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.
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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.
Audio sources run the gamut, ranging from Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling to the single-slot DVD/CD drive to USB, 30-pin iPod, and two SD card slots for digital audio. There's also a portion of the navigation system's hard drive dedicated to media storage and an interesting Wi-Fi Connect feature that allows Internet radio streaming from compatible devices running the Audi Music Stream app. My Google Nexus 5 was not a compatible device.
Over in the Radio area of the MMI system, I was able to select between AM, FM, HD Radio, and Satellite radio broadcasts.
The main screen is a large, motorized unit that flips and extends out of the dashboard, but it's not the only display at the driver's disposal. Tucked between the two main gauges of the instrument cluster is another large color LCD that can be customized (via steering-wheel controls) to display trip and fuel economy data, the current audio source, and map and turn-by-turn information, and can be used to browse contacts and initiate hands-free calls.
Inside and out, the Audi uses full LED illumination, from the headlamps to the taillights and all of the indicators and interior lights in between. While we're outside of the car, the Audi gets the "RS exterior appearance" treatment with larger grille openings out front, more aggressive skirts all around, and large 20-inch wheels.
Standard tech is rounded out with an advanced rear-camera system, Audi Side Assist with Pre-Sense Rear (a rebranding of blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert) and keyless entry and start.
Options and safety tech
You could hand your Audi dealer a check for $105,000 and drive away happy with a well-equipped and versatile sport sedan. Or you could tack on a few more options. (I'm sure that you can see where this is going.)
We had the optional Bang & Olufsen Advanced audio system with its motorized acoustic lens tweeters that rise out of the dashboard to complete the 15-speaker, 1,200-plus watt surround-sound system. Audio from this system was fantastic -- easily one of the best rigs on the road today -- but without a side-by-side comparison with the standard Bose surround system, it's difficult to tell whether it sounds $5,900 better. It certainly looks the part with aluminum speaker grilles shining prominently around the cabin.
Our cabin was also augmented with $1,300 in layered aluminum and black wood inlays. A gorgeous example of craftsmanship, this gives a metal pinstripe effect to the exposed black wood sections around the cabin. Outside, we've got the $4,000 Carbon Optic package, which adds gloss black trim, carbon fiber side mirror housings, and aerodynamic carbon fiber front lip spoiler and rear diffuser. Look closely and you'll also see the addition of "Quattro" text raised above the lower grille. Rounding out the sound and style upgrades, we've also got $500 for soft-closing doors. Interestingly, our spec sheet lists $1,000 for optional 21-inch, 5-spoke wheels, but I checked and our example was wearing the stock 20s.
Equipped tech options are bundled into two packages.
The $2,800 Innovation package adds a very useful, full-color Head Up Display (HUD) that reflects semitransparently off of the windshield ahead of the driver. This display can show current speed data and float turn-by-turn directions within the driver's field of view. With the other displays, the HUD makes three different options for viewing navigation instructions along with the spoken prompts.
The Innovation package also adds a Night Vision Assistant feature that can be used to display an enhanced infrared view of the road ahead on the instrument cluster display. This system can detect and highlight pedestrians, outlining them with yellow boxes on the black-and-white display. However, I never found the system to be tremendously useful. Situations where Night Vision would have been handy are invariably the situations where you'll want to be watching the road through the windshield and not gawking at your instrument cluster. That, along with the fact that Night Vision never seemed to reveal anything that I couldn't see in the LED headlamps, keeps me from recommending checking this box unless you just like to show off to your other well-to-do buddies.
Finally, we've got the $2,800 Driver Assistance package, adding full-range adaptive cruise control, a forward precollision warning and intervention system, and lane-keeping alert. The standard rearview camera is upgraded to a wider angle unit with selectable multiple views and augmented by a front bumper camera that further helps with tight parallel parking.
Hatchbacks are cool
Part low-slung sport sedan and part ultraluxe hatchback, the RS 7 tries to be all things to all people even in its design. Front-seat passengers are treated to a spacious cabin with plenty of head and shoulder room. The front seats are heated, deeply bolstered, and 12-way power-adjustable. Climate controls are automatic and feature temperature four-zones.
In the second row, taller passengers will probably find their heads touching or grazing the roof, but won't be left wanting for hip and leg room. Just aft of those passengers, the elongated lifting hatchback is motorized and can open or close at the touch of a button. With the liftback raised, there's a massive opening for the deep rear storage area, which should make loading bulky items easy.
Pricing and competition
The 2014 RS 7 handled pretty much everything that I could think to toss at it during my week of testing. It was a hoot of a ride, with excessive amounts of power on deck, but it was also amazingly easy to drive and difficult to get unsettled thanks to the standard Quattro all-wheel drive. The fuel economy was good -- it won't save the world like the Tesla Model S, but its 27 highway mpg estimate is nothing to thumb your nose at. The Audi's adjustable suspension gripped the road like nobody's business but could also be comfortable for commute or cross-country at the touch of a button. With its big power come big brains in the form of the exceptional standard and optional technologies.
About the only thing that it couldn't be was inexpensive. With its starting price of $104,900, $18,300 in options, and an $895 destination charge, our 2014 Audi RS 7 Quattro comes in at an as-tested price of $124,095.
You could knock a few bucks off of that nearly one-eighth-of-a-million buck price tag by skipping gimmicky options like the Innovation package's Night Vision, the $4,000 carbon fiber trim, or -- if you're not an audiophile -- the $5,900 B&O audio system. Prospective drivers who are more into tech than performance can also save thousands by stepping down to the still-potent Audi S7 and A7, further down the line.
Not a fan of the Audi? Take a look at the BMW M6 Gran Coupe, another low-slung German sport sedan. The Bimmer holds a slight performance edge over the Audi, but I found the RS 7's driver controls, infotainment system, and liftback configuration made it just a tad more agreeable to use than the Gran Coupe, which required a Google search to figure out how to park. Of course, your mileage (and preferences) may vary. Both are splendid cars. There's also the aforementioned Tesla Model S to consider, though that's more of a threat to the A7 TDI than the RS 7.
Speaking of splendid cars, the RS 7's specifics make the Aston Martin Rapide S an easy performance comparison, but only if you've got money to burn.
|Model||2014 Audi RS 7 Quattro|
|Trim||RS 7 Quattro Tiptronic|
|Power train||4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission, Audi Quattro AWD with Sport Differential|
|EPA fuel economy||16 city, 27 highway, 19 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Navigation||MMI Navigation with Audi Connect and Google Earth integration|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||single slot DVD/CD|
|MP3 player support||standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB or iPod connection via Audi MMI|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, 2x SD card slots, HDD media storage, Wi-Fi app integration|
|Audio system||15-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System|
|Driver aids||blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, rear camera, optional lane keep assistant, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, front and corner cameras|
|Price as tested||$124,095|