There’s a war ever raging between esteemed luxury automakers. Every few years, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, or Porsche introduces a revolutionary design, engine, or platform to put rivals in an orderly line behind it. In 2005, Mercedes-Benz effectively created the 4-door coupe segment with the introduction of its CLS-Class. Four years later, Porsche countered with its hunchbacked Panamera. Then came Audi’s A7 Sportback, and finally, BMW entered with the 6 Series Gran Coupe.
While the Merc was first to market, like many industries, the best product bubble to the top of the sales charts. In the case of the 4-door coupe segment, Audi’s A7 drove design circles around its competition. The Sportback’s elegant shape never felt like a response to the new segment, but rather a redefinition.
With 2017 model year vehicles on the way, each of these 4-door coupes are preparing for new generations. But instead of waning competition between aging body styles, the fighting has intensified; no longer is this a clash of curves, it’s a showdown of strength.
Audi has a tradition of subtlety, even among its most potent models. The RennSport (RS) badge denotes performance development to rival BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG tuning arms. While its foes tend to inflate fenders, Audi prefers modest touches to distinguish an RS.
In the case of the RS7 Performance, carbon fiber accents on the chin splitter, mirrors, and rear diffuser, dual oval exhausts, a solid black mesh grill, 21-inch 5-spoke wheels, and extended side skirts are your only clues to spot the beast within. Refined exterior tweaks combined with the Daytona Gray Pearl of my test vehicle shout supercar performance about as much as a pedal-powered Big Wheel – and that’s just the kind of deception that makes it so brilliant.
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That’s not to say that the effortlessness of the RS7’s design doesn’t capture attention. Precision-cut beauty on four wheels is bound to draw jealous stares. But while onlookers fixate on the sloping roofline, LED taillights, and artful creases along its body, the RS7 Performance has already spooled its turbos into a frenzy before blasting into another dimension.
Spectators will sort out that something’s amiss when the RS7’s snarling exhaust note reaches their eardrums, but passengers discover reality as the back of their heads merge with the sport seats amid full thrust.
Under the hood is a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 developing 605hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. Compared to the standard RS7, the Performance variant wrangles an extra 45 horses and 37 pound-feet of twist. To understand just how similar these figures are to actual supercar specs, let’s compare Audi’s halo performance model, the R8 V10 Plus. While the loss of a set of doors means the R8 weighs 900lbs less, it only delivers five more horsepower and undercuts the RS7 Performance’s torque figure by 140 lb-ft.
Audi estimates the RS7 Performance’s sprint to 60 mph will take 3.6 seconds, but many independent sources have achieved low three-second romps. Keep your foot in it and the 4-door super coupe will accelerate all the way to 190 mph. Audi’s 8-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters flips through gears in an instant, enabling the RS7’s powertrain to work its magic. And if the straight-line speed doesn’t overwhelm you, Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system will finish the job.
There’s more handling pleasure to be had with a rear-wheel drive setup, but precision is reserved for all-wheel drive performance machines, and Audi’s Quattro drivetrain is far and away the most capable. The RS7 divines where and when to apply torque mid-corner for optimal grip and power application, maintaining traction during full-throttle maneuvers that would have other cars facing the wrong direction. Driver skill dictates a large portion of performance from high output machines, but even timid pilots can become rock stars behind the wheel of the RS7 Performance – confidence comes standard. Equally masterful is the RS7’s braking. Ceramic calipers dominate the laws of physics to efficiently scrub speed without ever unsettling the chassis.
Overseeing the RS7’s performance is Audi’s Drive Select, which adjusts throttle response, exhaust volume, steering feel, and suspension damping via Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual drive modes. While similar systems do very little to tweak responsiveness between settings, Audi’s system noticeably sharpens agility.
If performance and visual intrigue were the only traits of success for a hyper sedan, Germany’s products would look quite different. However, executives need a place to stash their coat (or their families) once in a while, and when they’re shelling out over $100,000 for a mobility tool, they expect the finest interior appointments.
Audi is not one to disappoint in this category. For years, the luxury marque has designed class-leading cabins with stunning layouts and trend-setting technologies. Though the RS7 doesn’t house Ingolstadt’s latest and greatest convenience features, it’s still an exquisite setting for any commute.
Like its rivals, the RS7 Performance forfeits a cramped middle seat for a pair of rear sport buckets to treat every passenger to a gripping ride. Each chair is the perfect blend of comfort and support, locking passengers into place without squeezing the life from them. A familiar rounded dashboard greets the front occupants, with carbon fiber trim panels along the doors, center column, and glove compartment.
While Audi makes every effort to satisfy passenger needs (including quad-zone climate control settings), this is, after all, a driver’s car. To that end, the dash is angled slightly towards the pilot, giving him or her access to essential information at a passing glance. The MMI Infotainment system available in the RS7 doesn’t include the fully digital driver display or the latest center screen, but the module is still intuitive and responsive. Drivers can customize visible information on the main screen, driver display, or head-up monitor all via the steering wheel controls, thereby reducing distractions.
Audi couldn’t have a more competent set of rivals, yet it earns top marks in every measurable way.
Stacked against the Mercedes-AMG CLS63 S, Porsche Panamera Turbo S, and BMW M6 Gran Coupe Competition, the Audi RS7 Performance makes the most power, is less expensive than both the Porsche ($180K) and BMW ($165K), and can match or best each luxury 4-door in a drag race. Styling will of course be at the buyer’s discretion, but while some demand drama, others are attracted to the RS7 Performance’s supercar secrecy.
Few can part with $129,000 in exchange for an automobile, but for the lucky handful of shoppers, there simply isn’t a car on the market that can compare with the 2016 Audi RS7 Performance’s concoction of awesome agility, svelte styling, and rich refinement.