The Audi RS 7 Quattro is one of those cars that tries to do it all. Not content to be good at just one thing or to be a jack-of-all-trades, the RS 7 tries to be great at everything...and pulls it off. It's possibly the most "total package" car that I'll drive this year. Startlingly fast, quite comfortable, and extremely high-tech, they don't come much more "CNET-style" than this.
Power and performance
The most powerful of Audi's A7-chassis cars, the RS is powered by a 4.0-liter V-8 engine that is stated at 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That torque is sent through an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission on its way to the Audi Quattro system and all four 20-inch RS Design wheels. In this configuration, Audi's all-wheel drive system splits power 40/60 between the front and rear axles, respectively. This slight rear bias, along with the torque-vectoring rear Sport Differential, contributes to the sporty RS 7's sporty driving characteristics.
Twin turbochargers force feed air into the V-8's cylinders, which is then mixed with direct-injected premium gasoline and combusted to create gobs of power. When all of that capacity isn't required, such as when cruising along, the engine takes advantage of cylinder deactivation tech, shutting down one of its cylinder banks and dropping down to what is essentially a 2.0-liter inline four-banger when not under load. Tilt into the right pedal and the dormant cylinders spring to life so fast and transparently that you'd never know that they were sleeping on the job. This 4.0-liter engine is available with fuel-saving, stop-start anti-idling tech in other Audi vehicles in other markets, but our example was not so equipped.
As equipped, the EPA reckons that this big, 560-horsepower, all-wheel-drive sport sedan is good for 16 mpg in the city, 27 highway mpg, and a combined average of 19 mpg. No, it won't win any efficiency awards, but those aren't bad numbers at all and should be easily attainable in the real world.
However, if you're in the market for about $105K of sport sedan, you're probably more interested in the 0-to-60 time of 3.7 seconds and the stated top speed of 174 mph than in fuel econ.
For on-track driving and the blitzing of fantastically curvy roads, you can manually choose from the eight forward gears with the paddle shifter or the shift lever. But for 0-to-60 runs and the causal bending of traffic laws, you may do better to just leave the transmission in its automatic Sport mode. It does a great job of anticipating and firing off downshifts before cornering and of holding the revs high into the tachometer's swing when accelerating, ripping off quick upshifts without bouncing off of the rev-limiter. Comfort mode is the best for daily driving without the barking of the V-8 and jerkiness of the drivetrain, but it's still fairly responsive to throttle inputs.
Comfortable and customizable
Many cars these days feature some sort of driver-selectable transmission program or a Sport mode. Few are as customizable as the Audi Drive Select system on this RS 7.
From an onscreen menu, the driver can select Dynamic (sport), Comfort, or Automatic settings to instantly adjust the RS' engine output, transmission program, adaptive air suspension, the exhaust and engine sound, the feel of the electronic power steering, the assertiveness of the Stability Control and Sport Differential, the seat belt tension, and more.
Switching between the extremes of Comfort and Dynamic modes is like night and day. The RS 7 doesn't become a totally different Audi at the touch of a button, but the changes in steering responsiveness, road feel through the suspension, throttle responsiveness, and (most importantly) the barking and growling of the V-8 are certainly noticeable.
Even at its softest setting, RS 7 still feels like a sport sedan. It just gets easier to live with. The suspension is fairly firm. You'll still feel the bumps of the road, just with the harshness of the larger imperfections smoothed out. The Comfort steering feels lighter, trading a bit of Dynamic road feel for reduced fatigue for longer drives and effortless dancing around the tight turns of a parking deck. With the engine's throttle response smoothed out, the transmission keeping revs low, and the adjustable engine sound keeping noise low, the RS 7 can also be quite docile and quiet around town in its Comfort setting.
Switch to Dynamic and instantly you'll see the tachometer jump up a few revolutions per minute as the gearbox selects a more speed-appropriate ratio. You'll notice an increase in the engine's willingness to pour on power and hear the exhaust growl louder when accelerating and joyfully bark when you lift the accelerator. The optional $1,000 Sport Exhaust system no doubt made our example just a hair louder than stock, but I'm not complaining. The ride gets noticeably firmer and the rear end rotates just a bit more freely when cornering within the RS 7's generous handling limits. You'll probably also notice your fuel economy going down the drain, because who can say no to a bit more pedal play with the V-8 making a sound like that?
If you don't like the extreme presets or the automatic mode that adjusts the vehicle conditions based on your driving style, then you can also mix and match Dynamic, Auto, and Comfort settings for a variety of vehicle systems, storing your choices under the Individual Drive Select mode. You could have the engine, transmission, and exhaust set to their sportiest settings, leave the steering and suspension in the relaxed Comfort mode, and let the rest of the vehicle systems adjust automatically.
For your $104,900 MSRP, the Audi RS 7 packs all of that performance plus an updated version of the dashboard tech package that previously won CNET's Tech Car of the Year Award for the 2012 Audi A7. Yes, that's a lot of money, but this is a lot of car.
The Audi MMI infotainment system can be commanded with a combination of a rotary controller on the center console, voice command, and a Touch Panel input. The controller is a bit wonky, but it's easy to get the hang of once you get past the odd inverted rotation control scheme. Shortcut buttons surrounding the control knob correspond with labels in the corners of the screen and lead to the various top-level areas of the system: Navigation, Telephone, Radio, and Media. There are also hardware buttons for the Main Menu, the Car Menu (where you can find the Drive Select settings), and a Back button.
The Navigation system's coolest parlor trick is its integration with Google Earth and Google Local Destination search. Via an embedded 3G data connection, it can overlay satellite data on a 3D topographic map of the area around you. I was pleased to see map's roads curve behind and around 3D-rendered mountains and into valleys. Visually, it's much nicer-looking than the flat maps you'll get with other navigation systems. The onboard 3G connection also powers the online destination search, live fuel price and weather updates, the traffic system, and in-car Wi-Fi connectivity for passengers' mobile devices.
The trade-off for this Web-connected, Nvidia-powered infotainment experience is that it takes a few moments to boot up every time you start the car. The wait is only about 30 seconds, during which time you can't input a destination or even listen to audio. Thirty seconds isn't really that bad -- think of it as your moment of Zen, or the quiet before the storm -- but drivers who want to jump in and go may be a tad annoyed with the load screen.
Destination input can be initiated via voice command by pressing a button mounted on the steering wheel. Likewise, you can navigate to the Destination Input screen using the MMI controller and then input a street address or search term with the control knob or the Touch Panel. Not dissimilar from the touch pad on your laptop, the Touch Panel allows drivers to input destinations by simply writing the letters with a fingertip. I found the system to be quite accurate, picking up my chicken scratches almost flawlessly.