Read about the VAG A7 just below or jump to the VAG S4 review at the bottom of this page.
While aftermarket tuners allow their customers the choice of expressing their individuality beyond the offerings of OE manufacturers, there are still limitations to the overall scope of their personalisation programmes.
Some tuners offer a bespoke service beyond their off-the-shelf programmes, delving into the world of customisation that took off in 1950s America. This very specialised area of the aftermarket can be very involved and expensive, but that is to be expected when you are talking about labour intensive craftsmanship that represents the automotive equivalent of haute couture tailoring.
When I was shown photos of VAG Singapore’s A7 being prepared in their body shop my reaction was simply “wow!” Out of the box a normal A7 is a large and elegant fastback, whose detailing is arguably purer than the Mercedes CLS it rivals. Hunkered down in its lower and wider RS7 form this car has real presence.
Despite lacking the thundering V8 growl of the RS7, the VAG Singapore A7 makes up for this with even more stunning optics. One of the company’s strengths is the imagination and skill of CarCrafters, their in-house bodyshop. Whether just a glass-out re-spray, the seamless integration of an OE or aftermarket body kit, or the fabrication of air intakes and vents from steel, their perfect results give the impression the car left the factory this way.
Subconsciously I have always found large flat areas of bodywork on a sleek car rather abhorrent. This is why I always thought the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti looks unfinished, and find the classic Ferrari bonnet scoop and front wing vents on the one-off ‘Kappa’ version built for Peter S Kalikow by Pininfarina to be so appealing.
The same is true for the VAG A7, whose huge expanse of bonnet seemed to be begging for an Audi motif from the past to add that finishing touch. In this case however, the inspiration for the bonnet intake scoop came not from a classic Audi model but from the much more recent Quattro concept coupe that made its debut at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show.
The Quattro concept previewed Audi’s new design language, and some of these elements quickly found their way into current Audi models, not least the face-lifted A7 range. Thus, the handcrafted VAG bonnet air scoop sits pretty well on this 2016 facelift RS7 lookalike.
Unlike other Audi tuners whose aerodynamic styling parts are their own design, and are either added to or replace the factory front and rear bumpers and side skirts, VAG Singapore make it a point to try and use original factory parts wherever possible.
As the high taxes in Singapore make cars prohibitively expensive, many people prefer to face-lift their existing Audi for a fraction of the cost of swapping it for a new one.
This Audi face-lifting service using original parts has become a significant part of VAG’s business model, which extends beyond the bumpers and lights to upgrading the MMI infotainment systems as well. This very specialised task falls to their in-house electronics team.
Frankly this is a service that is thin on the ground in the Audi aftermarket tuning industry in general as it involves a deep enough knowledge of electronic coding to facilitate the seamlessly integration of different generations of systems that were never meant to work together in the first place.
The base A7 is a May 2011 3.0 TFSI quattro owned by Andrew, brother of Darren, one of VAG’s founding partners. “I was considering buying a Lexus GS300, but Darren persuaded me to look at an Audi,” Andrew explained. “Because of the high taxes in Singapore the Audi dealer does not offer the RS7 here, but one of our customers wanted to sell his A7 and I struck a good deal with him.”
“One of the problems of being a director of VAG is that your personal Audi inevitably becomes a showpiece to inspire customers,” said Andrew. “That is not an issue in itself as you get to drive around in a distinctive one-off Audi until either a customer insists in buying it off you, or asks to have a similar car built.”
“The problem in the short term is that a major refit like this can see your car spending up to six months in the shop being stripped, face-lifted, and improved as my A7 did,” he continued. “We decided to face-lift the car to 2016 A7 standard with the new LED front lights and dynamic LED rear lights, along with a full RS7 look including new front and rear bumpers.
It took Andrew a while to visualise what Darren meant by the bonnet air scoop to him, but when the body shop guys made a clay mock-up on the car, he became an instant convert.
The bonnet was duly removed and squirreled away to a corner of the workshop, from where it eventually returned with the Quattro concept style air scoop formed from the metal of the original panel. This wide, low profile scoop really gives the lowered and widened A7 that extra bit of visual muscle when seen from the front and front three-quarter angles.
Mechanically, the supercharged engine was treated to VAG’s popular ECU upgrade. In combination with an AWE S-flo carbon-fibre intake system the standard 333hp output is boosted to 425hp, with torque increased to 515Nm.
The big wheel arches are filled by 10.5J x 21-inch two-piece COR forged alloy wheels shod with 275/30ZR21 Pirelli PZero rubber. Their seven deeply dished spokes clearly show off the factory RS7 brakes, the fronts of which are massive 390mm diameter wave vented discs clamped by six-pot callipers. As these were designed to stop an even heavier and more powerful machine the extra output from the boosted V6 is easily reigned in.
One of the reasons Andrew’s car took so long to finish was the complete interior swap. VAG always try to use a combination of new and used parts to reduce costs, and were lucky enough to come across a right-hand-drive RS7 interior for sale, which was duly purchased and imported. This included the RS7 sports seats with silver honeycomb stitching, gearknob, and carbon inlays for the doors, dashboard and centre console.
Another potentially expensive upgrade that was obtained second hand was the B&O audio system, while a nifty addition was the flat bottom sports steering wheel normally seen on a 2017 Audi R8! Thanks to VAG’s retrofit expertise all the control buttons are fully functional.
