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Audi RS 7 Performance: Because you want 605 horsepower

Miami traffic, straight Florida roads, torrential rain and heavy police presence aren't things you want on the test drive of a 605-horsepower vehicle. Yet that's the unfortunate hand I was dealt for my drive of the new-for-2016 Audi RS 7 Performance. This, after the previous night having Stephan Reil, head of development at Audi's performance vehicle division, Quattro GmbH, give me a rundown of the go-faster changes his team executed to push the capabilities of its RS 7 further for the new Performance version.

The talk had me salivating, ready to the drop the hammer on the RS 7 Performance's upgraded 4.0-liter turbocharged V-8 that adopts a new turbo, different exhaust valves and engine management tuning to bump power to 605 horsepower. That's only 45 more ponies than the regular RS 7's 560 horsepower, but having more than 600 horsepower available under your right foot does have a nicer ring to it. Peak torque also increases, with an overboost function that swells it from 516 pound-feet to 553 pound-feet.

To handle the extra output, the eight-speed automatic transmission receives stronger clutches to route power to all four wheels. Audi says the result is a 0-to-60 mph time of just 3.6 seconds, a top speed of 190 mph and not-too-bad EPA fuel economy ratings of 15 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. If all this sounds familiar, it should because the RS 7 Performance shares its engine and transmission with the recently reviewed S8 Plus.

More power, Dynamic Ride Suspension and carbon ceramic brakes bring the additional performance.

Jon Wong/CNET

Does anyone really need a 605-horsepower Audi? Absolutely not, but the company is wagering there are some people out there who want one. I, for one, am someone who would want the most powerful model if my bank account could handle it, but on my slog through morning Miami rush-hour traffic I definitely didn't need it. Once out of downtown, the congestion began to clear some, affording the opportunity to get a small sampling of the RS 7 Performance's power to slingshot past slower vehicles.

With the Audi Drive Select system in Dynamic, laying into the throttle produces an instant surge of thrust to propel the car toward triple-digit speeds without breaking a sweat, and with a pleasing growl coming from the sport exhaust system. The transmission cracks off quick and crisp gear changes when left in full automatic mode, while the manual shift feature is also quite responsive to commands for a conventional torque-converter unit. Slowing down in the RS 7 Performance is as instantaneous as speeding up, with the carbon ceramic brakes hauling me back down to socially (and legally) acceptable speeds.

But then the heavy rain began to fall, which in combination with Florida's arrow-straight roads really puts the kibosh on exercising the Performance's standard Dynamic Ride Control suspension, which Reil had also told me about the previous evening. While the normal RS 7 comes with air suspension, the Dynamic Ride Control system on the Performance uses traditional steel springs with adaptive hydraulic shock absorbers. The diagonally opposed shocks are connected by a central valve that sends more oil to the outside shock to reduce body roll under hard cornering, thus improve handling. Unfortunately, I will have to experience its cornering performance at another time, though I can say that with Drive Select in Dynamic, ride quality is firmer without being uncomfortable, and things smooth out nicely in Comfort mode.

A black gloss grille, specific 21-inch cast aluminum wheel designs and carbon-fiber mirror housings set the RS 7 Performance apart from the base RS 7.

Jon Wong/CNET

Visually setting the Performance apart from the standard RS 7 are a gloss-black front grille, carbon-fiber exterior mirror housings, specific 21-inch cast aluminum wheel designs and an available Ascari Blue metallic paint that's exclusive to the Performance trim. The blue theme continues inside with the availability of blue contrast stitching and twill blue inlays in the carbon-fiber trim pieces. While none of the changes are substantial, I'd argue the RS 7 looks mean enough already, making any drastic upgrades unnecessary.

The interior highlights for me are the front RS sport seats that, along with the chairs found in some Volvo models, remain some of the most comfortable and supportive seating out there. They're great for sitting in traffic, yet they're still wonderful for holding you in place during hot corners (I've experienced them in environments other than Florida traffic).

As in the S8 Plus, the standard head-up display proves useful to help pay maximum attention to the road, and the blind-spot monitoring system is great to provide reassurance before changing lanes, especially when driving in weather that limits visibility. My test car's $4,900 optional Bang & Olufsen audio system was also spectacular, unsurprisingly.

For those looking to add a few more goodies to their RS 7 Performance, optional features include adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam headlamps, corner-view camera system, active lane assist (side cameras monitor lane markings and gently steer the car back into one's lane should the driver inadvertently wander), and night-vision assist that uses an infrared camera and thermal imaging to warn of pedestrians or large animals ahead in the dark. Sadly, the RS 7 Performance doesn't support either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto at the moment, but it should after an infotainment system software update arrives this summer.

Is the RS 7 Performance worth the extra money over the regular RS 7? The engine upgrades, performance-oriented suspension and carbon ceramic brakes certainly aren't small-ticket improvements, and collectively, they help the Performance's $20,100 price premium not seem too ludicrous. In the end, it'd be hard to blame anyone for shelling out the full $129,000 for this model, as you're already in six-figure territory for the standard car. That is, unless you live in Florida and sit in Miami rush-hour traffic on a daily basis. In that case, save some money and just get a RS 7 -- or even the perfectly lovely regular-strength A7 -- because not being able to tap into the Performance's full capabilities is just painful.

CNET accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

 

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