Rest assured that the lack of aural theatre provided by the first RS7 Sportback has been significantly overcome in the new car. In fact, the fast but blunt character we've long associated with the RS7 has practically been overturned in one fell swoop; this new car is a totally different proposition. It's burlier on start-up and more muscular when rolling, and the presence crafted by the butch stance and broad shoulders seriously contrasts the previous Q car lines. As the first of its kind to get 40mm wider tracks, Audi Sport's latest M5 rival has already split opinions - but both sides of the fence must admit it has real presence. More importantly, the new RS7 is genuinely impressive from behind the wheel, so for the first time the historically more driver-centric E63 and M5 might have an Ingolstadt contender on their hands.
Before we get to the nitty gritty on-road stuff, the key facts and figures for this range-topping RS, if you don't mind. When it arrives on British soil in January as a standard five-seater (an option elsewhere), the RS7 will tip the scales at 2,065kg. Only the following RS Q8 will outweigh it in the RS line-up. The revamped 4.0-litre under the bonnet has 600hp and 590lb ft of twist to overcome that heft, though, thanks partly to a pair of larger turbos as well as 48v mild hybrid hardware, which also adds a small battery in the boot to extend engine-off coasting abilities. Conversely, if you're flat out, the RS7 will hit 62mph in 3.6 seconds and power on to a top speed of 189.5mph with the limiter removed. All UK cars will get Audi's rear-mounted Sport differential, to enable up to 85 per cent of torque to be sent to the back, while both a firmer Sport coil or more forgiving air suspension setup are available. In short, it's not lacking kit.
Ok, now the nitty gritty. What an impressive place the cabin of the latest A7 range is to sit. You're low, surrounded by digital screens and faced with a crisp head-up projection, but rather than being distracting, each place vital info just where you want it. Even the digital heater controls are intuitive to use. We start our test in Germany with the more conventional coil sprung RS7, which Audi reckons is the driver's choice, with its window of performance sitting on the firmer side. You still get adjustable dampers along with the simpler hardware, but the parameters are shifted to provide a sportier stance. In the RS7, it means the ride can get a little busy on rough tarmac, although there's none of the hard-edgeness that one-trick-pony performance cars often suffer from. There's just a purposeful quickness to the damping that asks you to slow more for speed bumps and can, on occasion, bob the body over ridges. It leaves the AMG E63 with a comfort advantage, but the payoff for this more consistently hunkered ride is an RS7 that turns like something both smaller and lighter.
Britain-bound cars get all-wheel steering as standard to really maximise this trait, although interestingly the degree of rear steering in Dynamic mode is decreased to give the car a more natural angle of approach. Whatever the trickery at work beneath its four-door bodyshell, the RS7 responds to steering inputs swiftly, the effects of those rotating back wheels both seamless and natural. The responsiveness eggs you into chasing throttle rather than fearing impending oversteer, think more 992 911 than RS Megane. It's here that the RS7 entertains most because, despite insistence from engineers that it's a feature to boost traction, that torque-splitting rear diff provides genuine throttle adjustability, the sort we felt in the S4 with the same type of setup - only now it benefits from the elasticity of a turbo V8.
The engine really is something to behold, as from seemingly no revs it can hurtle the RS7 down a stretch with the pickup of a baby supercar and zero breaks in traction. It growls and rumbles through the bulkhead (thankfully you can stop the fake-sounding actuator from interfering by turning it off in the car's customisable RS1 and RS2 modes) and crackles from the tailpipes. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is sweetly matched to this explosive motor with immediate responses up and down the cogs. Miss an upshift and the V8 will chatter into a hard limiter rather than auto changing, such is the control you're handed in manual mode. Still, this is no BMW M5 rear-drive alternative; the powertrain is never completely let off the leash by the all-wheel drive system so yaw angles are always concise and controlled. Instead, the RS7 revels in becoming the most confidence inspiring brute of the segment, glueing itself to the road and daring you to call that monster of an engine into action earlier and earlier. Whether you sense mid-corner rotation or even slight front axle push, the driveline's combination of superb front traction and rear adjustability make for a car that feels eminently happy to follow the path you design with the wheel.
The steering itself is good for a variable ratio rack, as while it lacks feel the system is the most direct we've felt in an Audi, so you can get on top of what is an enormous machine on narrow German country roads surprisingly quickly. Engineers later reveal that much work went into nailing the weighting (although as usual we still prefer the lighter Comfort setting to Dynamic) and that stiffer bushes were chosen to eliminate slack. Both our Sport chassis and following air suspended test cars wear the optional 22-inch alloys with thinner P-Zeros wrapped around them, so the effects of that focus are apparent. Although perhaps inevitably the softer set air car does sacrifice some energy from the front axle, allowing for a small amount of body roll that equates to ever so slightly delayed reactions. The all-wheel drive system's ability to lay 590lb ft of torque into the tarmac is unabated; it's during the pre-throttle turn in phase that the air cushioned RS7 loses ground. Not night and day, but if you're really attacking a corner the simpler car does a better job of masking its mass and is the more rewarding for it.
That being said, on a cambered British B-road, perhaps the wound back stance of the air suspended car would be preferable - that's one to test early next year. No doubt the air car is the more comfortable on rough urban streets, with its adjustable height (it can raise to regular A7 levels) and slackened damping rates enabling a plusher ride. In fact, at slow pace and in Comfort mode, the RS7 quietens down more than its rivals, retaining most of the old RS7's discreetness - angry-looking exterior aside. Drive sedately and the biggest giveaway to the car's performance come from the brilliantly powerful but somewhat screechy carbon ceramic brakes, an optional extra fitted to both of our test cars. The 10-piston front caliper'd setup never fades once on our drives, but they don't half attract the attention of local dogs when cold. There are standard-fit steels for those less concerned with maximum bite, although we'd still be compelled to recommend the pricier option and suffer the noise in town to replicate the strong performance on the open road.
What else? The RS7 will, like most Audi Sport models, happily hammer down a derestricted Autobahn as fast as you like, engine settling if you let it while wind and road noise remain impressively low. The cabin itself is spacious, even if that slick back roof sacrifices some rear head space, but the return is an enormous hatch boot of 535 litres (or 1,390 litres with the seats down). If we're getting picky, we'd like a little tighter bolstering from the otherwise very comfortable leather sports seats to match that immense mechanical grip; we also remain hopeful that Audi can extract more feedback from its much-improved variable steering system in later versions, since Mercedes still holds an advantage here. But make no bones about it, the new RS7 has surprised us. It's shown itself to have not only a boisterous powerplant, but dynamic competence and genuine character too. A more exciting driver's car than a driftable M5? No. More brash than the E63 S? Almost certainly not. But a smart blend of those traits wrapped in Audi maturity? You bet. The Mk2 RS7 appears to have found its form. A UK test in January awaits.
SPECIFICATION - AUDI RS7 SPORTBACK
Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic, permanent four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 600@6,000-6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,050-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.6 secs
Top speed: 189.5mph (derestricted)
Price: TBC (£90,000 estimated)