Audi RS7 2020 s/b performance 4.0 tfsi qtro

2020 Audi RS 7 Sportback review

International first drive

Among enthusiasts and car spotters, it's got hero status - now there's an all-new Audi RS7. It's faster, considerably meaner, and a bit greener too.
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Peak hour is not long over in Munich and we’re cruising at 190km/h on our way to the Black Forest region of Germany in the new 2020 Audi RS7 Sportback, when we see a one-kilometre gap emerging up ahead in the ‘unrestricted zone’ – and bury the throttle.

Within seconds, the needle on the speedo is smashing through 292km/h before the gap closes as quick as it opened.

No sweat, because we’re locked and loaded in Audi’s latest ground-hugging cruise missile and, along with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 powerhouse, it’s also equipped with the world’s most powerful braking system for a series-production car: 440mm ceramic front rotors with newly-developed ten-piston calipers.

Is that something you might be interested in?

This thing gives new meaning to the term 'stopping power', but thankfully, there’s a lot more going for this new-generation RS 7 Sportback than performance alone, not the least of which is Audi’s newfound design direction; edgier and way more masculine than the outgoing car.

It might be a flagship model that oozes luxury, comfort and tech, but it’s also got bona-fide hero status and clearly wants others to know it.

Audi and its Head of Design, Marc Lichte, have made a deliberate effort to beef-up everything about their four-door coupe with genuine road-going presence – both from a visual and performance standpoint.

The new model emerges as only the second-generation of its type, but the leap forward over the outgoing car is substantial. Any previous subscription to understatement or stealth has been ditched in favour of low-flying, marauding menace. Good on them for doing so, because I always felt the RS7 looked way too meek up against the RS6 Avant.

Now, it will be an entirely different reaction from fellow drivers if they happen to catch one of these in the rear-vision mirror for the split-second it’s likely to remain there.

Those flared guards you see at all four corners are no optical illusion either: the new car is wider than ever before, with the tape measure stretching 20 millimetres further on each side, allowing the RS7 to sit lower and wider than ever before.

It’s not just about the guards, either. The front and rear bumpers have been reduced to a minimum as per a proper sportscar look, as well as using vertical blades to highlight its meaner character. And – here’s the kicker – the RS 7 shares only four individual parts with the standard A7: the roof, bonnet, front doors and tailgate. Everything else is unique to this Hi-Po version.

To be perfectly honest, you’d have to wonder why this kind of thinking wasn’t applied to the first-generation model, given its positioning as a hard-charging autobahn stormer with room enough for the whole family.

Clearly, that’s what previous RS 7 buyers were missing most, according to feedback from that same group who were in favour of more of that tuner look. It’s good to see that Audi has responded in kind, given its proper wide-body stance that’s far more in keeping with the pumped-up RS 6 Avant and indeed RS philosophy itself.

It’s a good look, too – way more dramatic, and if you ask me, an essential part of Audi’s new-found design language that means to properly distinguish between the model range.

Moreover, you’d be hard pressed going any other way with the new RS 7 Sportback, because nestled under those big wheel arches are a set of equally massive 22-inch alloys shod with low-profile tyres that fill the space perfectly.

But, alongside its newfound design and performance - functionality remains prominent on the list of needs from buyers – or so Audi tells us. Moreover, while the first-gen was strictly a four-seat car, this latest iteration is also offered in a five-seat configuration for greater flexibility.

That also means more comfort, too, with more head and knee room for backseat passengers, as well as more luggage space thanks to its extra width – now with 535 litres behind the rear seats – expanding to station wagon-size 1390 litres when folded. And, let’s not forget the ease of loading with the RS7’s massive aperture thanks to its Sportback opening, which can be foot-activated if you’re carrying a full load.

While almost all luxury car brands have stepped it up when it comes to cabin design and technology, Audi has always remained at the forefront. It still is, with a super-clean, driver-centric design that not only looks the part but is able to blend high-end tech with premium materials like few other marques can do.

If it’s not sumptuous and perforated Valcona leather or Alcantara with contrasting needle work, it’s either highly-polished aluminium or genuine carbon-fibre accents in throughout this space. I also count a single solitary knob (knurled of course) on the entire centre console and dash – the rest of the controls are via the huge high-definition 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit (instrument display), along with a duo set of screens on the centre stack where you’ll find infotainment and climate control systems that just happen to provide both haptic and acoustic feedback for absolute certainty.

