Why does Audi always underrate its power/performance figures?

Audi RS7

It’s only been a handful of days since the Audi RS7 embargo has been lifted for journalists to talk about what it’s like to drive and already, there’s evidence of journalists besting Audi’s claimed 3.6 seconds to 60 mph. That’s not entirely surprising, though. Every high-performance Audi out-performs its claimed figures when tested in the real world. Same goes for horsepower and torque figures, which are always more than claimed when dyno-tested. So why is that?

To be honest, this phenomenon isn’t unique to Audi but exists among all major German automakers. This sort of overachieving has been seen in almost every modern performance BMW, Mercedes and Porsche, as well. So why do the Germans constantly underrate their power/performance figures?

There are a couple of rumors as to why. But the one is that stands out the most is that the brands want to claim power and performance figures that are bare minimum max power ratings in the absolute worse conditions. So let’s say the car is being tested at very high elevation, in scorching heat, with tons of dust in the air, then the car will produce no less than the claimed horsepower and put down no worse than the claimed performance figures. So basically, the automaker is covering its ass by saying the car can make “X” amount of power and, this way, conditions can never turn it into a liar.

There’s another rumor that claims the German brands want to look like they can do more with less. So they can say, “Well my Audi RS7 is faster than your Corvette with less power” sorts of things. As if we’ll all believe that German horses are stronger than all other horses.

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However, after talking to a high-ranking executive at a premium German automaker (I won’t name which one but it rhymes with Shmee-emm-Shmuble-shmoo), I got the scoop. Unfortunately, the real answer isn’t as interesting as any of the rumors. The answer is likely the same for Audi, too.

Turns out, German brands are simply really afraid of being caught making less power than claimed. They saw it happen to a couple of Japanese and American automakers in the ’90s and there were big problems for those brands. So now Zee Germans simply under-promise, over-deliver for the sake of safety. But a side benefit is that use enthusiasts constantly talk about how much more powerful their cars are. And it happens every single time a German automaker debuts a new performance car; there are countless articles about how dyno testing reveals more power than claimed. Brands love that crap.

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So Audi claims that the RS7 Sportback makes 591 hp and can nail 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. But it can actually get to 60 mph in around 3.4 seconds (maybe even less with better launches) and it likely makes quite a bit more power than 591 horses. We haven’t seen one on the dyno just yet but we’d be willing to bet its real horsepower figure is well north of 600.

As far as I know, and have been told by a German brand exec, the answer to why Audi underrates its power/performance figures is simply to play it safe. It knows us enthusiasts are going to dyno test and run 0-60 mph tests like crazy, so it never wants to be caught in a lie. Rather than play it close, Audi, and the rest of the Germans, just plays it safe, heavily underrates its numbers and smiles when we all find out there’s much more power to play with than we originally thought.

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.