Car reviews - Audi - A7 - RS7 Sportback Performance
Epic engine has jet-fighter thrust, scarcely believable ride and handling balance, superb steering, classy cabin has aged well
Room for improvement
Kerb weight as hefty as options pricing, rear seat lacks space of RS6 Avant Performance, missing Audi virtual cockpit
4 Jan 2017
Price and equipment
STARTING at a quarter of a million dollars really is just the start with the RS7 Sportback Performance.
Equipment includes 21-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights with adaptive auto-high beam, quad-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated – but not ventilated – front seats, a power tailgate, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, and adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous lane-keep assistance.
An 8.0-inch colour screen covers the television, digital radio, wi-fi hot-spot, and satellite navigation with traffic reports and 3D Maps functions, feeding to a 12-speaker, 600-watt Bose sound system. However, a 15-speaker, 1200-watt Bang and Olufsen sound system added $12,000 to our test car.
Chassis technology options added most to the price of our bright red example, though – namely a $25,840 Dynamic Plus Package, with carbon-ceramic disc brakes, 305km/h top speed and Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) adaptive sports suspension. The latter, as we found out, is especially a game-changer in this super sports sedan (nee liftback) segment.
Behind the glossy carbon dashboard inlays and the one-piece honeycomb-stitched sports seats of the new Performance is a cabin that is seven years old, having debuted on 2010’s A7 Sportback.
It is a double-edged sword for buyers, because this cabin has started from the high benchmark that Audi regularly sets and then resets for itself. That means if an owner has never stepped into another product from the brand, the likes of the rich plastics and knurled-silver switchgear will undoubtedly feel exquisite enough for the price.
Equally, however, the newer A4 medium car and TT sports coupe have raised the stakes in terms of fittings, furnishings and full-colour displays. Particularly with the latter, the analogue speedometer and tachometer of the RS7 Sportback instantly date compared with the 12.3-inch screen that replaces them in the aforementioned, substantially cheaper models.
This is not a huge deal considering the Audi MMI infotainment system continues to work beautifully even with the smaller colour screen between the speedometer and tachometer. It may be a more sizeable deal when the next-generation Mercedes-AMG E63 lands this year, though, and a next-gen BMW M5 will not be far behind.
It is also worth noting that a Performance buyer can save $12,600 and purchase the RS6 Avant equivalent with identical specification, but with greater headroom for rear-seat passengers and boot space.
The RS7 Sportback’s 535-litre boot volume is very impressive and the liftback design mixes style with practicality better than, say, the CLS63 and M6 Gran Coupe cousins to the aforementioned AMG and BMW products respectively. However, the Audi wagon offers 30L greater volume again.
Engine and transmission
If there were an art exhibition of the world’s great engines, this 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 would surely be raised onto a pedestal.
Its 700Nm is delivered just off idle (1750rpm) and maintained until 6000rpm.
Just like a Babushka doll, between 2500rpm and 5500rpm torque peaks to 750Nm.
Just beyond that, there is 445kW from 6100rpm until 6800rpm. Spreading either maximum power or torque over a 5050rpm range is frankly astonishing.
Performance is comparative only to the work of jet thrusters, with an almost aggressive level of whoosh and rasp – supremely characterful for what underneath is a large luxury car – overlaid by afterburner-like crackle from the quad tailpipes on overrun. The eight-speed torque converter automatic is flawless in handling the towering outputs as well.
Yet the initial impression of the RS7 Sportback Performance’s engine is one of calm tranquillity. Thanks partially to being able to deactivate four cylinders on light throttle, a (slightly uphill) freeway cruise from Sydney to Canberra returned 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the return leg we saw an almost unbelievable 7.6L/100km.
Enthusiastic driving raised the average to 10.2L/100km overall, and that dual personality is perhaps this distinguished V8’s greatest achievement.
Ride and handling
We are only able to comment on the RS7 Sportback Performance’s ride and handling with the DRC adaptive sports suspension that uses interconnected oil-flow lines between each corner of the car to cancel out bodyroll on demand.
What we can say is that this system is as astonishing as the power.
The Audi liftback is a big, heavy car and it can feel as though the driver is sometimes man-handling it into place rather than massaging it through corners.
It never shrinks around the driver to feel smaller or lighter than it is, but under-bonnet brute force is equalled by an equally brutal chassis regime.
A variable-ratio steering setup is superbly sharp and fluent, responding immediately from just off the centre position as though it is an eager compact sports coupe. The carbon-ceramic brakes can cop hard and late braking into a bend, feeling as though they drill the entire kerb weight onto the front axle.
That gives the 275mm front Pirellis terrific turn-in grip and with the knowledge of a typical 60 per cent rear-biased all-wheel drive system, it permits full throttle early on corner exit.
When all that power and torque is applied, the ‘quattro’ drive system neutralises any mild understeer behaviour particularly evident in the tightest, low-speed corners. It is an epic rush, with drivetrain and chassis working hand-in-hand.
As with the drivetrain, the suspension can then switch back to delivering smooth, supple ride quality, even on low-profile 30-aspect rims. The only caveat is high road noise – a loud and clear reminder that this is not the polite diesel grade.
Safety and servicing
Seven airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection), ABS and switchable electronic stability control (ESC), blind-spot assistance, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assistance, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear parking sensors and a surround-view camera are all included.
ANCAP has not tested the Audi RS7 Sportback Performance and Audi’s capped-price servicing program does not cover RS models.
With the RS7 Sportback Performance Audi could have fitted more chassis technology as standard. It could also be lighter, more intelligently packaged in the rear seat and with a newer array of Audi cabin fittings up front. Its handling could also have been tuned a little more to feel like less of a battle between power and weight.
Equally, however, there is no denying the stunning results of this expensive, expansive liftback. Both the engine and (optional) suspension can segue between being relaxed and refined, and forceful and intense, like few other new cars regardless of class, price or size.
A cabin that remains luxurious, self-driving and adaptive high-beam technologies that are effortless and a decent dose of size and styling flair are enough to make an Aston Martin Rapide, Bentley Continental Flying Spur or a Porsche Panamera – at least until the new model – seem overpriced.
A similarly priced next-gen E63 or M5 could change the full-sized performance podium in 2017 or 2018, but for now this Performance Audi holds the top spot.
BMW M6 Gran Coupe from $299,315 plus on-road costsThe big BMW coupe is elegant and good-looking but feels heavy and dated compared with the Audi. It is quick but lacks the poise offered by Audi’s dynamic tech.
Mercedes-AMG CLS 63 from $251,115 plus on-road costsMercedes’ offering in the curio four-door coupe segment is for those customers who appreciate and favour tactility combined with the purity of rear-drive feel, but it can’t match the Audi’s sheer speed and grip.
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