Audi celebrates 20 years of RS

AUDI is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the launch of its RS badge with a strong message: the flood of new metal wearing the performance badge isn’t about to end.

Coming to Australia at the end of 2015 is the new RS 3 Sportback, the sportiest variant of the  A3 city-friendly hatchback and sedan series.

Joining the S3 is the most powerful production five cylinder in Audi history, the 2.5 TFSI produces 270kW/465Nm and covers 0-100 in 4.3sec (0.3s faster than the previous model), but is also good for 8.1L/100km.

Audi’s RS – for RennSport – badge launched overseas before making it to Australia, which means we missed out on the first model to wear it.

The 1994 Audi RS 2 Avant that wore it didn’t look an especially swift machine.  But beneath its staid wagon shape lurked the gear to transform it into something of a Q car – a turbo 2.2-litre five-cylinder conjuring 232kW/410Nm and putting it down through a six-speed manual and quattro all-wheel-drive. Good for the 0-100km/h sprint in 5.4 seconds on to top whack of 262 km/h.

In the 20 years since, the RS nomenclature has raced from being something vague in the psyche of Australian car buffs to emerge as a solid player in the low-volume premium performance car genre, largely dominated by German brands.

Audi’s Quattro division, which oversees the development Audi’s growing fleet of RS-badged models, was set up in response to a power war started by rivals such as BMW’s M division and Mercedes-Benz tuning outfit AMG, which were supplementing race activities by taking road-going cars and turning them into track-day specialists.

The first Audi RS sold in Australia was the RS4 Avant, launched in late 2000 with a 280kW/440Nm twin-turbo 2.7-litre V6 under the bonnet. It was quick, too… 4.9sec from rest to 100km/h.

Since then, Audi has steadily broadened its catalogue of performance-honed offerings, and there is now an RS version of every model in the line-up bar the A1.

Obligatory all-wheel-drive engineering sets apart Audi’s RS offerings from their worthy rivals, the Mercedes AMG and BMW M cars.

Similar to AMG and BMW’s M, Audi’s strong connection with motor sport is used to show its sporting credentials.  Thirteen Le Mans 24 Hour victories certainly emphasises those links, as does Audi’s presence (and success) in global GT racing.

Audi’s RennSport model hierarchy is now settled with its R8 V10 Plus reigning supreme, and lording it over the RS badged vehicles which in turn sit atop the S models.

Audi boasts that the S/RS/R8 volume has had a stunning volume growth of 188 per cent to November 2014, versus the same period in 2013.

Importantly for those who enjoy performance European cars, the hot-rod divisions of all three brands are experiencing substantial growth.

Audi’s RS and R8 models chalked up 431 sales in the first 11 months of the year, which is up 73 per cent on last year (248).

Lumped together, the S/RS/R8 sales numbers of these models put Audi ahead of BMW’s M cars by 1666 units and just in front of the Merc AMGs. (Some may argue that the S models from Audi are not full-blooded performance cars, and we’d agree with that view.)

On a broader scale, Audi will notch up its 10th year of sales growth in Australia with numbers up more than 20 per cent and 3000-plus units.  The S/RS/R8 share of total Audi volume has increased by 1747 units to November.

To celebrate the 20 years of RS, Audi conducted a play day at a private facility near the Hunter Valley, with the soon-to-be-superseded R8 V10 Plus the cherry on the Christmas cake.

Revisiting this weapon along with the outgoing TT RS Plus, RS5 coupe, RS7 Sportback, RS6 Avant and the interesting RS Q3 SUV reinforced the design and engineering integrity of the specials from Neckarsulm.

The RS Q3, the first RS-badged model sold locally for less than $100,000, is also the highest-selling RS in 2014.  Those Aussie who have bought one, would surely insist it is a true RS.  But is it?   Yes, the 228kW and 420Nm looks and feels impressive, and the 0-100km/h time suggests it’s no slouch.

But aim it at some snaky corners, and the RS Q3 loses some of the noted RS composure.  Sure it turns in okay, but the body roll is noticeable as you ask an SUV to do things that it normally doesn’t do.       

I guess if BMW and AMG do hot-rod SUVs, then it’s okay for Audi, too.  But surely I’m not alone in asking if a high-riding and heavy SUV, originally designed to do more functional stuff, works as a high performance machine.

Speculation is strong that a new R8 will be revealed at the Geneva motor show in March. A GT3 track variant is also expected at the same time, meaning that the six Audi R8s racing in February’s Bathurst 12 Hour will in all likelihood give the first-generation supercar its final competition hitout.

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