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First Drive: 2014 Audi RS 7

If you’re in the market for a comfortable four-door family hatch that will embarrass even a Porsche 911, the Audi RS 7 is your only choice.

Sweating and panting in the lounge of Pole Position Raceway in Las Vegas, I watched Audi designers and engineers race compact electric karts around an indoor go-kart circuit. The composed Germans were silent as they rounded the track. As they lapped the track, only a few occasional chirps of tire slippage could be heard.

Fresh off the track, I had just completed my first round of karting in over a decade, and – to my dismay – it was much more physically strenuous than I recalled. I breathlessly hurled my kart around the corners, grunting and moaning as lactic acid coursed through my veins.

At highway speeds, you could hear a pin drop.

This muscle aching might have something to do with the competition, though, as we journalists were pitted that evening against some of the most skilled drivers Audi had to offer.

The Germans buzzed by while I quietly recovered. I watched as they knocked millisecond after millisecond off their times, lap by lap. I wondered out loud to myself, “Why did they bring us to a go-kart track on an RS 7 drive?”

The next day, I found out.

Exterior distinction

Still aching the next morning, I waddled out of the Mandarin Oriental toward the line of RS 7s. When I eventually got to the group, I was handed a key to my bright red RS 7. Eager to sit down again, I hastily fired the Audi and throttled off onto the Vegas strip.

In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, people don’t really look at cars. In Vegas, however, they do. Men and women of all ages were rubbernecking to get a glimpse at the gorgeous RS 7, from supermodel-types to hollow-cheeked, old hombres who had lost their last penny four decades ago. Everyone admired the RS 7 as it wafted by.

I have long contended the Audi A7 – the vanilla version of the RS 7 – is the best looking car of the last two decades, not just from the Audi brand but also from the industry as a whole.

I love every single line on the long, Germanic body. It has the subtle front end of the TT, the sideline presence of the A8, and a stubby little rear-end that sets it apart from the rest of the Audi line. Delightfully, that fastback-like backend also hides a secret bit of utility: a hatch.

Engineering and acceleration

Eventually, I made my way out of the city of sin and the sea of sightseers and out into the desert.

On the open, flat, and straight Nevada highway I surveyed my surroundings and made micro adjustments to my seat. As I sat behind the wheel of the RS 7 I made a stark discovery: silence.

Since I was driving in America and not on the autobahn, I couldn’t utilize all of the RS 7’s voracious power.

The RS 7 interior was tomb quiet. At highway speeds, you could hear a pin drop. It was absolutely remarkable. I can’t recall any car I’ve been in – at any price range – that was as quiet as the RS 7. I realized I could cause the cabin to get a bit noisy, though, by stomping on the skinny pedal.

I punched the throttle and suddenly a loud snarl penetrated the cabin from the rear-end, as the eight-speed automatic transmission downshifted, unleashing all 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque from Audi’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo TFSI V8 engine. This insatiable powerhouse will shoot the RS 7 to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 174 mph.

When all 560 horses aren’t immediately needed, the RS 7’s 4.0 V8 can seamlessly shut down four of its eight cylinders. The system that allows for cylinder deactivation without perturbing the driver is rather clever: It involves ECUs, camshaft pins, and reinforced turbo splines. You know, the things Germans hang from their babies’ crib mobiles.

Audi RS 7 under the hood
The 4.0 isn’t just powerful and dexterous, it’s also compact and efficient. The whole engine is just shy of 19 inches long and has been rated to achieve 16 mpg city, 27 highway, with a combined score of 19. This means you can have a Porsche 911-beating family sedan/hatch thingy without paying a gas-guzzler tax.

Since I was driving in America and not on the autobahn, I couldn’t utilize all of the RS 7’s voracious power. Instead, I leaned back into the sedate honeycomb-stitched seats and took in all the visual splendor around me.

Passenger seat

The cliffs and rock faces ripped past in varying color schemes from red, to slate, to white. Even on the rural roads outside Vegas, there wasn’t much to do in the RS 7. I played with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, sending the engine up and down through the rev range. I listened as the exhaust note changed.

I could cause the cabin to get a bit noisy, though, by stomping on the skinny pedal.

I had already made mental note of the serene cabin and the accelerative properties of the new V8. So, without much else to notice, I offered driving duties to my fellow journalist and driving partner.

I pulled over and we quickly swapped spots. I watched him go through the same rigmarole of throttle and brake tests. Eventually, though, he, too, settled back into the driver’s seat.

Suddenly, my phone chimed, reminding me of a looming deadline. I panicked. I had no way to upload any work to the web.

That was when I remembered that Audis offer a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot system in its cars – called Audi Connect – that can support up to eight devices at once. I pulled out my laptop and quickly paired it with the onboard Internet. Within moments, I was surfing the web and getting work done at 65 mph in the middle of nowhere Nevada.

Conclusion

After my story was posted and my laptop put away, I pulled the window sticker out of the glove box and pored over the features and specs. Our tester had the carbon package, which, in plain German marketing speak, meant it had been fitted with carbon fiber trim on the inside and out.

This one was also optioned with the Dynamic Ride Control suspension, which improved handling even further beyond the standard air suspension system. Though, out in the desert on a 50-mile straight away, I wouldn’t know the difference.

As charred bushes, remnants of a recent wildfire, ripped past my passenger seat window, I pondered the $105,000 RS 7 that surrounded me. And I thought back to the previous evening’s go-karting festivities.

The Audi men were unrelenting. They wouldn’t even let their journalist guests – the people they were there to impress – win a single race. When they won, though, the austere Audi men were not boastful or brash. They quietly accepted their trophies and got on with the evening.

This attitude, I realize, carried far past Germanic social mores and into the RS 7 as well.

The RS 7 is a very unusual mix – and I mean that in a good way – between comfortable and quiet German luxury sedan and hardline performance hatch stirred together forward-thinking and accessible technology.

The RS 7 absolutely has bested its rivals, the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, but it doesn’t shout about it. It takes its trophy as the best looking, most serene, and – most importantly – fastest car in its class, and goes back to its seat to have a piece of salted pretzel bread.

And for that, it earns my respect.

Highs

  • Gorgeous exterior looks
  • Straight-line acceleration
  • Interior design quality and fit-and-finish
  • Fuel economy
  • Unparalleled interior tech options

Lows

  • Exhaust note relegated to the backend