In our Audi RS7 Performance review, Ben Griffin finds out what it is like to drive a German-built rocket ship with four seats and a dual-personality ─ and somehow lives to tell the tale.
Cars fall into one of two camps: Ones that make sense and ones that don’t. No one, for instance, needs a £100,000 Range Rover to drop the kids off at nursery or a McLaren 720S to get to work on time when a lowly Ford Fiesta could do both for a fraction of the price.
But it is often the needlessly fast, expensive and uncompromising cars that keep petrolheads up at night. Driving along the Stelvio Pass in a Hyundai Ioniq would, after all, make for a much less entertaining dream than if done in a McLaren P1. Unless Cara Delevingne was naked in the passenger seat.
Firmly in camp pointless is the Audi RS7, a sporty version of the A7 Sportback that is neither as practical as its RS6 Avant sibling or as comfortable as the similarly priced S8, making you wonder why it exists at all.
In fact, the main reason for the RS7 is aesthetics. For those who want a prettier four-door coupe-esque hatchback version of the RS6, this is your car, which means that essentially you are paying for a prettier rear end and a smaller boot.
But that’s okay, because the rear of the RS7 is extremely memorable and as Audi four-seaters go it is top of the food chain. Though somewhat subdued in styling like most Audis, there is nothing more fierce-looking with four doors and four rings that you can buy today.
And thanks to the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and quattro all-wheel drive, there are very few cars as fierce in terms of performance, either, especially when you pay £6,675 extra for the Performance version, which is even more powerful.
So how easy is it to justify a such a niche, expensive car? Is this one of those rare Audi classics or a yawn-mobile? We racked up more than 750 miles in a week (sorry Audi) to get to the truth.
Audi RS7 Performance review: How fast are we talking?
Imagine every time you pushed the accelerator pedal you were pushed along by a 100ft tsunami. That is what it feels like to have 516lb/ft (750Nm) of torque from 2,500rpm at your disposal.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system and eight-speed automatic ensures that, regardless of the conditions, painfully fast forward motion is assured. As well as whiplash. But then what do you expect from a car capable of 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds ─ two-tenths faster than the standard RS7.
Nothing around the same price and size is as fast, not even the BMW M6 Gran Coupe or Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG. In fact, relatively few cars can make gravity as redundant as the Audi.
Such fast peformance comes from the RS7 Performance’s 596.5bhp output, a significant increase on the standard RS7’s 552bhp. That is Ferrari 458 Italia horsepower in something that makes the average sofa feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes the gearbox can be slow to react, mainly in Comfort and Auto driving modes, but the sheer level of torque means even when you catch it off guard all hell breaks loose.
You can use the paddles and stick to change up and down yourself, though. Truth be told though, there is no point in bothering because the RS7 Performance has a mode called Dynamic, which may as well have been labelled ‘poke the angry bear with a sharp stick’.
With Dynamic in force, the throttle response becomes brutal and the gearbox much snappier and much less inclined to let the revs drop. The steering also gets sharper and the suspension firmer, turning the car from pipe and slippers into something savage and unruly.
As for the top speed, that is 189mph but it is a restricted figure only because of the tyres. Audi engineers believe 200mph would be feasible and based on its eagerness to break the law we would be inclined to agree.
70-90mph, for instance, happens so easily and so fast that you genuinely fear for your driving licence on a daily basis. Even at half acceleration you will leave the likes of a BMW M4 behind, even with that momentary pause before the automatic realises what you are trying to do.
It is worth bearing in mind that the RS7 Performance errs on the side of firm, regardless of which suspension option you go for, but it smoothes out roads better than some luxury cars. Only the truly big pot holes are felt (and heard) to any meaningful degree.
What this means is blissfully comfortable motorway and A-road cruising, especially as the adaptive cruise control system means you never even need to brake. The system proved faultless down to a complete stop time and time again.
Sadly, the lane-keep system is considerably less effective than what you get in a Tesla, but then steering is never a hardship. Even though falling asleep on your arm for eight hours would be less numb, the RS7 Performance is always a pleasure to direct.
The 2,515kg weight would make itself very known on a track, but on public roads you would need to be Lewis Hamilton or deranged to push the RS7 Performance to its limits. Just breathing on the accelerator means entering a corner at 100mph and in the blink of an eye you are entering the next.
That is even with the carbon ceramic discs, which are almost as large as the rims of a bicycle. Such impressive stopping power helps make the RS7’s size more manageable and inspires confidence, but they can only do so much.
A neat touch is the ability to adjust the settings of the car as you want them using the Individual driving mode. Comfort and Dynamic cover most of the bases, but being able to comfort sports suspension and steering and dynamic everything else works well on UK roads.
Admittedly, an equivalent Porsche or BMW provide more feedback and involvement, but Audi’s mix of refinement and brute force makes the RS7 Performance as compelling. Just in a different, less sophisticated way.
