Audi has begun road tests for its next A7 Sportback and a test mule for what's likely to be the high-performance RS 7 variant has been spotted.

A test mule is an early-stage prototype that uses a makeshift body, typically borrowed from an existing vehicle, to hide new mechanicals. In this case, Audi engineers are using the modified body of an S6 sedan for the test mule.

The first prototypes sporting the final body pegged for the next RS 7 will likely surface in the next 6-12 months.

The test mule features the front fascia design with large intakes borrowed from the current RS 6 and RS 7, as well as widened wheel arches, and a new exhaust system with the tips positioned closer to the center of the rear fascia. According to insiders, the new exhaust design is planned for future RS cars still equipped with a gas engine.

The current RS 6 and RS 7 front fascia likely provides sufficient cooling for the vehicle's powertrain, while the widened wheel arches point to the wide track destined for the next RS 7.

2026 Audi RS 7 Sportback test mule spy shots - Photo credit: Baldauf

2026 Audi RS 7 Sportback test mule spy shots - Photo credit: Baldauf

It isn't clear what powertrain will reside in the next RS 7, though plug-in hybrid technology is almost certain. Current Audi R&D chief Oliver Hoffman has previously said that plug-in hybrid technology will feature in future RS cars.

The most likely setup will combine the current RS 7's twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 with an electric motor integrated with the transmission. The same setup is already used in the Turbo S E-Hybrid grade of Porsche's Cayenne and Panamera, where it delivers close to 700 hp. The current RS 7 tops out at 621 hp.

Like the current model, the next RS 7 will send its drive to all four wheels.

The current A7 arrived in 2018 as a 2019 model. That means the next A7 should arrive around 2025, likely as a 2026 model. The S7 and RS 7 performance variants should arrive shortly after the regular model.

The next A7 range will be among the last Audis to feature gas engines as the automaker has confirmed it will only launch electric vehicles after 2026. The A6 will make the transition to electric power as soon as this year with the launch of an A6 E-Tron, prototypes for which are also out testing.