We’ve had 23 straight days of rain but the weather gods are being kind today. The sun is out, the skies are blue and the grass by the roadside is glowing an almost fluorescent shade of green. It’s like someone’s dialled up the contrast setting. Cutting through this technicolour scene is the new Audi RS7 finished in a stealthy shade of Nardo Grey. And visible to anyone in the vicinity is a set of 32 teeth shining through the windshield. I’m the man behind the wheel and there’s a stupid grin plastered across my face. 600hp does that to you.
Let me bring you up to speed. This is the second-generation RS7 Sportback and it is Audi’s answer to the Mercedes-AMG E 63s and BMW M5s of the world. Power comes from a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine. If the basic specs sound familiar, it’s because this engine is a development of the old RS7’s bomb of a powerplant. Repurposed with larger turbos, power is up to 600hp (50hp more than the ‘standard’ last-gen RS7) and torque has increased a full 100Nm to 800. As before, there’s cylinder-on-demand tech too, which shuts of four cylinders under light loads to enhance efficiency. But I have no plans to give the any one of the eight the day off.
Winning beauty contests and drag races are all in a day’s work for the RS7.
The very first thing of note about the RS7 is how short the learning curve is. Really, few – if any – cars with this sort of power put you at such immediate ease as the RS7. Audi has championed the cause of all-wheel-drive grip with its Quattro tech for four decades and it really does shine through here, keeping things in check should the surfeit of power make you mistakenly believe you are a driving god. Ahem, guilty as charged. The RS7 doesn’t intimidate like other super sedans can, and it feels idiot-proof in that sense. It’s possible to quickly work up a rhythm with the Audi, as I do, and soon enough, the initial exploratory prods on the accelerator evolve into longer, weightier presses. Kicking down hard results in a moment’s pause from the 8-speed torque-converter gearbox as it selects the right gear. What follows is an almighty push back on to my superbly bolstered seat. It’s like someone’s lit the afterburners; the build of speed is just hilarious.
But to experience the true might of the RS7, you need an empty stretch of road like the one I find myself on right now. Two quick taps onto the RS shortcut button on the steering gets me to ‘RS2’ mode that primes the engine, gearbox, suspension and more for max attack, and also switches stability control completely off. Left foot on brake, right foot on throttle, launch control activated… 3… 2… 1… blast off! Acceleration is savage and we’re well past 100kph before my mind and body can catch up. Audi says the RS7 does standstill to 100kph in all of 3.6sec, which is just mega any which way you look at it. The RS7 will charge on to a limited top speed of 250kph, but should you have access to, say, a runway, Audi also offers the option to unlock a 305kph V-max.
It grips and grips, and then grips some more. You can make the most of that 600hp.
Where we’re at, the straights lead into corners – fast, flowing ones, medium-speed ones and even the odd tight bend – and there are also elevation changes for good measure. Now, this is not a car to throw into corners; it’s five-metres-plus for crying out loud, but what catches me by surprise is the eagerness to turn in. The steering isn’t millimetre precise (as a plus, it doesn’t feel edgy), but what’s making the RS7 feel smaller than it is, is our test car’s optional all-wheel steering that’s acing its job. In a nutshell, the system moves the rear wheels (up to 5 degrees) in the opposite direction as the front ones at low to medium speeds in the interest of agility, and in the same direction (up to 2 degrees) at high speeds for added stability. The RS7 is smooth and confident in corners, if not exactly playful, but what stays with me is the tenacious grip on offer. You can carry big speeds without fear of ‘losing’ it, and the overarching feeling is that the car always has your back. The active torque-vectoring sport rear differential, another extra that’s worth ticking, further helps tighten my line and rewards my confidence in the car by clawing in harder the more I push. Stopping power is immense too.
The blast up, down and all the way around the ghat road is accompanied by a fitting soundtrack. The RS7’s sports exhaust, replete with RS trademark oval tail pipes, isn’t thunderously loud, but the ever-present bellow and bassy roar beats anything from the B&O sound system, hands down.
The screen-rich cabin looks cutting-edge, if similar to an A6’s. You can personalise it your heart’s content, though.
Over the course of thrashing around the RS7, I haven’t paid much attention to its interior, but I do like what I see. The twin touchscreens and digital dials with special RS screens give the cabin a cutting-edge look, even if the basic layout is akin to the Audi A6 that costs about a third. You can personalise the cabin to your liking and it’d be a crime not to opt for carbon-fibre addenda. Lest I forget, the seats at the back; a three-seat rear bench is a first on the RS7, but comfort is best for two. And headroom here isn’t what you’d call generous.
There’s seating for three awestruck passengers in the RS7.
I can understand why there’s a small crowd gathering where we’ve stopped for some photography. The RS7 is an absolute stunner. That brooding nose, arced roofline and the short-deck tail, with its retractable spoiler (it rises automatically above 100kph) and light band lower down, mean you just can’t confuse the RS7 with anything else out there. And don’t you just love how those exquisite 22-inch wheels fill the flared arches?
All of a sudden, the sky has become overcast and within minutes it starts drizzling. Photographer Gaurav isn’t happy about the change in light, but to me the wet conditions are somehow fitting to sample the RSQ8. SUVs shouldn’t have it easy.
