There’s something so damn admirable about Audi’s decision to only offer its RS4 and RS6 high-performance flagships in wagon-only Avant variety. It’s a strategy that started back in 1994 with the RS2 Avant – a sensible Audi 80 wagon that had a 232kW turbo five-cylinder under the bonnet.
The RS2 defined the hot wagon equation and that philosophy continued through the German carmaker's model lines to today, but at a point along the way, Audi realised the wagon segment was perhaps a little esoteric and an intercostal muscular model might capture a few more fans – especially in Australia where wagons have long fallen out of favour.
If that applies to you, but the current-generation Audi RS6 Avant’s performance promise makes you a little weak at the knees, then it has a sibling that might fit the bill. Don’t let the badge deceive you, because the RS7 shares exactly the same 441kW turbo V8, quattro all-wheel drive transmission as the Avant, packaged in a very different body.
Exactly what one might call that body is subjective and open to interpretation, but for the record, Audi has dubbed it the Sportback. If it was listed by the Smithsonian, it might define it along the lines of 'four sedan doors and the boot of a hatchback knitted together by a coupe’s profile'.
And if you think it works well in the pictures, then let us tell you its aggressive stance and intimidating presence works even better in person. Like the RS6, its arches have been fattened by 20mm each side and the aerodynamic work front and rear works aesthetically too.
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Expect to see this beast arriving in Australia about the middle of 2020 and priced about the quarter of a million mark, but we got an early glimpse in Germany. Just the day after its official reveal at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, we were thrown the keys and pointed in the direction of the 50-year old Das Hardburg hill climb race.
It takes mere minutes to realise you are in a very special Audi. The RS7’s cabin is typical Ingolstadt attention to detail, beautifully restrained design and purity.
The seats are expertly appointed in fine materials including Alcantara and the minimalist dash layout is striking. Just a single knob protrudes from an otherwise vast expanse of glossy touch screens like a yacht on Lake Eyre.
But unlike some other manufacturer’s approach to switchgear rationalisation, which can be tiresomely convoluted – we’re looking at you Lexus – the Audi system is simple and intuitive. The Audi MMI is every bit as sharp and logical as BMW’s iDrive approach.
It would be easy to get lost in the multitude of customisation options including ambient lighting colours, sophisticated personalisation and the excellent Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, but the road out of Frankfurt soon turns to the coveted Autobahn.
On the Autobahn
It’s here that the full might of the RS7 starts to become apparent. At the first sign of a clear straight, the taps are opened allowing the full 800Nm to find its way to the road and the pace increases with eye-popping urgency. Zero to 100km/h arrives in a claimed 3.6 seconds, and as it continues to accelerate the head-up display counts up past 200km/h like a slot machine that’s hit the jackpot, with the cabin serenity defying how quickly the German scenery is flashing past.
The steering is firm, the nose planted, and the body hunkered into a ridiculously stable stance. Only as 250km/h comes and goes, do the wing mirrors start to roar and indicate our speed.
A car on the horizon pulls into the outside lane and a mission to the magic 300km/h is aborted. An initial smooth rollout of the throttle rapidly turns into a heavy application of brake as we bear down on the initially distant Passat with almost alarming pace. It's another illustration of just how fast this thing goes.
Fortunately, the trip back from a new PB of 292km/h is as effortless as the excursion to it, thanks to massive carbon-ceramic brakes in all four corners. At the front end, the discs are grabbed by 10-piston callipers courtesy of Brembo and their efficiency is simply staggering.
Officially, the RS7 is limited to 305km/h, but from the rate at which it smashed through the various milestones on the way there, it’s obvious it has plenty more pace beyond that. As stunning as the ability to accelerate is the Audi’s stopping power and the confidence to shed speed instils confidence to use its full performance repertoire. Perfect as the way ahead turns hilly.
The Das Hardburg hill climb has been running since the 1960s and the 2019 competition ran just two weeks before our arrival. Car nuts keep returning to this German motoring mecca for its beautifully maintained roads that slice through quintessentially pretty countryside and verge on arcadia.
At first, the narrow roads bordered by nasty looking kerbs feel claustrophobic and restrictive of a car like the RS7, but the performance is so accessible. The monstrous acceleration is very easy to get used to and its dimensions seem to shrink as the speeds increase.
Rear-wheel steering is particularly influential in the transformation, allowing the big Sportback to rotate as a shorter sportscar would. Also worth praise is the RS transmission program that favours the rear axle for power until the person at the wheel runs out of talent.
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Tap the new RS button on the steering wheel, however, and the RS7 goes from extra spicy to nuclear. Turbo lag is nonexistent and the mid-range torque is stupendous, but thanks to proprietary quattro smarts, the power can be applied mid-corner, firing the Audi from one corner to the next.
The previously slick automatic – one of the most seamless we’ve experienced – switches into an aggressive map and is beautifully intuitive when left to its own devices, and grabbing for the shift paddles was hardly ever necessary.
When you do though, the gearbox will allow you to downshift into the red - a great statement of intent that this is a true performance model.
Air suspension is available for those that want the best option for ride comfort but, for our money, the ‘standard’ RS Sport set up is the pick for getting the most in the corners. It’s not exactly uncomfortable cruising either. Unlike the previous RS7, both suspension options are rated for the full 305km/h v-max.
Our desire for a little more shout from the massive tailpipes is just about our only criticism and the new version doesn’t seem to quite equal the first-gen RS7’s gloriously antisocial report.
It’s not the larrikin that the BMW M5 is nor is it as switched-on as the borderline neurotic Mercedes-AMG E63. But in a fight between the big three German ‘sedans’ It is, without doubt, the easiest to live with and therein lies the genius in Audi’s approach. The RS7 doesn’t try to beat the M5 at its own game, instead pursuing its own ambition to be genuinely useable day to day.
In the second row, tall adults have plenty of space and there’s even enough headroom despite the diving roofline. Behind that, there’s a huge boot, which couldn’t be any easier to access courtesy of the unique hatch.
It is not unkind to describe the Audi as relatively benign because, after a few hours of being pummelled by the Merc’s granite ride, that’s exactly what you’ll be craving.
After a day tearing up a decades-old German road race, the RS7 plots a course back to the Autobahn and provides a deeply relaxing method of getting where you need in comfort… and very, very fast.
The hardest question to answer is whether you would pick the Sportback or the wonderfully unapologetic RS6 Avant. For our money, the added space of a wagon and the laughable implication that you might have actually bought it for its practicality is too tempting to resist.
Realistically though, both are obscenely complete vehicles offering their own individual practicality but the same monumental powertrain.