Heritage, style, and history on four wheels...
The name Audi can conjure different ideas for different people. For some, the ideal Audi is an executive sedan while for others, it's a performance saloon or wagon. For enthusiasts, it's all about the Quattro rally heritage and the evolution of the Quattro system mated to 5-cylinder turbo engines. The history of Audi is a complicated one, but the modern era can be tracked back to the 1960s when, under the name Auto Union, it was purchased by Volkswagen from Daimler-Benz. Auto Union was rebranded and then merged with NSU Motorenwerke and Audi was born as the brand we know today in 1969.
The name Audi harks back to August Horch who used his second name for a car company since the beginning of the 20th century. However, after splitting with his partners he needed a name for a new automotive business. During a meeting at a business friends home, the son of a friend was studying Latin as they talked. The son pointed out that as Horch means "hear" in German, and its equivalent in Latin is "Audi" that might be a good name. Everyone agreed and Audi Automobilwerke GmbH Zwickau was born.
Auto Union and the four-ring logo came about in 1928 when Audi Automobilwerke GmbH Zwickau was merged with Horch, DKW, and Wanderer. The emblem was used on Auto Union racing cars before World War 2 and it wasn't until the rebirth that it was used for the Audi brand. Until the 1980s, Audi was viewed as a conservative and dull car brand but in the late 70s a chassis engineer called Jörg Bensinger wanted to develop the 4-wheel drive technology from the Volkswagen Iltis military vehicle to build a performance road and rally car. That's where we'll start this list of some of the greatest and coolest Audi cars to date: The legendary Audi Quattro.
The Quattro made Audi the automaker it is today by dominating rallying in the 1980s with its permanent 4-wheel drive system and turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. The word icon gets thrown about a lot, but the Quattro more than earned that title. The Sport Quattro is the elite of the road legal models, and it was barely legal at that. It made 306 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque which doesn't sound a lot nowadays. However, Audi made use of carbon-kevlar construction to keep the weight down to 2,600 lbs and made it one of the the most brutal road weapons of the 1980s.
While the Quattro established Audi's performance credentials, the RS2 Avant showed the world, despite not being widely exported outside of Europe, that Audi could build high-performance practical vehicles. The RS2 was the first Audi RS vehicle and was assembled by Porsche at the Rossle-Bau plant in Germany. It set the fast Audi Wagon template by working the 80 Avant platform with a 5-cylinder turbo engine paired with the Quattro 4-wheel drive system while seating five people comfortably and room for a dog to relax in the back. To give an idea just how fast and fun the RS2 Avant was, it was quicker off the line to 30 mph than the McLaren F1.
When it comes to establishing Audi's credentials, the V8 was Audi's late 1980s flagship model and put the company firmly on the map as a luxury automaker. It was Audi's first V8 engined car and the first to mate a Quattro system with an automatic transmission. In its race car form, the V8 won the German touring car championship in 1990 and 1991 to make Audi the first company to win back to back DTM titles.
The standard A6 at the turn of the century was nice, but the Allroad version turned it into an incredibly versatile transporter that could go places other cars couldn't, including all the way through the official Land Rover test course. The adjustable suspension could make the Allroad a sporty challenger on the backroads, but the low gear settings gave you all the ability of the equivalent Subaru but in luxury style and comfort. The good news is that the A6 Allroad looks to be set to return as a refreshing antidote to the current crossover trend, and it will be coming to America.
In 2000, Audi replaced the RS2 and was wary of the bar the company had set with it. Quattro Gmbh dropped a 375 horsepower twin-turbo V6 onto the platform shared by the A4 and S4 and widened the track. Like the RS2, the RS4 Avant B5 didn't get out of Europe and only 6,030 models were built. Unlike the RS2 though, it packed a biturbo 2.7 liter V6 developed and manufactured by Cosworth in the UK.
Somebody at Audi had a sly grin on their face when they signed off on putting a 4.2-liter V8 under the hood of the S4 in 2003. It's 339 horsepower raised eyebrows among BMW M3 owners while S4 B6 owners hunkered down in their Recaro seats to make, according to Motor Trend's testing, 60 mph under 5 seconds. In overall power, it nestles nicely between the RS2 Avant and the B5 RS4.
While it isn't exactly a direct competitor to the BMW M3 in all-out performance, the RS5 comes close while packing flowing style and luxury together with 444 horses under the hood. The RS5 is a gentleman's sports coupe with a brutal edge, and can hang on to the road around corners with the best of them.
The C6 version of the RS6 Avant is the kind of car that on paper has no reason to exist. However, that doesn't mean a Lamborghini V10 making 571 horsepower packed under the hood of a station wagon shouldn't exist. It's the kind of carefully considered lunacy that car lovers genuinely appreciate.
The RS7 is a blindingly fast and pretty 4-door sedan. Over the years, the twin-turbo V8 has grown in power to the current 560 horses, but that's before selecting Sport or Manual mode and the full 605 horses and 515 lb-ft of torque are unleashed. 0-60 mph happens in a hair-raising 3.2 seconds, which is Audi R8 territory and almost as costly once you start adding options.
When it was released, the TT brought in a new era of style that Audi was lacking at the time. It was, and is, still on a VW platform and has been stereotyped for being small and lacking machismo. However, there's a reason the TT has endured. It's still a little expensive for a small car, but the current TT RS packs 400 horsepower for $65,000 and accelerates like an Instagrammer that just spotted a Kardashian across the street and sticks to the road like it has Velcro tires.
The R8 packs an Italian heartbeat inside a German suit and is proof that Audi can build a supercar with the best of them. For its halo car, Audi delivered a full-blooded luxury level supercar with a howling V10 that also delivers dizzying forward and lateral grip when you want it, but sober road and city manners for daily driving duties.