One of the things that they don’t tell you when you sign up to be an astronaut and do a stint on the International Space Station is that there’s a fringe benefit of being in constant orbit at high speed – you age less than you would have standing still on Earth. There’s a lot of relativity-based physics to explain why, but basically when an object is moving fast enough it bends spacetime in a manner such that it experiences time differently than an object that’s standing still. Thus the astronauts, when they get home after their six month shift in orbit are actually about 0.007 seconds younger than they would have been if they’d stayed earthbound. Not enough to prevent any grey hair but a nice added bonus nonetheless.
Though I have no way to measure it (lacking any handy atomic clocks and all) I am fairly sure that due to the same effect I’m now several seconds younger than I otherwise would have been because I recently spent a couple of days driving tuning firm APR’s spacetime bending Stage 1 Audi RS7 around the hills of Georgia. Several members of the Kilometer staff were in the mountains of northwest Georgia around the town of Helen for an all Audi and Volkswagen car show called Southern Worthersee. SoWo, as the show is known to fans, is rapidly becoming one of the “must do” events on the calendar for German car fans in the US. While we were there we spent some time with the crew from APR, a firm known for tuning Audi, Volkswagen, and Porsche vehicles and Director of Operations Johnny Petrina offered us a chance to sample their RS7.
APR has been a mainstay on the Audi tuning scene in the US from the beginning of the modern Audi era, and now they have a worldwide presence and are a clear leader in their field. Petrina was on the way from the site of the show in Helen, GA to the airport in Atlanta to catch a flight to China to meet with APR’s distributors there and when it became evident that someone had to play shuttle driver for the trip to the airport and back in the RS7 I was happy to oblige. It was a four hour round trip combining some of the best driving roads in the country with some freeway blasts, and when Petrina told me I might as well hold on to the keys until the next day that was the icing on the cake. So it was that I found myself behind the wheel of what was far and away the most powerful car I’ve yet driven with one of the people responsible for it sitting in the passenger seat urging me on.
The car on which APR worked their magic is nothing to sneeze at even in stock form. Our contributor George Achorn drove a stock RS7 last fall and came away both extremely impressed and fortunately speeding ticket free after hitting some serious extra-legal speeds in the Nevada desert. In Audi model lexicon, those “RS” letters mean two things – that the car is the top of the line for the given model range, but also that it is assembled by quattro GmbH, Audi’s wholly owned skunkworks subsidiary who have also been responsible for the RS4, RS6, and a little thing called the R8. In short, they know how to build some seriously impressive cars. With the RS7, the team at quattro have followed the standard formula of taking Audi’s beautiful A7 and giving it the full six million dollar man treatment – it is faster, stronger, and better in every way than the base A7. It gets bigger, lighter brakes, an optimized suspension, interior customization, “performance” everything, unique exterior styling, and most of all a monster of a twin turbocharged V8 engine.
And oh, what an engine it is. In stock form, the engine gurus at quattro have extracted 552HP and 516 lb-ft from the 4 liter twin turbo V8. Several other Audis, namely the S6, S7, and S8 also currently use twin turbo V8s but being meant for an “RS” model this engine is not simply an overboosted version of the mill lifted from a more mundane “S” car. Instead, quattro have done a bottom up redesign of the engine with the result being huge levels of power while maintaining surprising efficiency. All of that power is put to the ground through an eight speed automatic transmission mated to a Quattro all wheel drive system with a 40/60 default front/rear torque split and a standard rear sport differential. All of this means that the factory version of the RS7 will make the 0-60 run in somewhere between 3.7 seconds (according to Audi) and 3.4 seconds (according to instrumented tests by Car & Driver).
Of course, for some people enough is never enough and that’s where the experts at APR come in. APR have been working their magic on Audi, Volkswagen, and Porsche vehicles since 1997. While they have branched out in order to offer a range of products to cover every aspect of performance enhancement from braking systems to suspension components, exhausts, engine parts, and supercharger and turbo upgrades their core specialty has always been based around Engine Control Unit software upgrades which are designed to extract more performance out of an otherwise stock engine while still operating within the designed parameters of the OEM components. In short, APR writes software that safely gains plenty of power out of an engine, and they’re very, very good at it.
