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The top 5 Audi RS models

Neil Briscoe

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe

Published on: June 18, 2021

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe

Published on: June 18, 2021

With the new RS 3 due to hit Irish roads shortly, what have been Audi’s best previous RS efforts?

Audi will reveal a brand new RS 3 Sportback and RS 3 Saloon soon, but will it join our list of favourite Audi RS cars of all time?

No.5: The Audi Ur-Quattro

OK, immediate steward's inquiry here. The original Audi Quattro was never specifically badged nor marketed as an RS model. However, on count-back, we've decided to let it in because without the Quattro (you write it with a big 'Q' to differentiate it from other Audis using the small-q quattro four-wheel-drive system) there would have been no RS Audis since.

We all know the story by now, right? Ferdinand Piech, scion of the Porsche family, having dominated Le Mans with the Porsche 917, goes rallying. Slipping an acceptance of four-wheel drive into the rule book (as his competitors wonder who's going to rally a Land Rover?), Piech combines a clever new all-wheel-drive system with the bodywork of a boxy new Audi-80-based Audi Coupe.

The combo of quattro four-wheel drive and a lusty five-cylinder turbo engine is a devastating one, dominating rallies across the world, making stars out of the likes of Stig Blomqvist, Hannu Mikkola and, most of all, Michele Mouton, meanwhile giving road-going drivers the sort of traction and poise to make mincemeat of most so-called supercars on a wet road.

The Audi name goes back to the 1920s, but with that original Quattro - effectively the first RS model in all but name - we really got to see what Vorsprung Durch Technik meant. 

No.4: Audi RS 4 Avant

Now, with the RS 4, you have a couple of choices. If you want to get a bit classic about it, you could go back to the B7 model, built between 2006 and 2008. Unusually for an RS model, it was available in multiple body styles - saloon, estate and cabriolet - but far more importantly, it came with the mighty 'SSP377' 4.2-litre V8 engine.

Naturally aspirated, with an exhaust note like thunder, it was basically plucked from the Audi R8 sports car and plonked into the front of an A4. Audi's RS team did some serious work on the suspension, though, making sure - arguably for the first time - that an RS model had BMW-esque poise and balance, and felt less like a rocket-powered sledgehammer. A B7 RS 4 is fast becoming a sharp investment too; you'd need €25,000 right now to get a good one.

However, you could go all modern and get the brand-new RS 4 Avant estate, which is in some ways the lesser of the current RS line-up. It uses a twin-turbo V6 engine, not the 4.0-litre V8 of the RS 6 and RS 7. Its styling is relatively tame, with only mildly bulging wheelarches to give the RS game away. It would probably always come last in a group test with the Mercedes-AMG C 63 and the upcoming BMW M3 Touring, mostly because it's 60hp down on those cars' power outputs.

Still, 4.1 seconds to 100km/h is hardly slow, and where the RS 4 really scores is in its everyday usability. In the depths of November, a rear-drive C 63 AMG wouldn't see which way the grippy, all-weather RS 4 went, plus you've got the benefits of a seriously comfy, beautifully built cabin and a relatively roomy boot. As for the quiet styling, well that's the Audi RS way - speak softly and carry a big stick.

No.3: Audi Quattro Concept

This is the one that got away, the RS that we never got. Back in 2010, for the Paris Motor Show, Audi produced a concept car based on the then-current A5 Coupe. Called, simply, the quattro concept, it used a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine, with a claimed 408hp and, of course, quattro four-wheel drive.

Although that made it less powerful than the contemporary V8 RS 5 (which had 450hp), the quattro concept had been designed to be light, agile and more fun to drive than the slightly heavy-footed RS 5 was at the time.

The styling, by Audi's legendary former head of design, Walter Da Silva, was a blend of A5, original Quattro and Audi's amazing 1980s IMSA 80 Quattro race car. It looked fantastic. It also looked, and effectively was, production-ready, so much so that buyers started trying to order it.

Audi vacillated though, struggling to decide between full production or a limited run of around 400, built alongside the regular A5. Sadly, in the end, someone in the Audi accounts office just couldn't make the return-on-investment sums add up, and so rather like the all-electric e-tron version of the R8 sports car, the quattro concept was a potentially perfect Audi that remained a motor show pipe-dream. Shame - we reckon it would have been a brilliant, driver-focused RS model had it been made. 

No.2: Audi RS2

In spite of the name, the RS2 is really where the Audi RS story begins. Way before Audi and Porsche were both part of the Volkswagen Group, Audi spoke to the rear-engined sports car experts from Zuffenhausen about the possibility of producing a high-performance road-going successor to the original Quattro.

Once again taking the then-current Audi 80 (the 1988-on Type 8B version) as a starting point, some complete genius at either Porsche or Audi decided that the RS2 should be only ever built as an estate model. That, above all else, set the tone for Audi RS's mixture of practicality and performance that persists to this day.

The 2.2-litre five-cylinder 20-valve engine (related to that of the original Quattro, but not quite identical), was taken by Porsche, given a heftier KKK turbo with an intercooler, bigger fuel injectors, a beefed-up cooling system, new camshafts and a new exhaust system. All of which gave the RS2 315hp, compared to the 220hp of the regular version of the same engine.

That was, in 1994, huge power for a five-door estate car, and the RS2, thanks to quattro four-wheel drive, could scamper to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. That's quick, even by modern standards. Plus, Porsche's suspension and steering expertise gave it a handling delicacy that's tough to match even now. Oh, and it (along with the Mercedes 500E performance saloon, which Porsche worked on just before the RS2) pretty much saved Porsche from bankruptcy, so we have that to thank the RS2 for as well.

No.1: Audi RS 6 Avant

The RS 6 is that rare thing - a big, useful estate that can not only outpace some so-called supercars, but which makes the perfect 'Lotto-garage' stablemate for any of those self-same supercars. These days it's powered by Audi's mighty 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, an engine that is sufficiently brilliant to also see service in various Bentleys and Lamborghinis.

In its life, though, the RS 6 has had a variety of powerplants, including an amazing Lamborghini-based 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V10 for the C6/4F version built between 2008 and 2011.

However, it's the modern RS 6 we're concentrating on here because it's just so bloody good. Strapped into one at one end of the runway at Weston Aerodrome in Dublin, you look around at the leather-wrapped cabin, the acreage of space in the back seats and the boot, and the luxury trimmings. Then you flatten the throttle and scream off down the runway like a fighter jet on a steam catapult, before using the traction-finding wizardry of quattro to navigate the damp, mossy far-end of the runway, turn around, and do it all again.

It's staggeringly fast (just 3.6 seconds 0-100km/h for the current 600hp version), looks great thanks to borrowing the front-end styling of the RS 7 Sportback, and yet still has room for the shopping and a Labrador. An amazingly talented car.

Has the 2022 Audi RS 3 a hope of making the list in years to come?