2020 Audi RS7 Sportback First Drive Review

Vincent Nguyen - Sep 24, 2019, 5:00 pm CDT
4
2020 Audi RS7 Sportback First Drive Review
Editors' Rating: 9/10
Pros
  • Stunning exterior and interior design
  • Powerful engine for instant acceleration
  • Dynamic handling and driving performance
  • Five-seat, passenger option
Cons
  • Exhaust note isn't loud enough

If you’re driving something special, you want it to look the part, and so when Audi was creating the second-generation 2020 RS7 Sportback it put in the time to differentiate not only on driving dynamics from the regular A7, but also the exterior design. Sure enough, while the new RS7 Sportback still has that svelte sloping roofline, put both cars side by side and the differences stack up. Step outside to find a Tango Red Audi RS7 Sportback waiting for you, and it’s enough to give you sweaty palms.

It’s gorgeous in every way

There are cars which look magnificent in photos, and there are some which catch your eye on the street. The new RS7 Sportback is a good 40 millimeters wider than an A7 Sportback. Every exterior panel is unique to this car, apart from the hood, roof, front doors, and tailgate. It gets a flat Singleframe grille with no contrasting border, emphasizing the fascia, while most of the shiny bits have been replaced with gloss black elements which only serves to make the car look more sinister.

With a monstrous V8 engine under the hood, the sportier appearance has the muscle to back up the hardcore stance. I know you want to get inside as quickly as possible and try that 4.0-liter turbo out. It’s worth pausing and taking in the sinuously-curved trailing edge and the continuous light strip that spans the car’s rear, and taking note of the rear spoiler that stays hidden underneath the tailgate but rises with purpose as you approach 75 mph. And, of course, there are massive, oval-shaped exhausts to double up on performance styling and sound potential.

The exhaust note of the European-spec test RS7s Audi had laid on sounded a little muted for my tastes. I wanted it to sound angrier – think along the lines of the TT RS and RS3 – to match the design and performance. We can blame European sound regulations for that, though Audi confirmed that the US-spec RS7 should sound a bit louder.

Luxurious interior with premium materials

The biggest surprise in the new RS7 Sportback isn’t just about the design or the screaming turbocharged V8: it’s how the interior blends luxury, comfort, space, and a sense of wellbeing. For a second, you’ll think you’re inside a posh luxury car, but the RS badge on the flat bottom tiller is there to reorient your consciousness.

There’s plenty of room for up to five passengers, but Audi will happily remove the rear bench seat to make room for two individual seats. Oddly enough, this is the first time that a five-seater configuration has been made available in the RS7, and it only makes sense.

Measuring 197.2-inches from front to rear bumper, the RS7 is not a small car, to begin with, so having five proper seats is the most practical way to go. Besides, it’s not as if the sloping roofline impedes on headroom so significantly that it negates fitting three regularly-sized adults in the back. I’m not just saying this based on theory, either. Back in Frankfurt, we tried fitting three adults in the rear quarters of the RS7. I’m not exactly vertically-challenged, but I managed to feel comfy without excessively rubbing shoulders and knees with my co-occupants.

As I said, the RS7 may boast impressive performance credentials, but it’s still essentially an easy-to-drive luxury car when you want it to be. The taut surfaces and clearly defined contours of the dashboard reflect the sportier exterior design, with all the touchpoints covered in either a soft leather, premium plastics, or metallic trimmings that give the interior an immaculately premium feel.

Performance is readily accessible, however. Press the RS button on the steering wheel and the Audi virtual cockpit flips from analog displays to digital, with a matching animated rev counter. It even has a shift light graphic that tells you when to change gears. Admittedly, having a shift light is not revolutionary in the strictest sense of the word, but it’s the way the graphic lights up in green, yellow, and finally blinks in red that makes reaching the redline a bit more addictive than usual.

Heart and soul of a sports car

Pulling off from a stop, the new Audi RS7 Sportback is as easy to drive as the smaller A4. It’s extremely quiet inside for what is conceivably a sports car with four doors. I had proper conversations with my co-driver Victor Underberg, the new head of Audi Sport. Because of that, I had no problems hearing Victor suggesting I test out the dynamic rear-wheel steering.

Working in conjunction with the new progressive front steering of the car, the rear wheels can turn as much as five degrees in the opposite direction at slow speeds or when maneuvering the car through tight parking spaces or city streets. The effect is a reduction in the turning circle by as much one meter (3.3-feet), leaving the large RS7 feeling more agile and lighter.

