2014 Audi RS7 Sportback
Embracing the style of speed with a 560-hp, all-wheel-drive art gallery.
By Michael Jordan
We're deep in the throng on the Audi stand at the 2013 Detroit auto show, and the swaying crowd keeps us from seeing what is being presented within the pool of hot white light just a few yards away. Someone holds up a compact camera overhead to record the event from a clearer viewpoint, and then another arm lifts up a smartphone, and then another camera goes up and another phone, until all you can see is a thicket of flickering electronic screens held above the heads of the crowd, all lit with the electronic image of the 2014 Audi RS7 Sportback.
Who would have thought that an Audi could command such attention? Who would have thought that there could be any cultural traction in the phrase "extreme Audi?" And yet everyone in this crowd strains forward to lay hands on the RS7 -- men in self-important suits, women in spindly shoes, and even the towering Audi show-stand models.
As it turns out, the RS7's secret is style, not speed.
As you'd expect of a car based on the lovely A7, the RS7's shape expresses the aerodynamic simplicity that always has been Audi's signature, but you must also admit that the now-customary embellishments of the full-frame grille and LED running lights add useful drama. Meanwhile, the RS7 comes in ten colors, including two shades of high-fashion gray -- Nardo gray and matte-finish Daytona gray. Two trim packages are available, one in matte aluminum and the other in carbon fiber. The six-piston brake calipers for the racing-style, two-piece, 15.4-inch front rotors can be had in black or red. And the standard polished 20-inch wheels can be replaced by optional 21-inch wheels in three different designs.
The style message continues within the cabin. The instruments have black faces with white scales and red needles. The trim is done with carbon-fiber inlays, and four other materials are available as options. The high-bolstered sport seats are trimmed in faux suede and carry a seating surface of quilted leather (honeycomb-quilted Valcona leather in either silver or black is optional).
Fortunately, the 2014 Audi RS7 Sportback is a car to drive as well as a work of art to simply enjoy in your garage, and this would be the kind of driving that encompasses acceleration from a standstill to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 155 mph in standard trim and 190 mph in ultrafast specification (would you have it any other way?).
Yet the message behind such performance is drivability, not abstract numbers. When Ferdinand Piech came to Audi from Porsche in the early 1970s, he had the good fortune to be welcomed by a front-wheel-drive sedan with serious dynamic challenges due to an in-line engine cantilevered over the front wheels. As a result, he has always been willing to embrace new technologies in order to counter the challenges of bad physics.
The Audi RS7 reaps the benefits in the form of all-wheel drive (a torque split of 40/60 percent front/rear plus torque vectoring from side to side, all in an effort to replicate rear-wheel-drive dynamics). You can choose the standard air suspension (it feels a little short on wheel travel in other Audis we've driven) or an optional system with steel springs and three-stage dampers (great at speed and acceptable the rest of the time, we think). As always, you can electronically configure the suspension, the steering effort, the transmission shift schedule, and the throttle action to your preference.
A car that aspires to greatness must be energized by a great engine. Audi's twin-turbo 4.0-liter TFSI V-8 certainly puts up great numbers in the RS7 -- 560 hp at 5700 rpm and 516 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm. Yet fuel economy is also part of the plan, since four cylinders can be deactivated when the engine is running between 960 rpm and 3500 rpm and torque demand is between 25 percent and 40 percent of maximum. Thanks to vibration-canceling engine mounts and noise-canceling audio speakers, the only thing you'll notice is a five percent improvement in fuel efficiency. And did we mention the eight-speed automatic transmission?
The 2014 Audi RS7 will be measured against the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG and the forthcoming BMW M6 Gran Coupe. The competition has motorsport-bred engines, but the style message is garbled, as the Mercedes looks glum beneath its frosting of overwrought flourishes, while the BMW threatens to sink through the floor with its sheer heaviness. And when the journey is long, the weather is bad, and the pavement is slick, we think there will be plenty of people willing to pay an estimated $110,000 (without all the cool options) for the privilege of taking the test in an RS7 Sportback. After all, real roads go across the country, not just around the back of the grandstands at a racetrack.