Audi insists it won't stop pushing until its U.S. footprint matches that of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. We haven't doubted Audi's ambition, but there has always been something lacking in the plan: namely, a steady stream of high-performance RS cars.
Both the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG have made a name for themselves by straddling the line between respectable executive car and pure-bred sport sedan. Audi has had its "S" cars, but they're not in the same league.
The 2014 Audi RS 7 is a different story. It's a 553-horsepower four-door that drips luxury from every surface. If you can see it or touch it, Audi has spent effort and money making it look and feel good. And once you hit the road, it only gets better.
Makes a Fine First Impression
Its luxurious cabin is the first thing you notice in the RS 7, but it's luxury with purpose and attitude. From its standard carbon-fiber trim to its heavily bolstered yet artfully quilted seats, the 2014 Audi RS 7 looks the part of a super sedan.
The electronics are much the same as in the S7, though the RS 7 picks up a lap timer, a shift light and gauges for turbo boost pressure and temperature. There's even a g-meter in the multimedia system.
There's no lack of high-end technology either, as it also includes everything from a lane-departure warning to radar cruise control and auto-dimming LED lights. There are also a self-parking system, three-zone climate control, night vision and onboard Wifi.
And a Good Second Impression
All the gadgets and leather fade from your mind once the engine is fired. It has a deep, smooth initial rumble that, having given itself a blip on start-up, settles down into a curiously quiet idle: at least until you switch it into Sport mode, that is.
Hit that button and the exhaust flaps open to let the engine's true sound run free. The tuning is one of the sexiest things about the RS 7, delivering a sonorous howl at high revs, a meaty bellow in the midrange and a popping, burbling cackle on the over-run.
Barring a trip to pick up your mother-in-law, we can't see any reason why you would even put it back to the standard setting.
Those wonderful sounds are made by Audi's 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8, an engine already used in the S6, S7 and S8 in various levels of tune. The direct-injection engine uses a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers nestled inside the "V" where the two banks of four cylinders meet, to generate up to 17 psi of pressure in this application.
The result is an output of 553 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 516 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 rpm. Even its power peak isn't really a peak, and stays steady until 6,700 rpm, 300 rpm short of the rev limiter. What's more, in manual mode, the RS 7 will allow the driver to hit that limiter without automatically changing to the next gear.
We drove the 2014 Audi RS 7 on the roads around Le Mans, France on a route that included highways, small towns and twisting mountain passes, not to mention both wet and dry conditions throughout for good measure.
No matter the conditions, the RS 7 simply can't be fazed. The first unit we drove had the standard air suspension with 20-inch wheels and tires, while the second had the optional 21-inch wheels with steel springs and three-way adjustable dampers.
Its sheer speed, from any point in the rev range at any time and in any gear, is disturbing in a car this comfortable and luxurious. Its combination of active damping, a comfort setting for the powertrain, steering, exhaust and suspension and that unabashed luxury combines to deceive you into thinking that leisurely driving is what it's best at. It isn't.
This car was born to blast down highways, and while Audi says it'll sprint to 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds, it doesn't feel like it takes much longer to make the jump to 125 mph. The seamless eight-speed automatic transmission just keeps sliding from one gear to another, and then you blink and you're outrunning Gulfstreams on takeoff.
As Aggressive as You Want To Go
Audi has also given you the ability to turn off all of its skid control and traction control systems, not that the all-wheel drive with its fabulously reactive center diff even needs traction control.
Going nude reveals a car that is every bit as controllable as it was with all its electronic clothes on. It isn't a sports car, not with Audi's traditionally dull steering and a lot of weight, but the center diff typically delivers 60 percent of the drive to the rear axle so it feels like a proper performance car.
It's very sharp, then, without that last trace of crispness, but you can easily say the same of its German competitors. Still, the RS 7 is the most convincing fast big car from Audi that we have ever seen. Its standard brakes are astonishing (carbon discs are available as an option) and its grip is unflustered, but it still feels properly aggressive, especially with the optional sport differential.
A Noteworthy Return
When you've been out for a while, it's good to come back in style. The 2014 Audi RS 7 does more than that. It brings Quattro back to the top end of the U.S. market in style and unrelenting speed.
Other than the vague steering, there's little to dismiss about the RS 7. It takes what is easily one of Audi's best-looking cars and stuffs it full of as much personality as it can take. Far from vulgar, however, the monstrously powerful sedan is both sophisticated and wickedly fast, and neither personality is very hard to find.
BMW and Mercedes may have ruled the super sport sedan segment in the U.S. with little effort over the past decade, but Audi finally has a serious contender for the top spot. We can only hope it's the start of a new wave of U.S.-bound RS models and not just another one-off project that will soon disappear like too many others before it.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.