I have always liked VAG’s Stage 1 upgrade for the supercharged Audi 3.0 TFSI motor. Not only does it realise the untapped power and torque potential of this engine, it also considerably sharpens up the rather unenthusiastic throttle response of the factory ECU mapping. In short it is a different engine after the conversion – a much sportier and more engaging one.
High local taxes also mean that the A7s in Singapore do not come with the optional dynamic air suspension option. That gave VAG the chance to fit their ubiquitous KW V3 fully adjustable suspension kit and drop the ride height by around 30mm. This centred the big wheels in the arches to achieve the purposeful, hunkered down look they were seeking.
This sports oriented suspension and the 21-inch rubber band tyres mean that the A7’s ride is far from limousine smooth, and you are never in doubt about the road surface below you. However, although 20-inch or even 19-inch wheels would produce a better ride, they would also take away some of the visual impact that gives this car its gravitas.
In speed-limited Singapore, first impressions are everything, and the fact is that this VAG Audi A7 looks different enough in all the right ways to turn car enthusiasts’ heads in LA or Miami means that the $60,000 spent to get this car to where it is was money well spent.
It is no surprise that the S4 is one of the most popular Audi models with VAG Singapore’s customers. Its potent supercharged V6 is easily tuned to over 400hp with just an ECU upgrade, giving this mid-sized saloon a formidable power-to-weight ratio in excess of the more expensive and heavier V8-powered RS4.
Having done many such conversions for customers, VAG’s marketing chief, John Lee decided that he wanted to try something new with the optics of his May 2010 vintage S4, especially since this model has been eclipsed by the new S4, which uses the turbocharged V6 motor first seen in the S5.
All the VAG S4 conversions so far have revolved around the engine upgrade, facelift lights, Caractere body styling, uprated suspension, and bigger wheels, so John did some research on how to make his car look significantly different using factory OE parts.
John realised that the only factory body kit that would give a wider look belonged to the A4Allroad, a niche model that is not sold in Singapore.
As it is based on the A4 Avant, which is in turn based on the A4 saloon, the Allroad wheel arches and front bumper fit the S4 saloon, with only the lower sections of the rear arches requiring fabrication since the Avant has a different tail section.
So here was another VAG staff car that spent months off the road undergoing transformation using 2016 S4/Allroad front bumper and wheel arches, with the latest Caracter S4 rear bumper, whose look integrated perfectly. The headlamps were boosted with Philips 6000k bulbs, while the rear reversing and number plate lights received LED bulbs.
The meteor grey S4 was re-sprayed in Porsche anthracite brown and de-chromed, with the bars of the Allroad grille sprayed in gloss black and its frame in aluminium look. The chromed window trims, were refinished in aluminium look, while under the bonnet the supercharger also received a coat of aluminium paint, with the rocker covers in Misano Red. As on Andrew’s A7, the coolant reservoir and engine oil caps were replaced with R8 ones.
The wider arches needed filling out properly, and this was achieved with 9.0J x 20-inch COR one-piece forged wheels shod with 255/30ZR20 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The big brake kit used RS5 eight-pot callipers clamping ECS wave vented brake discs in front, with four-pot callipers and wave discs at the rear.
In the cabin, the OE adaptive cruise control system was retrofitted. As this required the facelift B8.5 instrument cluster for support this was also fitted along with the same generation air-con controls, RS4 MMI console controls and Audi 3G+MMI retrofit with 2017 navigation maps.
Finishing touches are the RS6 steering wheel, S-tronic gearknob, custom S4 floor mats with red stitching, LED cabin lighting in warm white. Huper Optik ceramic window tints to street legal spec keep the strong tropical sun at bay.
The engine conversion is the tried and tested VAG ECU remap used in conjunction with AWE S-flo carbon-fibre intake and coldfront supercharger cooling systems on the intake side, and a Milltek stainless steel exhaust at the other end. The combined effort produces a solid 435hp, with 535Nm of torque, and John said he easily saw 300km/h during a drive outside of Singapore.
The really trick part of this car however, is the American-made Accuair e-Level air springs, paired with Audi magnetic dampers and controlled from a box on the centre console. The air tank and management system is concealed in the spare wheel well and can be heard working intermittently in the background.
The Accuair system can be adjusted on the fly and has three settings to choose from. It feels quite different from Audi’s own dynamic air suspension as fitted to the A6 and A8 models, being noticeably firmer even in Comfort mode. There again, using 20-inch wheels and ultra-low profile rubber does ride comfort no favours, and a customer would be better off with 19-inch footwear on a car of this size.
The one thing I definitely found superfluous on this car was the sound symposer. This is a device that unfortunately has become something of a common factory fit even on cars like the last BMW M5. With standard engine noise devolving from the authentic, it has got to the point where enthusiasts are pushing back, and a company in Europe now offers a sound symposer defeat device for the Ford Focus ST!
John’s car actually has two sound symposers in its spare wheel well, and I did not know whether to laugh or cry when he demonstrated the V8 growl that is one of the engine sound settings you can choose from. The authentic supercharged V6 soundtrack enhanced by the Milltek exhaust is just fine thank you very much.
A much subtler looking car than the A7, the VAG S4 with its colour-coded Allroad body kit will turn the heads of Audi cognoscenti, but will go un-noticed by the rest of the world. For the VAG Singapore boys however, this car is yet another box ticked on their journey of discovery into the very deep Audi parts bin.