The rules of physics are supposed to be simple as it aims to rationalise the relationship between energy and matter. But is it ever as simple as more power plus less weight equals outright performance? Not as far as the Audi RS 7 Sportback is concerned.
See, the scientists of speed, company that include the likes of Colin Chapman and Gordon Murray had, at one point or another, some good ideas about how to make a fast car faster. Chapman theorised that less weight equals more of everything in the go-faster departments. Turns out, he was right and nowadays the power-to-weight ratio seems to have become the petrolhead’s creed.
Then there’s Gordon Murray. An SA-born engineering icon that, in the last few years, probably trended more than #InstaSelfie. He is well-known for his work in aerodynamics and laid - in large parts thanks to the McLaren F1 - the groundwork of what is the now-accepted script for moving cars through the air.
Ideas, though, like rules change thanks to a better understanding of all the components that contribute to a singular goal.
So, getting to the subject of this article… the Audi RS 7 Sportback and the one question that kept coming up… What’s the point? Fortunately, I think I’ve figured it out; it’s all about blasphemous speed that’s coupled with five-star luxury. The problem, though, is that luxury doesn’t just weigh down on the wallet, it also adds gluttonous amounts of weight.
To address this, saying that Audi wholeheartedly followed Chapman’s philosophy would be technically inaccurate. Technically. Scratch that, contrast stitching proved more important here than abiding by the power-to-weight way of thinking – the RS Sportback quattro tips the scales at a hefty 2,140 kilograms.
Luckily, then, it has that drop-dead gorgeous exterior going for it. Pretty as it may be, though, each curve serves some purpose of making it go effectively faster. Small underbody spoilers capture and then direct air to the appropriate places, be it to streamline the flow or create some added downforce.
There’s nothing really superfluous here. Even its silhouette, while looking very executive, serves as an airflow conduit. Then the spoiler deploys at 100 km/h and you get 40 kg of added downforce on the rear axle. See, this is such an effective design that its drag-coefficient registers at a slight 0.32. Considering its vast dimensions and deliberate downforce generation, that’s quite slippery.
Ever fantasised about piloting the Millennium Falcon from the Star Trek movie franchise? I have. Fantasised about it, I mean. The problem, though, is that the interior of the Audi makes the sci-fi Falcon’s binary approach to functions look a bit as if the Flintstones had a space agency. So that’s ruined.
At least the cocooning comfort of the RS sport seats make up for it as well as a tri-digital screen setup that completely rethinks the haptic approach to button-pushing. Perhaps the only items that cannot be controlled using the at-first intimidating digital approach are the windows and the gear-selection module that relies on conventional wisdom.
Other than that, all information, and functions, are readily available thanks to the multi-layered MMI screens that can even show you your real-time position on the driver-facing instrument cluster.
Get to the track, and the RS screens will overload you with the most relevant performance-related info and quite a bit you probably won’t really care for including torque, power, tyre pressure, oil temperature, boost pressure, lap times, acceleration, and g-forces. Who really cares about oil pressure except for the engineers in an F1 paddock? And the weekend racing warriors fitting the serious-looking gauges to their hatchback A-pillars… Naturally.
Well, on the road it’s like wearing a full-Monty scuba diving suit in the kiddies’ pool – if we’re talking performance. It just can’t be used to its fullest potential. Sure, you can stretch its long legs on a mountain pass to some extent, and the drive there will be filled with moments of gleeful comfort and sonorous engine notes, but it’s a near-crime caging this animal.
What we should be talking about relates to where you'd use those informative RS screens – on the track. Luckily then we had access to one during Speedweek, the Phakisa Freeway circuit. The natural habitat of the RS 7 Sportback is where it truly comes alive.
Alive isn’t exactly descriptive of the RS 7’s off-the-line launch ability, though, if I’m honest. Partly due to weight and power distribution, the pre-launch pent-up tension quickly falls flat. That’s physics for you… Continuing on the weight track, when it's time to come to a halt, Audi's cram-all-the-luxury-in-there approach further proves to be a bit of an Achilles heel as the brakes have to heave and sweat to shave velocity off the digital speed readout.
At least when the quattro system commands the wheels to bite into the blacktop, you quickly forget about that aforementioned launch latency. In fact, the acceleration is so violent, it’s what I imagine having a staring contest with the Grim Reaper feels like. Even around the corners, it defies what should be possible; it's like Newton's Laws are outdated and just don't apply.
Sure, it’s a handful with corner navigation being on a knife’s edge. And it’s not as sharp a track time tool as something of the same rough size wearing an M Performance badge, but that is 80% of its appeal. It’s such an involving experience having to constantly keep it in check, and the mere fact that it’s capable of cornering with such effectiveness, defies belief. You can't help but smile when Mr Reaper thinks he has the upper hand.
How, then, can something that weighs as much as a battleship be so good at going profanely fast? Technology, obviously, but also using what the Americans have so effectively used for making their house-sized cars go fast, albeit usually in a straight line. Power. Lots of power.
The Audi RS 7 Sportback makes use of a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that generates 441 kW and 800 Nm of torque. The result is a 0-100 km/h sprint of just 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 280 km/h with the RS Dynamic pack that overrides the standard 250 km/h limiter. In overseas markets, though, the top speed can be further upped to 305 km/h with the Dynamic plus package. But we have potholes, not the Autobahn.
The RS 7 doesn’t come cheap. But you probably knew that already. Without all the niceties such as adaptive cruise control and rear heated seats, it will set you back R2,217,000 and comes standard with a five-year Audi Freeway Plan, Unlimited Warranty and a five-year/100,000 km Maintenance Plan.
The sharpest performance tool in the shed, the Audi RS 7 is not. But it’s still an engineering marvel that’s deserving of some serious praise. It’s a first-class executive cruiser that’s able to seamlessly transition between its multi-layered personalities of comfort and blistering performance all the while overcoming all the obstacles physics could throw its way. Apparently, power to weight doesn’t have the last say. Now add that honeycomb stitching, the performance figures won’t tell.