LAS VEGAS—Whatever luck I brought with me to Las Vegas, I cashed in on a long, desolate divided highway outside the city limits.
Pulling alongside a Nevada state trooper—they drive Ford pickups, just so you know— we locked eyes. I smiled, he started gesturing with his hands. He must like my car, I’m thinking, because look at it. Maybe he’s an Audi fan, and he knows that the RS7 is the company’s most powerful production car in existence; it can travel 174 mph, probably faster, if the limiter were removed. He points upward with his index finger, cups all fingers together in a circle, then points up two fingers, all while mouthing something incomprehensible.
I roll my window down. “102 miles per hour. That’s what I have you at,’’ he barks.
No, definitely not a fan.
“What? I have no idea when…’’ I stammer.
“Do you want to have this conversation on the side of the road?’’ he interrupts, much louder this time. “No, thank you, sorry!’’
“OK then!’’ he says, flooring his truck out of sight.
When I got to Vegas, I lost $40 in the slots. Considering I could have been dragged to a desert jail and my $120,000 Audi impounded, I was overjoyed to lose just the money. Outside Vegas, brushing by the Californian border into Death Valley, police are the only danger to drivers of fast cars. There is no life—no sidewalks, homes, intersections, animals, or anything resembling civilization except for a few abandoned RVs and decrepit buildings stashed in the sand where something far more illegal than speeding must be taking place.
Audi had brought me and several journalists here to introduce its latest super sedan, and in the process of explaining how the car’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 can muster 560 horsepower—more than the R8 V10—we’ve been encouraged to dip into the throttle whenever possible. The engineers are here from Germany, and they’re not joking about telling us to reach terminal velocity.
In the RS7, it’s way too easy. Ordinarily, the RS7 feels like an A7, an altogether beautiful piece of machinery that has torn a hole in the midsize luxury sedan segment. Aside from the 21-inch wheels, larger air intakes, and two gopher-size exhaust outlets, there’s not much to announce this car’s phenomenal power. Step inside, and it’s much the same thing. Great fit and finish, fantastic navigation system with Google Earth and handwriting recognition, supple leather everywhere—same order of business. Get a little on the gas, and it could be the mid-grade S7, which has 420 horsepower, up from the base car’s 310.
Stand on it, and out comes the truth. With 516 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,750 rpm, the RS7’s missile-like thrust clears any stray thoughts in your mind and demands total concentration, the speedometer madly climbing the numbers as if it were scanning through radio presets. With the needle glued to the right, there is virtually no evidence of speed. Part of it is because Nevada’s wide, infinite landscape imparts no relative sense of motion, but most of it comes from this Audi’s granite-like sensibilities. The steering tracks true without quivers, the air suspension bolts itself to the ground and nothing but a faint resemblance of wind noise enters the cabin. Hit the brakes, and the RS7 grinds to legal speeds within seconds. It’s unreal.
Without high speed, though, the RS7 driver suffers from boredom. Like Audi’s other V8-powered RS model, the RS5, it’s almost too quiet and too composed to enjoy in normal situations. The engine, even with our car’s sport exhaust, sounded like it had socks stuffed down its throat. You never get to hear it. It doesn’t get any livelier when the 8-speed automatic steps down to low gear, and in automatic sport mode, the transmission starts in second unless you click down to first. The lighter RS5 exudes some personality with its shorter wheelbase and livelier steering, but the RS7 has dulled that down to where the driver feels almost secondary. It’s perplexing.
Unlike its rivals from BMW M and Mercedes AMG, Audi’s RS cars are meant to be tamer, more civilized, and ultimately, more luxurious. To that end, Audi has succeeded. The RS7 even gets an EPA-estimated 16 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. But unless you can speed in the desert all day long, there’s little point to an RS7, even as a second or third “impractical’’ choice in your garage. It’s more scientific than engaging, and more about Audi bragging about its performance credentials than anything you’d be excited to drive. With a base price of $105,795, there are more convincing four-doors, like the Mercedes CLS63 AMG or the Porsche Panamera Turbo, that emphasize everyday thrills.
Needless to say, Audi isn’t expecting many people to pony up that kind of cash. Worldwide, Audi estimates it will sell 14,600 RS-branded cars, and that includes the exotic R8 and several other models we don’t get here, including the RS4 and RS6. Still, if I lived in Vegas, a fast car would be a necessity—it seems to take a day and a half to get through the desert at 55 mph—and an RS7 would ensure I’d make it home in one piece. Audi may build the most precise fast car you can buy, that’s for sure. But in the entertainment capital of the world, it could stand to learn a thing or two about fun.