In the case of the RS7, an APR reflash takes an earthbound ballistic missile of a car and makes it into something more akin to the starship Enterprise. Their Stage 1 ECU upgrade takes that twin turbo V8 and nets you an incredible 674HP and 700 lb-ft, and that’s on 93 octane fuel that you can buy anywhere. If you have access to 100 octane race gas, APR offers you the ability to switch programs on the fly to access as much as 728HP and 744 lb-ft. The 0-60 time? That falls to 3.1 seconds on just the “93 octane” program. To help you get a handle on that, this means that the APR RS7 is both faster to 60 and more powerful than a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, and it will hang with a McLaren F1 up until about 100MPH or so. This is serious, supercar territory fast, and let’s not forget that the RS7 is no stripped out lightweight either. It maintains all of the bells and whistles of a modern luxury car and tips the scales at 4400 pounds.
On that note, the other amazing thing about the job that APR has done in re-writing the brain of the RS7 is that they have maintained all of the easy driveability of the stock car. This is no dyno queen tuner car that makes a bajillion horsepower for about 100RPM. Instead, if you leave all of the dynamic systems in “comfort” mode and push gently into the throttle you are rewarded with a massive swell of power that builds progressively for as long as you want it to. In fact, for the first few miles I drive the car I am so surprised at the stock like feel of things that I’m initially underwhelmed. That’s when Petrina, in the passenger seat, looks down at the transmission shift lever and says “Oh hey, man, you’ve got it in regular ‘drive.’ That’s no fun, you’ve got to drive this car in sport mode.” He reaches down and flicks the gear lever back into the “S” position, looks over at me, and says “Go on, man, nail it.”
I do, and the world shifts.
It’s actually a lot like what happens when you see the starship Enterprise go to warp speed in a movie, except louder. There is a brief pause that’s weighted with massive potential and then the universe bends a little bit as the active exhaust flaps open and the car explodes forward with a roar and a ferocity that gives me that feeling where the rest of me thinks my stomach got left somewhere a few hundred yards behind us. I lift off of the throttle pedal and fully expect to see the world shifting back into existence outside of the car as we drop from warp speed back down to more mundane velocity. Then I catch my breath and laugh. It’s the only possible response to a car capable of generating the kind of acceleration that we just experienced.
Eventually we wind our way down out of the mountains and on to the highways that lead us into Atlanta and to Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. I drop Mr. Petrina at the airport hotel as his flight to China leaves early the next morning. His parting words are “hey, have fun with the car.” Not wanting to disappoint him, I begin the drive out of Atlanta with gusto but city traffic, even late on a Saturday night, has other plans for me. There’s an accident ahead on the freeway and I am soon thankful that the RS7 is equipped with Audi’s Google Earth based navigation system as well as radar based Adaptive Cruise Control. The two of them make dealing with the snarled traffic a breeze, and I am soon away from Atlanta and headed back to some of the best driving roads in the world.
Once away from the city and its traffic, I just have to try it. I find a long, straight, deserted stretch of road with good sightlines, bring the car to a stop, make sure everything is set to “dynamic” or “sport,” and then I mash the throttle to the floor. There’s another explosion, another rip in the fabric of spacetime, and the car is a quarter mile down the road and doing speeds that will quickly result in a trip to prison before I realize what’s going on. I let the car drift down to 30 mph or so and then mash it again and I feel traction control cutting in to prevent the wheels spinning at upshifts. As violent and mind-bending as the full throttle runs are, the RS7 isn’t just a straight line machine either. As I climb back up into the Appalachians, I give the car a good workout on the winding mountain roads and I find that like many modern Audis that utilize lightweight construction techniques it actually drives like a much smaller car than it is. With the rear sport differential and rear-bias to the all wheel drive, this is a car that you can hustle down your favorite “driver’s road” just as well as you can pass other highway traffic at will. I spend the last few miles of my trip blasting through perfect apex after perfect apex of winding mountain road and waking sleeping wildlife with the symphony of V8 exhaust noise.
Eventually I return to my lodging, a mountain cabin on the outskirts of town, and as the engine ticks and cools I take a few minutes to sit on the deck and consider the car. In stock form, the RS7 is an incredible machine – it’s capable of serious speed while simultaneously providing world class comfort. With the APR ECU reflash, though, it becomes something much, much more. With APR’s code running the show, nothing short of top level supercars can touch it for acceleration and sheer speed all while maintaining every bit of luxury and usability it had when it rolled off of the production line. When you add in the fact that APR’s software has also unlocked the ability to left foot brake and includes features such as valet mode and anti-theft mode it makes their modification pretty close to a no-brainer for the RS7 owner who really enjoys driving their car. Plus, there’s that added benefit of adding seconds back to your life just from the sheer speed of the thing.