It’s quiet inside, too – even smack-bang in the middle of Frankfurt airport where we collected and returned the cars – despite the frameless doors. That’s likely due to this car’s optional acoustic glazing: 6mm thick for the front and side glass windows.

So, with comfort and tech sorted, it was time to start exploring the more sinister side of Audi’s warp-speed family hauler – namely the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 torque-fest that lay under the bonnet.

Even with 441kW of power and a beefy 800Nm of torque, this is a power unit which never actually sounds like it's working all that hard – even when it's charging along at 292km/h.

The extra 29 kilowatts is thanks to bigger turbos and more boost pressure. But the new RS7 also has another new trick up its sleeve – a 48-volt main on-board electrical system that also makes this engine not only explosive, but also relatively economical.

Equipped with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, the RS 7 has always been crazy quick off the line and in the wet, but the new car amps that up somewhat by going from standstill to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds (we thought it might have been quicker to be honest) and onto a top speed of up to 305km/h, if you’ve ticked the option box marked Dynamic Package Plus (or 280km/h with Dynamic Package).

As you can imagine, it gets the power down without missing a beat, and torque is relentless – so much so that even on the autobahn it’s still pulling mighty hard at over 290km/h, which is why we reckon this potent bit of kit has more to give.

Go ahead and fiddle around with the drive modes, too, because they offer very different stages of character and noise. Or if you find all that a bit too complex, just hit the new RRS button on the steering wheel and you’re ready to pass just about anything.

It’s not just the car’s speed that impresses or even how quickly it hits its peak, but rather, it’s the utter lack of turbulence or wind noise at this kind of velocity that blows my mind. It makes a 500km journey seem like nothing.

Autobahns seem to be getting busier these days, even three-lane stretches, so winding it up past 300km/h is getting tougher than ever. And, for a good part of the journey (far too often), you are crawling along at speeds below 150km/h.

But, this is where Audi’s so-called mild-hybrid system comes into play because even at this reduced pace we still managed 14.3L/100kms, which really surprised us.

Again, it’s the effect of what Audi calls the Belt Alternator Starter which can recover up to 12kW of power under light throttle – sending it to a lithium-ion battery as additional energy. And, depending on what drive mode is selected, the RS7 will also glide with the engine switched off.

That same unit can also restart the engine at speeds up to 22km/h as part of the stop/start system. And let me just say, it happens seamlessly and with zero vibration. It’s also got cylinder deactivation too, only, again, it’s hard, if not impossible, to pick the precise point it happens. But it’s just another fuel-sipping device that works with the overall package.

Finally, we traded the autobahn for some spectacularly twisty back roads in the heart of Germany’s Black Forest, where the RS 7 continued to impress. This time with its corner-carving dynamics and general weight-balancing mastery.

It’s also where we really pushed the Audi’s eight-speed torque converter auto transmission, too, by using full manual mode and the paddle-shifters only. The shifts are super sharp and quick. They also leave you to do all the work without stepping in and taking over. It feels as fast as a PDK unit in a Porsche 911 (991) but more refined. Trust me, this is better.

Come into a corner, hot, and bang down three gears and you get three perfectly timed throttle blips at just the right volume. For sure you can feel the car’s weight but it’s so well balanced that you can throw it into a corner (even a hairpin) as you would a hot hatch and it won’t bite. The big thing at play here is the RS 7's all-wheel steering, tuned specifically for the RS quattro sport differential. Easy as, even when you're pushing.

The steering feel and feedback itself is another thing that is well sorted in the RS 7. Nice, even weighting, and plenty quick when you’re going hard in these parts. Not much, if anything, to improve here.

It’s no good building a high-speed luxury four-door if the result is compromised ride comfort, which is exactly why the RS7 is considerably more forgiving than the car it replaces. Adaptive air suspension is standard fitment and even in Sport mode, passenger-seat comfort is excellent. So much so, on the roads in Germany, there’s no need to dial it back.

The car is also incredibly well settled through the bends – not moving a centimetre even over mid-corner bumps (they’re hard to find in Germany). It’s just one of this car’s many attributes that makes it seem smaller on the road.

It’s all well and good to drive these cars on beautifully-maintained roads in Europe, but the real test will come next March/April when the RS 7 lands on local shores, where we can test it more thoroughly and over a longer period.

Until then, expectations remain high, as this is a wickedly quick car that has few if any weaknesses though its likely to be up against BMW’s yet to be confirmed (for Australia) M8 Gran Coupe that promises to be even quicker.

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