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Dropped my son to school in an Audi RS7. Came back with a lesson on sustainable development

The 12-km journey in RS7 took three litres of fuel generating around 7 kg of carbon dioxide. A fully grown tree absorbs about 21 kg of CO2 every year.

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You know when you take a deep breath, you flare your nostrils and you can hear the air rushing up your nasal passage. It is quite similar to what happens when you floor the pedal on a car like the Audi RS7. Your right foot presses down and in that instant before the 600 horsepower car rockets towards the horizon, you can hear the whoosh of hundreds of litres of air being sucked into the engine and the turbocharger. And then, as you get pushed back into your seat as the speed numbers in front of you become a blur;that air that was just sucked in has been mixed with a fine mist of petrol and blown up in the four-litre V8 engine you hear the noise of — that air being expelled by the exhausts.

For some, it might seem like a cacophony. But cocooned inside the rather plush interiors of the RS7, it sounds more sonorous than anything that you play through its Bang & Olufsen audio system. It is not easy to describe the noise a car like the RS7 or for that matter, the Mercedes E63 AMG and BMW M5 Competition makes. Or something from the SVR division at Jaguar Land Rover. The noise has this bubble and fizz to it, with a bit of sparks. It is very difficult to describe the sound using adjectives, unlike, say, describing the abilities of a singer. And you control that sound with your right foot.

And while it pains me to say that sound is not going to be a very common thing in the future, the fact is that cars like the Audi RS7 and Mercedes-Benz AMG E63, both vehicles I have driven in and had lots of fun with in the recent past, are dinosaurs. And much like the giant lizards that roamed our planet before they were wiped out by an asteroid that struck the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, they are hitting their peak before they go extinct.

But the truth is that extinction, rather near-extinction — after all the dinosaurs sort-of survived to become chicken nuggets — is the only way out. Over the past weekend, I drove the RS7 from South Delhi to Gurugram and thanks to kanwadiyas on the road, as they do every year, traffic was slow. And what distressed me while driving wasn’t the fact that I could not open the taps on this masterpiece of German engineering, it was that this car was guzzling petrol like it is going out of fashion. And it isn’t the sheer cost of keeping such a machine going. I mean when a car wears tyres that cost over Rs one lakh apiece, what is Rs 10,000 fuel top-up, since you do have to fill the good stuff (95/97 Octane) in this? You start thinking about carbon emissions.


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The cruel question of sustainability…and environment

To spend a litre of petrol to propel one individual, maybe two, under five kilometers is not sustainable. And you must be wondering how an automotive writer has a guilt complex about what they do? Yes, I can and while I understand that my job of talking and writing about cars is carbon intensive, it comes into stark contrast at times. And let me explain how and why I had this epiphany of sorts.

You see, I took this car to drop my two-year old to school one day, not so much because I wanted to but because it was the car standing outside rather than the other car which was behind a gaggle of others. That 12 km journey blew through three litres of fuel and generated, by rough estimations, around seven kilograms of carbon dioxide. A fully-grown tree absorbs about 21 kilograms of CO2 every year. Driving a car like this, or its rivals from other brands for a year will require me to grow a forest every year.

Yes, there are several other things that we can fix, just in the transport sphere. Aviation is horribly dirty and ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ is at the current time a bit of a faff. Those massive container ships that power global trade? Well, most of them burn heavy furnace oil, which is the same stuff they use to pave roads and that is so very dirty that it makes diesel trucks look like angels.

However, electric cars exist and with all due credit to Audi, they’ve already made the successor to the RS7 and they even sell it in India.

It is called the Audi e-tron RS and if you haven’t guessed already, it is an electric car. And it is brilliant. Sure, it does not make the noise of the RS7, but it can go down a road just as fast and take corners just as well. It is so good that it has won awards across the world, and in the eyes of many who have driven a Tesla, it is better than anything Elon Musk makes. The future will have cars spewing next to no carbon dioxide, and they will also be quieter. And at a level, that is the main thing that I will be sad about. The lack of noise and the vibrations of an engine struggling against its mounts that pulsate through a car and almost make it a living being. Electric cars feel robotic by comparison. I’m not saying that as a bad thing and as I have elucidated here, electric cars are necessary if kids like mine don’t want to stand at the precipice of another mass extinction.

But at a level, I am very glad that I took him in the RS7 (strapped into his seat of course) and made him experience the car, the noise and the acceleration and all that. Because by the time he gets a driving license, god knows what we will be driving. I doubt we will be driving anything like the Audi RS7. If it is indeed the last hurrah of the ICE dinosaur, it is a tyrannosaurus rex.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

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