One of the more popular brands in the company car parc, Audi RS, celebrates its 25th Birthday
From its first tentative steps, aided by Porsche and a rallying past that had been no less than stellar, writes Iain Robertson, Audi pursued high-power dependability as its ‘cause celebre’ that it has ring-fenced judiciously to ensure that its ‘Four-Ringed’ halo remains untarnished.
Audi, the German brand that had grown from the former Auto Union and even sometime ownership by Mercedes-Benz, was and remains owned by the Volkswagen Group since the early-1960s. Although early cars wearing the Audi ‘Four Rings’ logo were little more than alternatively badged Volkswagens, the plan was always to upgrade the brand to become VW’s luxury car arm.
Its model naming policy changed to ‘A’ followed by a number in 1995, when the A4 replaced the Audi 80. It was followed in short order by the A6 and, in 1999, with the introduction of the innovative and compact A2, complete with its aluminium spaceframe construction. Audi was already forging its own model lines, even though much of the technology came from Volkswagen.
In 1994, Audi had launched its first RS 2 in estate car form (based on the Audi 80 avant), powered by a 315bhp version of the 2.2-litre, 5-cylinder engine (0-60mph in 4.5s; top speed of 167mph) that had provided the woofling quattro rally cars with their event winning verve. The RS tag grew from ‘Renn Sport’, a name applied to both race and rally cars. Porsche assembled the RS 2s and factored-in some Porsche developed hardware, like brakes and alloy wheels. An initial run of 2,200 examples soon grew to 2,891, of which a mere 180 were in right-hand-drive form. Production commenced in March 1994 and ended in July 1995. Its current collectible status is assured.
The 380bhp RS 4 Avant arrived in 1999, adding further strength to Audi’s carry-all, practicality proposition. A 2.7-litre, bi-turbo V6 engine, with the cylinder heads designed by Cosworth, provided the 380bhp grunt. The second generation of RS 4 arrived five years later, this time with a 420bhp V8 beneath its bonnet, still driving all four wheels. As a premium priced halo model, every imaginable option was flung at the RSs, leaving just some trim details and motorsport derived items as optional cost accessories.
In between times, the RS 6 Avant and also the saloon version arrived in 2002. I can still recall the UK driving opportunity, which was centred on Balgeddie House Hotel, in Fife, Scotland. Audi had invited Jay Kay, the singer with Jamiroquai, to join us. He seemed to prefer the company of his band-mates, a bevy of attractive young ladies and some smokable materials…I cannot say I blamed him.
Initially, its 4.2-litre V8 engine developed 450bhp, although a run-out version of 999 examples produced an even punchier 480bhp. Audi was making an indelible mark. I can recall driving an unrestricted model in Germany at speeds of up to 190mph (it was geared to pull just over 200mph). No car quite felt like an RS 6 Avant. It looked the part, with its swollen wheel-arches and large diameter alloy wheels, but it also sounded the part, with its thunderous exhaust tone. The prospect of transporting a partner, two children and granny to the ski slopes, along with their luggage, was beguiling indeed.
By 2008, the pursuit of power had led to Lamborghini’s 5.0-litre V10 engine being slotted beneath the bonnet of the RS 6. It was nose-heavy, as might be expected, and emitted a yowling exotic exhaust tone. Armed with 580bhp reined-in by the quattro drivetrain and ingenious, interlinked suspension damping, only the Performance versions of the subsequent 2013 RS 6 and RS 7 developed more potency from their 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo motors (608bhp), which suggests that Audi had reached the zenith of its powers, at least as far as road car developments were concerned.
In 2009, Audi decided to downsize a little and applied the RS magic to the popular Golf platformed TT coupe and roadster models, recalling memories of the offbeat 5-cylinder 2.5-litre engine, starting with 360bhp but rising gradually to the 400bhp of the current iterations of the car. As a lightweight construct, the TT RS is probably one of the most exciting compact cars sold today, its purpose underscored by Porsche 911 beating potential. It can blitz the 0-60mph benchmark in less than 3.4s, before topping out at a politically restricted 155mph. The RS 5 followed suit, with the RS 3 extending the lineage in 2011.
Since then, right up to this year, only the A1 and Q models have escaped RS attention. While the production quantities have grown, mostly to meet demands, the RS badge has lost none of its cachet. A remarkable 25 different RS models have been introduced over the 25 years of its existence in Audi’s broad range and, strangely, Ford has never attempted to sue Audi over its use of the RS model name. Audi continues to bolster the brand image and six new RSs join the range this year alone.
Over the 25 years, I have personally driven almost every RS model, although I have to admit that my only experiences with the RS 2 came with a brief drive at Millbrook test facility and a longer stint, on the roads near to Chichester, at the controls of an example owned by Le Mans veteran, Derek Bell, who resides in the area. The common thread is a prodigious power output, combined with an amazing ease of driving. Even the monstrous V10 engined variants could have been driven by your favourite maiden aunt. Their collector status is omnipresent, which has led to a strong speculator following, which also ensures that values remain at a high level, even taking initial depreciation into account.
Eminently classy, adored by the corporate sector and synonymous with high-power, high practicality and high-performance, Audi has nurtured its RS line-up to ensure that the promise is fulfilled consistently. Considering their potential, it is a range of models that carries high value from the start of the RS era to its current position. Happy 25th RS Anniversary, Audi!