Sounds not soon to be forgotten from the high Alps: cowbells, everywhere cowbells; tableside yodelling at dinner; and most memorably, V-8 engines bellowing at full throttle.
Incredible and inspiring as the Audi RS 7 Sportback’s road-holding abilities are, it’s likely the soundtrack will convince most buyers they’ve spent their $115,000 wisely. Not hooligan loud, the intensity of the ripping, roaring tail pipes begins and sustains involvement.
Audi chose the Alps (and adjacent Dolomites) to showcase RS models as the company’s speed division, Quattro GMBH, approaches its 20th anniversary, coming March 19, 2014.
The high passes reverberate not only to the RS 7’s 560-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V-8, but to the RS 5 Cabrio’s non-turbo, 450-hp V-8 and the bark of a new model not yet scheduled to come to Canada, the RS Q3 with a five-cylinder turbo, more tenor than baritone.
The Brenner Pass connecting Austria and Italy, just outside Innsbruck, is the first of three to be climbed and descended in this day’s 383 kilometres. Crowning the route is the Grossglockner High Alpine Road with 36 hairpins and 1,500 metres of altitude differential.
“You can drive the Brenner normal, you can drive it a little faster,” we’re counselled and so we do – but on the Grossglockner we’re warned to mind heavy traffic, cyclists and cows. At higher altitudes, cows give way to marmots. The RS 7’s brakes prove strong. No animals are harmed in the assembling of this story.
Once the Grossglockner was a mule track favoured by Romans crossing the Alps, but now it commands €33 (about $46.50), and ranks high among Austrian tourist attractions. Consequently, tour buses appear as pylons briefly blocking 560-horsepower RS 7s.
Audi claims acceleration from a standstill to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. On a 12 per cent gradient, results vary, but not by much, because the engine’s massive 560 lb-ft of torque cannonades the RS 7 forward even from slower speeds – behind one of the tour buses, for example – to potentially airborne beyond the onrushing hairpin.
Who among us traverses the 311-metre tunnel at the Grossglockner summit without sampling full throttle volume for a moment or more? And all who stay on the gas immediately find ourselves braking for safety as the road falls into descent at the tunnel’s exit.
Unfortunately, the RS 7’s admirable fuel-saving technology goes largely unsampled in such circumstances. The V-8 is programmed to operate on four cylinders during easy cruising, until the driver stepping on the gas prompts cylinders two, three, five and eight to re-engage. In the mountains, that’s all the time.
Audi boasts of controlling interior noise, oddly enough, given the ongoing celebration of sound. They say whatever unpleasant sound frequencies are created in four-cylinder mode are silenced as microphones within the headliner trigger noise-cancelling vibes through the sound system speakers. We’ll never know. Twin-scroll, biturbo V-8 is all we heard.
Driving the RS 5 Cabrio, which sells in Canada for $77,700, is a different experience. It too combines high horsepower, all-wheel-drive and capable suspension – but the precision of steering and the connection to the road isn’t to the same measure in the convertible. The soft top retracting in 15 seconds, in combination with the RS 5’s accelerative capability of 0-100 in 5.1 seconds, emerge as its winning qualities as the second day’s driving delivers us over the Solk Pass.
The gradients are steeper than the previous day’s climb into the clouds, up to 15 per cent, and the roads more narrow, between five and six metres. The RS 5’s tighter turning circle helps in the switchbacks, even if the steering feel can’t match that of the RS 7.
Audi Canada expects to sell 100 or so units of the RS 5, 100 or so of the RS 7, annually. Their exclusivity is assured. Anyone with green concerns wants nothing to do with such cars; only red mist drivers absolutely have to have them. Speaking for the latter, full credit to the RS project engineers, especially hats off to those responsible for perfecting the exhaust tone.
2014 Audi RS 7
Type: Four-door sedan
Base price: $115,000; as-tested, $122,500
Engine: 4.0-litre, turbocharged, direct-injection V-8
Horsepower/torque: 560 hp/516 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting capability
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.7 city/ 7.8 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Jaguar XFR, Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, BMW M6 Gran Coupe
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