Every fall, one of my friends hosts a road rally. Sixty or so LGBT+ car enthusiasts gather somewhere in Pennsylvania, have a little car show in a parking lot or field, then spend several hours exploring the state’s finest back roads before ending at another fabulous destination. What you drive isn’t nearly as important as the fellowship, but having a car that makes good noises is always fun. Coming from Washington, D.C., there’s bonus points if the car is a comfy highway cruiser. And me being me, I want it to take a corner reasonably well even though the day is about the journey as a whole. The 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback was one hell of a way to nail the looks, sounds, highway manners, and corner carving all in one package.
With the RS7 Sportback covered in a tremendous shade of Tango Red paint, I donned my best buffalo plaid, picked up two friends elsewhere in the District, and hit Interstate 83 for the Pumpkin Spice Rally: Trenta edition.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback, a swoopier and (much) hotter version of Audi’s A6 sedan. The typical three-box look is eschewed for a huge liftback at the rear. Powered by lesser drivetrains, it’s called the Audi A7 Sportback. Not here, though, as Audi stuffs their twin-turbocharged 4.0 liter V8 in the engine bay. The V8 is good for an eye-watering 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, which make their way through a ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic and standard Quattro all-wheel drive.
The RS7 Sportback is a big car, physically, and its curb weight reflects the size, coming in at 4,938 pounds. With about 445 pounds on the lighter Mercedes-AMG E63 S, you’d think the RS7 Sportback might feel a touch “slow.” Wrong. Do the math and you’re looking at a power to weight ratio of just 8.36 pounds per horsepower and a shove-you-back zero to sixty run of 3.5 seconds.
Ride quality (and height) is handled by a four-corner air suspension. Cornering is assisted in two ways – a torque-vectoring “Sport” rear differential and four-wheel steering.
Audi added a few packages to my RS7 Sportback test car. Its Black Optics package replaced some exterior brushed aluminum trim with black pieces and gave me 22-inch (really) wheels with summer tires. The Executive package added a heads-up display, extended leather trim, heated rear seats, and soft-close doors. Another $500 was spent to paint the brake calipers red, $1,000 added the “sport exhaust” and $2,250 more for a should-be-standard-at-this-price driver assistance package.
Total MSRP of my 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback came in at $125,140.
It was a multi-hour journey from D.C. to the rally’s starting point in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, and naturally, we chose to leave town at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. I worried about space for three tall guys and all of our bags, but opening the hatch revealed a truly huge cargo hold. If you want more space and similar speed, the same-chassis RS6 Avant (wagon) is there for you.
Leaving town, heavy traffic was a perfect place to let the adaptive cruise control do its thing. With the transmission in Drive slushing through shifts, we slogged through an hour or so of crossovers at dusk with automatic headlights turned off. The Audi won handily here against the similar-enough Mercedes-AMG E63 S, with its torque-converter far better-behaved at low speed than the Mercedes DCT.
Streaming master-quality music through Tidal allowed some sampling of the Bang & Olufsen sound system, too. Verdict? It’s okay, but too mids-heavy, and the three of us agreed that the $4,900 “3D Advanced” sound system would likely be a worthy upgrade.
Everyone was very comfortable, even our backseat passenger, who only complained about headroom “because I have big hair.” Heated-everything was welcomed and us Talls in the front seats appreciated the extendable thigh supports. Ride quality in Comfort mode was pillowy but not excessively so, soaking up highway imperfections with ease.
Finally, traffic parted and I could open the taps a bit. Be careful with your right foot – 591 horsepower means you can and will be propelled to very-illegal speeds with a quickness – but the RS7 Sportback is happy to cruise at whatever you deem an appropriate highway pace.
The RS7 made me wish I was back in Germany, as the presence it has as a left-lane stormer would be multiplied at do-whatever Autobahn speeds. It felt like it could cruise all day long, happily, well into the triple digits.
Basic B*tches, Assemble! Back Roads of the Pumpkin Spice Rally
Our route on Saturday morning covered about sixty miles of Pennsylvania back roads. While the intent is to enjoy the drive and not “run it for time” as some may want, there are plenty of enjoyable curves and elevation changes with beautiful scenery passing by on both sides of the car.
After admiring everything from a Cadillac Cimarron to an Alfa Romeo Giulia, we set off in groups of ten or twelve, with lead and chase cars keeping everyone together. I clicked the RS7’s drive mode button and played with various settings, settling on “Dynamic” as the turnt-to-11 “RS2” mode was a bit harsh when road quality declined.
Audi has the air suspension dialed in really well for back roads, with a firmness that provides good body control but isn’t overly harsh. Most impressive, though, was the four-wheel steering. Always active, it turns counter to the front wheels at slower speeds and with the front wheels at higher speeds.
Low-speed corners were a trip, as I found I could turn the steering wheel less than I thought and get the car to rotate with ease. The RS7 is over 16 feet long, but took turns with the agility of a much shorter wheelbase.
Power was never once an issue, even on sweeping uphill corner exits. The torque-vectoring rear differential combines with the rear steering to rotate the car and put power down. Turbo lag from the boosted V8 was about nil, thanks to a 48-volt “mild hybrid” setup that helps get the turbos spooled instantly. Power was abundant all the way to redline.
While I could shift the big Audi myself, I left the transmission in Sport mode as the engine built power faster than I could process the need to upshift. Smacking fuel cut mid-corner isn’t fun for anyone.
My two complaints with the RS7 Sportback were in steering feel and exhaust note, which is to say there isn’t enough of either. Steering feedback is a bit lacking, even in its sportiest setting, which meant I never quite matched up to the changing toe of the rear axle as a dance partner. The “sport exhaust” sounded great from outside the car, but was too quiet inside even at full-tilt.
After our drive, I parked the RS7 and the group spent a few hours exploring the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Home to an eclectic mix of vintage cars, trucks, and buses, we saw three complete Tuckers and an entire “back lot” warehouse of clean-but-unrestored cars, including Whitney Houston’s Rolls-Royce limousine.
Our route for this road rally wasn’t dynamically the most challenging. It wasn’t the place where any car would be pushed to any limits of anything. But buyers of something like the Audi RS7 Sportback aren’t necessarily looking to hit the track much, if ever.
They’ll want a car that is composed and competent in both scenarios we probed on our trip, and the Audi delivers. It’s a touch slower on paper than the Mercedes E63 I keep mentioning, but has more personality and is more playful where the big AMG wants to be a fairly-exacting sledgehammer.
At city speeds and in traffic, the 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback excels at simply being “An Car” that is comfortable and unobtrusive. With room to run, it’s happy to sit in the left lane of the highway as you dream of Autobahn things, or shrink down, behaving like a much smaller car that can swiftly explore back roads with Camaros and Porsches.