body roll, will be a balls-out performance option. While handling is good all around, we would have liked to feel the road a bit more through the delicious, chunky, small-diameter steering wheel.
Still, driving feel is managed extremely well for a big car like this, though with myriad weight saving techniques employed throughout (like specially shaped brake calipers that drop a total of over 6 pounds), the RS 7 still weighs in at over 30 pound less than the standard A7. Aiding in the handling effort, the quattro all-wheel-drive system splits traction 40/60 front/rear until normal driving, but if you push it or get in slippery stuff, the computers can route power to practically any corner.
The roads outside Las Vegas — so straight and flat you’d swear Paul Bunyan ironed the things himself — seem to have been designed precisely for the RS 7. The sheer beauty of the rough and natural desert landscape superbly juxtaposed the slick, remarkable visage of the car. Through the windscreen and raked rear glass the roads seemed virtually endless. The cabin couldn’t be more comfortable, the engine couldn’t be more capable, and the gas pedal couldn’t be more intoxicating.