What's got four rings and goes really, really, fast?
Since 1994, Audi has let loose a steady amount of pumped-up performance RS (Renn/Racing Sport) versions of its most suitable models. Audi Sport, which is now known as Quattro GmbH, is often overshadowed by the other German brand's tuning houses. However, like M for BMW and AMG for Mercedes, seeing an RS badge on an Audi means you're looking at something fast, special, and with Audi's own take on what being a performance car means. These are the highlights of Audi's RS line since its inception.
The 1994 Audi RS2 Avant was the first RS model, but it didn't actually come from the Audi Sport department. It was an Audi project that took on expertise from an unexpected partner. Audi tagged Porsche in for the RS2 Avant, and as a result, you can spot that the wheels, brakes, bumper lights, and even the door mirrors come from Stuttgart and not Ingolstadt. The highlight, though, is the legendary turbocharged 2.2-liter five-cylinder engine. It had four valves per cylinder, 20 in total, and generated 311 horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque. That power went to Audi's just as legendary rally-bred quattro all-wheel-drive system, and it was ground-breaking in its day. Let alone for a wagon.
Audi doubled down on the RS2 with the RS4 and delivered another stunningly fast wagon in 2000. The five-cylinder engine was dropped in favor of a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 tuned by Cosworth in the UK. Cosworth's comprehensive set of modifications gave the RS4 Avant 375 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque to distribute between all four wheels, with a six-speed manual gearbox to row your own gears. Quattro GmbH went to work on the suspension and brakes, and the result is one of the best wagons ever to hit the road. The B5 generation RS4 was only available as a wagon, Avant being Audi's name for the family car, and only in Europe.
The B7 generation of RS4 brought something exceptional to the table in 2006. Under the hood sat a 4.2-liter V8 engine developed by Wolfgang Hatz, who later went on to be the Porsche LMP1 R&D team leader and father of the Porsche 918 Spyder. The new V8 revved out to a redline of 8,000 rpm and created 414-hp with 317 lb-ft of torque. The B7 generation RS4 had its chassis stiffened using laser beam welding and featured a new generation of the quattro all-wheel-drive system. The torque split was 40:60, front-to-rear under normal conditions, but, once pushed, the automatic torque biasing center differential kicked in to move the power around to enhance grip and dynamics. A manual gearbox sealed the deal on one of the greatest performance Audis ever.
The high-revving 4.2-liter V8 didn't make it into the 2008 Audi RS6. Instead, the full-size sedan got a very different engine developed by Wolfgang Hatz. The Formula 1 inspired 5.0-liter V-10 was twin-turbocharged and delivered 571 hp while 479 lb-ft of torque peaked between 1,500 to 6,250 rpm. Until 2010, the RS6 was Audi's most powerful car yet, and its output was higher than the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. It hit 62 mph in 4.5 seconds, and was an absolute bullet train, even if it faltered in the handling department. US regulations and a price premium meant the C6 RS6 never made it to the US, but we did see an Audi V10 engine in the R8, albeit without turbos.
It wasn't until the second generation that the TT got an RS version. It was as if people complained the TT had gone a bit soft, so Audi dropped a beast of a sports car on the market to shut them up. The TT RS got an all-new 340-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine with 332 lb-ft of torque, a 10 mm lower ride height, 18-inch wheels, upgraded brakes, and reprogrammed modes. It hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds through the manual transmission, while a new seven-speed DSG was offered in 2010. After accruing 11,000 signatures, a petition persuaded Audi to make the TT RS available in the US. It delivered the goods, and became a supercar slayer capable of hanging with the full-fat R8, particularly at altitude.
As an example of beauty and power combined, the Audi RS7 stunned us in 2013 and made up for the lack of an RS6 in the US. The sloped back styling is now typical of sedans, but the RS7 delivered on looks and power. Under the hood is a twin-scroll twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 engine generating 553 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission. Later on, an RS 7 Performance version used the same engine to make 597 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. It runs on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels with carbon-fiber ceramic brake discs inside, and the adaptive air suspension runs 20 mm lower than standard. 0-62 took just 3.7 seconds, and the RS7 was a true M5-beater, at least in slippery conditions.
Finally, in 2016, Audi put together an RS model with the US market foremost in its mind. It entered the market in competition with BMW's M2 with a 2.5-liter turbo Inline-five engine. It landed pushing 394 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of twist through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Audi claimed 3.9 seconds to 60 mph, but MotorTrend timed it at 3.5 seconds in its first year. The direct comparison is the M2, but the Audi is more comfortable on the street while BMW's mini rocket is more of a track weapon.
When people ask the question, "If you could only have one car for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Well, the new RS6 Avant is the correct answer. A 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 lurks under the hood with 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque going to all four wheels, it grips the road and handles like a supercar, and the interior is stunning. At the same time, it's a big wagon that will swallow the kids and a dog for Sunday outings or the family and luggage for weekends away. It's a consummate daily driver, but will hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and is a complete animal on the back road. It's also the first RS6 Avant for the US market.
The Audi RS Q8 is still in its first model year but has already stolen our hearts. It features the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 found in the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga. The Audi version RS Q8 version makes 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft, and its levels of grip and handling are mind-bending. It'll also hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, which is insane for a big vehicle laden with technology and luxury features. It nailed down a 7-minute 42.253-second lap at the Nurburgring, which puts the RS Q8 hot on the heels of the Ferrari 458. And, the driver said that with more time on the track, he could have gone quicker.