Wednesday, April 9
The 2014 Audi RS 7 checks all the boxes and then some for wealthy car buyers who want a stylish, luxury sedan that looks like a coupe, delivers 500-plus turbocharged V-8 horsepower and comes with a high-brow German pedigree.
With a starting retail price of $105,795, the RS 7 adds impressive bragging rights and tasteful subtlety, too.
New for 2014, the five-door, four-passenger RS 7 is the most powerful RS-branded Audi available in the United States today with a full 560 horses and 516 foot-pounds of torque that comes on as low as 1,750 rpm.
RS models are engineered and built by Audi's high performance unit, quattro GmbH.
In fact, the RS 7's speedy, 0-to-60-miles-per-hour time of 3.7 seconds — per the manufacturer — matches that of Audi's top sports car, the sexy RS 8 V-10 coupe.
But the RS 7 looks much more subtle, with few exterior clues advertising its performance prowess. And for all its power and capable handling, the RS 7 can be comfortably composed for everyday driving, even in congested city traffic.
Plus, the RS 7 can include all manner of plush and unique amenities like well-bolstered seats where the leather has honeycomb stitching for a quilt-like look and a stellar, 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system where tweeters "appear" at the top of the dashboard.
Given its name, the RS 7 obviously is based on Audi's mid-size, coupe-look, five door, the A7, and serves as the pinnacle of the A7 line.
But the RS 7, which includes as standard equipment Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system, eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, paddle shifters, sunroof, power tailgate, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation system, handwriting-recognition technology, 12-way, power front seats and full light-emitting diode headlamps, also is Audi's answer to some heady four- and five-door luxury-sport competition from Germany.
As an example, the 2014 Porsche Panamera Turbo, which comes with a 520-horsepower V-8, all-wheel drive and seven-speed automatic transmission, carries a starting retail price of $142,295.
Another competitor, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG, has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $100,425 with 550-horsepower, biturbo V-8, seven-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.
Admittedly, appearances are subjective. But the Panamera has been polarizing to some Porsche purists, while the Mercedes CLS63 AMG looks sinister to some critics.
In contrast, Audi officials stuck to the handsome, trademark Audi styling of the A7 when making the RS 7 and resisted the temptation to turn it into a cheapy, boy racer, customized A7.
Yes, the RS 7 has special-design wheels that can be as large as 21 inches in diameter, and there are appropriate black carbon fiber trim pieces here and there. But the word "stealth" kept coming to mind during the drive of the test RS 7 with $125,095 price tag that included $19,300 worth of optional equipment.
The optional power, soft-close doors were shaped carefully into the sides so as not to chop up the flowing coupe-look lines. And there's still a decent 36.6 inches of rear-seat headroom and 37 inches of rear-seat legroom.
The 4,400-plus-pound car with quiet interior had a solid and stable feel but didn't seem heavy or ponderous.
Certainly, the turbocharged, 4-liter, 90-degree V-8 gave swift but measured response to any pressure on the gas pedal. But oh, how dramatic the RS 7 could be when the gas pedal went down hard all the way. The car seemed to get up on its back tires, point the grille to the sky and launch, pinning the backs of passengers into their seatbacks.
Breathless, more than one passenger remarked how his heart raced. The RS 7 surely can race, too.
The power delivery is to all four wheels, but with Audi's quattro tuned for a 40 percent front and 60 percent rear bias to mimic sport-preferred rear-wheel drive. There's torque vectoring to the sides of the car, too, to ensure steady handling.
Shod with summer tires and a standard sports rear differential, the test RS 7 bit down into the asphalt without a squeal or hesitation and just took off.
But guess what? The powerful RS 7 also has a standard fuel-saving system called cylinder on demand that helps this car escape the federal gas guzzler tax.
Basically, electronics monitor when the RS 7 is running leisurely — say, when torque demand is between 25 percent to 40 percent of maximum — and can automatically deactivate four of the eight engine cylinders. The deactivation is done so smoothly that the test car never gave a hint when it was going on or when all eight cylinders were engaging again.
The result, though, is a noteworthy — for a 560-horsepower V-8 — fuel economy rating by the federal government of 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway. This is better than the 15/24 mpg of the 2014 Panamera Turbo and the 16/25 mpg of the 2014 Mercedes CLS63 AMG.
In the tester, which was driven hard much of the time, fuel mileage averaged 18 mpg in combined city and highway travel. So, travel range on a single 19.8-gallon tank was 356 miles.
The 7-inch, brightly colored display that protruded from the top center of the RS 7 dashboard seemed more like a television than an information display and caught the attention of nearby drivers at night.
The trunk opening was sizable for a coupe-look car. With rear seatbacks split 60/40 and foldable downward, maximum cargo capacity is 24.5 cubic feet. This is akin to the trunk in a large sedan.