The 2020 Audi RS7—our all-time favorite fastback just got even better

  • I was petrified that Audi would somehow make the second-generation RS7 not as good to look at or drive as its predecessor. I was wrong to be worried, because the new car hits both of those bases at once. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The RS7 is 40mm wider than the A7 it's based on, and only the hood, roof, and front door panels are interchangeable. Jonathan Gitlin
  • This car looks much better in profile than the smaller A5 Sportback. I think it's the prettiest car in Audi's lineup. Jonathan Gitlin
  • I mean, come on! Audi
  • Big scoops at the front are for channeling air to the radiators and also around the car at speed. There's no chrome here. Jonathan Gitlin
  • This year's Frankfurt auto show was the world debut for the RS7. Jonathan Gitlin
  • If you pick carbon ceramic brakes, they're 440mm diameter at the front with 10 piston calipers and 370mm at the rear. Steel brakes are standard, and slightly smaller up front (410mm), but weigh 34kg more all together. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The A7 was already pretty good on the inside. The Alcantara steering wheel feels more special than this leather one. Jonathan Gitlin
  • OK, I only included this Audi press shot because the guy behind the wheel looks like me, except wearing my old pair of sunglasses. (It's not me, for the record.) Audi

Volkswagen provided three nights in a hotel and air travel from Washington, DC, to Frankfurt for this story. FRANKFURT, Germany—Earlier this month, we checked out the new Audi RS6 Avant, a 591hp (441kW) station wagon that is finally—after much pleading and begging—coming to America. But Audi Sport's big reveal at the Frankfurt auto show was actually that car's mechanically identical but even better-looking twin: the RS7 Sportback. And since we were going to be in Germany for the auto show anyway, Audi invited us to spend the day driving the RS7.

Unlike the sporty station wagon, the RS7 is no stranger to our roads. The first-generation car was sold in the United States, and it was really good. Probably the best car in Audi's lineup, in fact. You see, Audi has earned a reputation for building cars that are elegant to look at and luxurious to ride in, but they are often boring to drive. As the company frequently tells me, boring luxury is what its customers want, or at least most of them. For drivers who want something pulse-quickening, there's Audi Sport. Based in Neckarsulm, Germany, it's Audi's in-house tuning and race shop, and it's gotten pretty good at adding excitement to otherwise staid cars down the years.

The recipe is straightforward. In this case, take the attractive but dull-to-drive A7 fastback and give it a twin-turbo V8, uprated suspension, and a clever torque-vectoring rear diff, then build a few thousand each year. This recipe worked extremely well in the first-generation RS7, and I'll admit I was terrified that the sequel wouldn't quite live up to expectations. So finding out the new RS7 is actually even better is a great relief.

The new RS7 certainly looks the part. This time, the only body panels it shares with the regular A7 are the hood, roof, and front doors. The sides are flared out to cover a 40mm-wider track and huge (21- or 22-inch) wheels wrapped in skinny black bands of sticky summer tire. There's no chrome anywhere, and plenty of air vents at the front keep everything cool. A large rear diffuser frames the exhausts, and the LED head- and taillights get a custom startup animation compared to the ones in the lesser A7s.

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  • In practice, it's a bit boring to look at. Audi
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  • Audi
  • A new addition to the RS7 is the RS button on the steering wheel. This lets you toggle between two individual preset drive modes that you can customize. Which is a lot easier than trying to toggle drive modes using the touch screen. Audi

The heart of this car is its twin-turbo 4.0L V8. The engine block is the same as you'll find in Porsche's V8-powered Panameras and Cayennes, but much of the rest—pistons, turbos, and so on—is unique to Audi Sport. The RS7 is a little more powerful than the old version, thanks to bigger turbos, a 3mm larger compressor wheel, and an increase in boost pressure from 1.2 to 1.4 bar. That all adds up to 591hp and 590lb-ft (800Nm), which is sent to all four wheels via that excellent ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic transmission I keep going on about.

There's now also a 48V mild hybrid system to go with cylinder deactivation, so this new one is a bit more economical to drive, particularly in traffic and real-world situations. The system can regen up to 12kW under braking. An EPA rating won't be available until closer to the car's official US launch, and we don't even have a date for that yet, but under the European test cycle the car delivers a combined 11.6-11.4L/100km. That translates to 20.4 US mpg, and if the comparison is fair, this is an improvement of about 3mpg on the old car. However, US-spec RS7s will lose the car's ability to coast for up to 40 seconds at speeds between 34-99mph (55-160km/h) in certain drive modes, and US and EU fuel efficiency figures don't always line up.

By default, the RS7 will split the engine's available torque 40:60 front to rear, but up to 70% of the torque can go to the front wheels, or 85% to the rear, depending upon conditions. If you tick the option box for the dynamic package—and you really ought to—the car also gets that GKN's very effective twin-clutch torque-vectoring rear differential. This will bias power toward the outside wheel during cornering, and it works together with the car's adaptive suspension most effectively.

There are actually several different suspension options for the RS7. Adaptive air suspension is standard, and it's similar to the normal A7 but with a 50% higher spring rate and a ride height that's always at least 10mm (0.4 inches) lower than an A7 across the different drive modes. (These are auto, efficiency, comfort, and dynamic.) But if you've picked the sport differential, you may as well also add on the RS Sport suspension with dynamic ride control. This replaces the air springs with steel ones, while three-way adaptive dampers work to reduce unwanted yaw movements under braking or acceleration. The RS sport dampers also fight body roll when cornering.

Finally, the RS7 also features rear-wheel steering. Below 37mph (60km/h), the rear wheels will steer up to 5˚ in the opposite direction to the front wheels to decrease the turning circle. Above that threshold, they turn with the direction of the front wheels, up to 2˚, to extend the wheelbase and provide more directional stability.

  • The cars we actually drove had more somber interiors, but the gray static demo car had this wonderful brown leather interior. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Unlike the old model, you can now actually seat three passengers in the back, so it's a proper five seater. Jonathan Gitlin
  • With the rear seats in use, there's still 18.9 cubic feet (535L) of cargo storage. Jonathan Gitlin
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