If we had one real complaint, it is the fact that the RS7 could be noisier. An AMG kicks out a more explosive noise with less effort, but then nobody will ever say the Audi is quiet from the outside. It is more to do with the double-glazed windows (yes, really) than anything.
Sensational pace that is applied to terra firma effortlessly.
A little more engine noise in the cabin would be nice.
Audi RS7 Performance review: What about comfort?
With Comfort mode working away, the RS7 Performance can be as comfortable as an A8. Save for the lovely boom at low revs from the 4.0-litre V8, it is incredibly peaceful and sedate.
The front seats are so good we stepped out after a five-hour drive as if we had just been to pick up some milk from our local shop. Being able to really tailor the steering wheel position and front seats plays a large role in this.
Those in the back, meanwhile, have ample leg room and separate air-conditioning controls and heated seats to make their stay even more pleasant.
A head-up display is standard and proves more than just useful in a car this fast, it’s borderline essential. The fact it broadcasts navigation directions makes it even more useful.
Treads a great balance between purposeful and comfortable.
The bigger pot holes can cause the suspension some issues.
Audi RS7 Performance review: Practicality & cost to run?
By making the RS7 prettier than the RS6, practicality has suffered. What was once a gigantic boot now sits at 535 litres, which is admittedly still cavernous but less useful. Also potentially problematic is the lack of a spare tyre.
Rear head room is another casualty, although you will need to be above six-foot to really notice the impact of the sloping roof. Really, it just makes the car feel more claustrophobic than the boxier RS6.
The sizable pillars and angled rear window do make what is a large car surprisingly lacking in visibility, although taking a second longer to check your right blindspot on the motorway is wise anyway, even with blind-spot indicators on the wing mirrors.
As for fuel economy, we managed as much as 27mpg on a motorway with the cruise control engaged and cylinder deactivation doing its thing, which is impressive given the claimed 29.7mpg combined figure.
But around town Audi’s 21.2mpg is wishful thinking. Even a slightly heavy foot sees the instant fuel economy figure plummet to somewhere between 5 and 8mpg, which means a lot of trips to the petrol station.
In terms of price, the RS7 Performance starts from £92,225 but being an Audi means the price is easy to bump up. Our test car, finished in the lovely Nardo Grey, came in at £115,360. That is serious cash.
Despite being less practical than an RS6, the RS7 still has a big boot.
Drinks fuel around town and it is serious cash even without many goodies.
Audi RS7 Performance review: How posh is the interior?
It is here the Audi RS7 loses the most points because the A7 is a little longer in the tooth. Newer models such as the A5 Sportback boast far nicer-looking and more ergonomically-friendly layouts with far fewer buttons. They make sense to use and you enjoy using them.
In the A7 and RS7, however, there is seemingly a dial to turn a dial. The basics are fathomable but you always find yourself fumbling around for the control far longer than you should ─ even after racking up a lot of miles.
Then there is the little touchpad for writing out letters, which would be useful if it wasn’t for the fact using the MMI wheel is quicker. Plus no matter how often we wrote the letter ‘M’, it always came out as ‘N’, which would be annoying for someone who routinely travels to Northampton.
The central TFT display is clear and of a decent size, but the graphics look a tad garish and having multiple screens can be distracting, especially at night. Until you start faffing with the brightness, that is.
We also found the ventilation system to be annoying. During a very heavy spell of rain on a trip down the A303, the car decided to fug up rather badly and trying to keep it clear (including adjusting the angle, level of power, temperature etc) proved unfruitful without subjecting everyone to an icy cold breeze.
In a car this expensive, it was somewhat annoying to have to battle with such a usually mundane task. We also disliked some of the materials and buttons, which should look and feel more premium in a car that costs as much as a house in Yorkshire.
Overall, the RS7 is exceedingly comfortable to sit in and certainly feels more luxury than most cars, but it lacks the sense of posh you get in a Mercedes (even with the Peter Stringfellow purple lighting) and the technical prowess of newer Audis and BMWs.
Feels like a luxury saloon.
Rival German manufacturers and newer Audis are simpler and prettier.
Audi RS7 Performance review: Should I buy one, then?
The Audi RS7 Performance is not dynamic enough to match a ‘budget’ supercar or practical enough to match an estate. Nor is it quite comfortable enough to match a luxury saloon – and at £92,000 (before extras) that is somewhat of an issue.
Buying the RS7 Performance would, therefore, mean you are mad. Or enviably brave. But if you did, you would be in possession of one of the fastest and most comfortable four-seaters money can buy ─ and anyone of sane mind would appreciate that.
Okay, so it lacks the grace of a Mercedes and elegance of a BMW, but then the trade-off is the sort of organ-melting, accessible pace that never gets boring. Ever. And if it is attention you crave, look no further.
2.5-tonnes and four seats of German engineering that is civislised one second and able to obliterate almost every car on the planet in a drag race the next ─ the RS7 really is a remarkably easy beast to love. Even though it makes little sense.