First, what is an RSQ8 and why should you be interested? The family tree tells you it’s the range-topping, high-performance version of the Audi Q8. A DNA test will reveal its brother-from-another-mother to be the Lamborghini Urus, with which it shares its platform, engine and tech. And its résumé will be headlined by ‘fastest production SUV around the Nürburgring’. How’s that for an executive briefing?
We’re not in the Green Hell today but the RSQ8 sure drives like the record setter it is.
Before setting off, I take a quick tour around the RSQ8. To my eyes, the broad-shouldered Q8 is the most attractive of the German coupé- SUVs. This RSQ8 is more special still. The large intakes and blacked-out grille make it look the business and, as a sucker for sexy wheels, I’m sold on those ginormous 23-inch rims too. Shifting from the RS7 to the RSQ8, however, is like moving from the cockpit of a Gulfstream to that of an Airbus. You sit that much higher up in the SUV, but the commanding view of the road and twin-touchscreen layout ease the familiarisation. The woofle from the 600hp, 800Nm, 4.0-litre V8, shared with the RS7, makes me feel at home too.
The ice-breaking session doesn’t last long because it doesn’t need to. Like the RS7, the RSQ8 feels exploitable from the get go, and even on these damp roads, it’s easy to trust the SUV. Now, you expect the low-slung RS7 to be fast. Could its grizzly bear of a sibling be just as quick? I don’t want to tempt fate and so I steer clear of no-holds-barred RS2 mode, but even the relatively conservative launch I can pull off is properly dramatic. Acceleration is manic and gearshifts come hard and fast. Something tells me the view from the outside would be similar to seeing The Big Show pull off an Usain Bolt. I’m also sure the roar of the V8 and the pops and bangs on the overrun would have made it across the district. For the record, Audi claims a 0-100kph time of 3.8sec.
From the seat of power, the RSQ8 feels like a supercar on stilts.
You know what, the performance isn’t even the most remarkable thing about the RSQ8. It’s the handling. Making an SUV go fast in a straight line is one thing. Making an SUV go fast around corners requires a whole different level of sorcery. In the RSQ8’s box of tricks is standard-fit all-wheel steering and Quattro all-wheel drive that can send up to 85 percent of torque to the rear wheels. But for the full effect, you need to add in active roll stabilisation and the sport rear differential, as equipped on this test car. The combined effect of all the tech is just surreal.
The first few corners taken at speed are disorienting because I just expect the 1.7m tall SUV to go all Leaning Tower of Pisa on me, but it doesn’t. The RSQ8 stays so eerily flat, I suspect the calibration of my internal gyroscope is off. And since weight transfer is kept in check so effectively, mechanical grip is just at another level. Pushing harder only has the large Audi dig even deeper into its seemingly endless reserves of traction. This isn’t how big, heavy SUVs are supposed to drive!
The RSQ8 corners absolutely flat and really does shrink around you at speed.
What really blows my mind is that the RSQ8 is doing the same speeds around damp corners as the RS7 did in the dry earlier in the day. The RSQ8 doesn’t run wide, it doesn’t slip into understeer and it doesn’t lose poise in hard braking either. It’s a 2.3-tonne SUV that thinks it’s a supercar.
End of Day's Play
The shenanigans of the day have left both cars with less than a quarter tank of high-octane petrol, so the 100km journey back to Mumbai will need to be made at a relaxed pace. What’s nice is that both Audis happily change character at the touch of the Drive Select button. Far from giving the impression of straining at the leash, at their relaxed best, the RS7 and RSQ8 don’t feel all too different to an A6 or a standard Q8 out on a quiet cruise. Adding to the calm is the mild-hybrid system whose electric motor, given enough charge in the lithium-ion battery, can relieve the engine of propulsion duties altogether for up to 40 seconds at steady speeds. Who’d have thought the SUV champ of the green hell would have some green credentials too?
The RS display shows Gs pulled too.
The other revelation on the journey back to base is the RSQ8’s unexpectedly comfy ride. The 295/35 ZR23 tyres have enough sidewall to take the initial impact, and the air suspension only softens the blow further. Still, you can’t be reckless on bad roads, and less so in the RS7 that rides on 285/30 ZR22 tyres. Were I speccing my RS7, I’d stick to the standard 21-inch rims, than you very much. Thankfully, the RS7’s underside remains ding free on the unwelcoming speed breakers at the entry into Mumbai. The additional 20mm from the air suspension at full height makes all the difference.
23-inch rims standard on India-spec RSQ8. RS7’s 22-inchers are optional.
Priced from Rs 1.94 crore (ex-showroom, India), the Audi RS7 is a whole lot pricier than its direct rivals. Even so, there’s a magnetic pull to the Audi that makes it hard to ignore. Buy one for its novelty. Buy one for its accessible performance. Buy one to smoke other cars on the drag strip.
Personally, it’s the Rs 2.07 crore RSQ8 that I’d love to have in my driveway. It’s got all the trappings of an Audi luxury car, it’s as entertaining to drive as a supercar and by virtue of being an SUV, it also fits into the India scheme of things like few other performance models can. It’s brilliant.