I remember my 20th birthday. There were friends, a go-kart track and plenty of laughs. So it was fitting that Audi recently celebrated 20 years of RS vehicles by closing a private track and giving us open reign to its entire fleet of adult-sized RS go-karts, including the manic Audi R8 V10 Plus. RennSport (that’s German for RacingSport) is Audi’s range of exclusive, ultra-fast sports cars that first debuted in 1994 with the Audi RS2 Avant. Since then, the range has expanded to include the RS4 Avant, RS5 Coupe and Cabriolet, RS6 Avant, RS7 Sportback, RS Q3, TT RS and R8. There’s also an RS3 in the making. In the early days, the RS2 Avant was built alongside vehicles from the Porsche stable. Fast forward to today and Audi's wholly owned quattro GmbH subsidiary manufactures high-performance Audi models in a 3500 square metre factory located in Stuttgart, Germany.
If Audi’s sales figures are anything to go by, the Australian public loves the S and RS offerings from Audi’s quattro GmbH outlet. Australian S and RS sales have increased by 188 per cent to 2677 sales year to date, with Audi now crowned as the sales leader in performance vehicles compared to BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG divisions in Australia (this includes models such as the S3, S4, S5 and SQ5). By comparison, according to Audi, Mercedes-Benz AMG sales have grown 77 per cent to 2542 units, while BMW M is up 65 per cent to 1011 sales. The appetite in Australia for performance cars is clearly ravenous. S and RS models now account for 15 per cent of Audi’s sales in Australia, and have almost tripled since the same time last year. It's quite clear that the performance trend is shooting upward with each new performance model Audi releases.
Engine offerings have also expanded from the original 2.2-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine offered in the RS2. Now, RS punters can line up for a naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 engine in the RS4, RS5 and R8 and a twin turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine in the RS6 and RS7. The smallest engine of the range lives in the pint-sized TT RS and RS Q3 with a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. The granddaddy of the RS group is the 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 in the R8 V10 and R8 V10 plus.
Starting from $81,900 for the RS Q3, the fleet of vehicles we had access to goes all the way up to the $408,200 R8 V10 plus. Collectively, we had over $1,000,000 of sports cars at our disposal for testing. The narrow track with few run off areas features a couple of long straights, sweeping bends, downhill braking stretches and complex chicanes. This type of track is best assaulted in an all-wheel-drive vehicle for added assurance — luckily the whole RS range sends torque through all four wheels.
The last time I drove the RS6, I was staggered at the pace available from this road-going scud missile. On track, it’s taken up to another level. The 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 in the RS6 and RS7 produces 412kW of power and a staggering 700Nm of torque. On the track, I was surprised to see this car out-accelerating the R8 V10 plus on the straights. That gives you an idea of how much grunt is available at a stab of the throttle. The RS4 and RS5 on the other hand lack the straight-line speed of their turbocharged siblings, but make up for it with precision handling and highly complex electronic and mechanical quattro all-wheel-drive couplings.
Body roll is almost eliminated thanks to Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control. The firmer ride helps improve acceleration out of corners as the body of these cars sits flat when the throttle is mashed. The engine and exhaust noise is equally as impressive. With a redline of 8000rpm, the RS4 and RS5 emit a meaty, old school V8 bellow that never gets old. Despite being the oldest model in the RS line, the TT RS still manages to hold its own at the track. The feisty, low-slung TT RS hugs the road and offers arguably the most direct steering of the lot. The short wheelbase and razor sharp throttle response make it a heap of fun in the esses.
Both the TT RS and RS Q3 emit an angry growl on upshifts and gruesome crackles and pops on the overrun. The external sound is more like that of a V8 than a five-cylinder. There’s little doubt that the R8 V10 plus reigns supreme at this tight and technical track. The high-revving V10 engine propels the R8 with such grace and prowess that it’s hard to imagine anything better in this environment. It's also hard to fault the handling and accuracy in the steering and brakes. It's an extremely well engineered practical supercar.
If I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be the RS6. It’s the ultimate balance between raw power, dynamics and practicality. The acceleration is simply breathtaking and can't be matched by other vehicles in this segment. As far as 20th birthdays go, this has to be one of the best. It’s just a shame the take home info packs didn’t include a key to an R8.