At higher speeds, meanwhile, the rear wheels turn by as much two degrees in the same direction as the front wheels. “It feels like you’re driving an A4,” Underberg explains. “The radius in this RS7 is smaller than an Audi A4.” It’s this user-friendly nature of the RS7 that makes it extra-special in my book. Don’t let the fancy touchscreens and haptic buttons fool you, because the new RS7 is just as easy to park, drive, and maneuver as a compact car, and that’s saying a lot given the actual size and weight of the vehicle.

Similar to other modern German cars, the 2020 Audi RS7 Sportback is equipped with Audi drive select, a dynamic handling system with six profiles: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Efficiency, and customizable RS1 and RS2 modes. The system remaps and adjusts the behavior of the engine, transmission shift points, suspension firmness, the behavior of the dynamic all-wheel steering, Quattro sport differential, steering exhaust, and even the exhaust flaps.

I was particularly interested in how the Quattro sport differential applies wheel-selective torque control, with up to 70-percent of torque capable of being shifted to the front wheels, or up to 85-percent to the rear as required. “If you enter the curve at normal speed and then you push the throttle, the system feeds more torque to the outer wheels,” Underberg says. “This has the effect of turning the car into a curve.”

It’s basically like having a guiding hand in pivoting the car towards the direction of the curve, and honestly, it felt a little otherworldly to experience it firsthand at first. All the while, the Quattro drivetrain is shifting torque between the front and rear axles, while torque vectoring pushes power left to right.

While we didn’t get to track the 2020 RS7 – something I suspect most owners won’t do either – Audi set us up for the next best thing: a fast-paced hill climb, tucked away in a sleepy town outside of Frankfurt. First up, Victor took the helm – think of this as the equivalent to a hot lap on the racetrack. He didn’t hold back, and neither did the new RS7. Front wheels working in harmony with the rearm while the left and right wheels articulate to off-cambers on what were super-rough roads. Mixed in with tight twists and turns, I couldn’t help but feel like I was riding a modern-day roller coaster.

“You noticed,” Victor pointed out afterward, “that during my drive, there was only one ABS intervention.” Ah yes, I remember that uber-fast, sharp left hander very well. Victor drove the RS7 like a pro, waiting for the last second and then hitting the brakes hard; the Audi’s electronic nanny intervened as the rear gently drifted right while the front rapidly turned towards the left. Fun, certainly, but also composed and with a reassuring feeling of safety. Riding right seat isn’t always easy, particularly when your driver is pushing hard, but the steel suspension felt smooth with little body roll. Then, halfway in, it was my turn to take over.

Following someone who lives and breathes Audi performance cars was always going to be a challenge, but the 2020 RS7 rewards the eager. No small part of that is through your ears: it doesn’t matter which drive mode you’re in, the engine and the exhaust are simply too hard to ignore. A 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 produces 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, adding up to 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. If you’ve an Autobahn to hand, you can increase that to 174 mph and 190 mph, respectively, with the Dynamic and Dynamic Plus packages.

It’s a glorious engine. Power delivery is instantaneous, while handling is precise around tight bends and smooth as butter along fast sweeping turns. Frankly, the RS7 is an absolute joy to drive, whether you’re purring slowly through small towns, surging through back roads, or faced with an open expanse of derestricted highway. The eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission proved more than capable of outclassing me when it came to picking the right gear, so I rarely felt like I needed to weigh in with the paddle-shifters.

Conclusion: Audi’s sportiest and sexiest four-door to date

While fuel economy is usually the last thing to think about in a car such as the RS7 Sportback, still Audi fitted it with its 48-volt mild-hybrid system. That uses a belt alternator starter and a small lithium-ion battery pack, recovering up to 12 kW of power. The new system is oriented to improve efficiency, allowing the RS7 to coast for up to 40 seconds with the engine turned off – though not on US-spec cars – or to operate the start-stop system at speeds up to 14 mph. Also helping the cause is a cylinder-on-demand system, that can deactivate four of the eight cylinders when driving in traffic. All told, Audi claims fuel savings of up to 0.8-liters per 100 kilometers – assuming, that is, you drive conservatively. That’s a big proviso.

Pushing the 2020 Audi RS7 Sportback is a joy, and restraint seems positively disrespectful to what the automaker’s engineers have created. I’ve yet to experience the new RS6 Avant, but with practically the same engine and drivetrain, I’m sure it’s going to be one heck of a station wagon. Still, at the end of the day, my heart is longing for the sex appeal and accessible performance of the RS7 Sportback, practicality be damned. While the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-door may be lurking in the shadows as a feisty rival, you can’t beat Audi’s combination of luxury, user-friendliness, and dynamic handling in a fast, V8-powered coupe-like sedan.


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