Why Audi is putting emotions before emissions in bumper 2020 schedule
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Fans of high-performance Audi Sport models will be spoiled for choice this year.
The German brand suffered from lack of supply in 2019 — it shut down production of key models to comply with stringent real-world pollution requirements in the wake of the Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions scandal.
But that hasn’t stopped the brand from bringing back a high-performance diesel favourite and opting out of a hi-tech exhaust filtration system for its R8 supercar.
Product planner Shawn Ticehurst, a veteran of 26 years in the car industry, is anticipating the brand’s biggest year for fast metal.
“I can’t recall a year like the one we’re looking at for 2020 with S and RS models, and the portfolio being so fresh and exciting,” he says, speaking of the Australian market. “We had a period (in 2019) where we basically weren’t building any RS models.
“Audi in Australia has been a top-five market for Audi RS models around the world. We want to get back there.”
Off-limits for the best part of a year, the smash hit RS3 Sportback and Sedan will return. The giant-killer model proved a cult favourite, accounting for about one in four A3 sales.
Ticehurst says fans of the previous model’s melodious exhaust note might be let down by its muted voice. A new petrol particulate filter eliminates some of the pyrotechnic effects that made the RS3 a winner with buyers.
“It loses a bit of its ‘pop-pop’,” he says. “It is sad … yes, there will be a little disappointment compared to the old car. If anything it might boost (resale values of) the old car. “
Ticehurst is adamant that the car “keeps its character” and the same is true for the stablemates that share its engine, the updated TT RS sports coupe and new RS Q3 crossover.
Controversially, Audi Australia elected against ordering the latest engines for the V10-powered R8 supercar, which have new petrol particulate filters. European versions have cleaner-running engines with 7kW more power than Australia’s 449kW/560Nm machine — but Audi wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the music of its halo model.
“Sound drove that decision,” Ticehurst says, “sound being such a crucial experience of the R8 … every time we talk to our customers it’s the No. 1 thing they talk about.”
Audi has been listening to its core supporters rather than playing to current trends.
Opting for a comparatively loud and dirty V10 contrasts with Audi’s global arm spending millions on a high-profile Superbowl ad for its electric e-tron SUV in a bid to convince people to drop petrol power.
Similarly, the record $125 million fine for diesel emissions cheating by the parent company in Australia, along with a multimillion-dollar class action settlement for local Audi and VW diesel customers, could have muted its enthusiasm for such engines.
Instead, Audi will bring in the successor to a local favourite, reintroducing the SQ5 TDI diesel performance SUV. Its twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 pumps 255kW and 700Nm to all four wheels.
Ticehurst says some owner of the original SQ5 rejected its petrol-powered replacement and insisted that only a diesel would do. It arrives mid-year.
The hulking SQ7 is set to be updated mid-year with its triple-turbo diesel — the truly extraordinary 320kW/ 900Nm motor that’s core to its appeal — to carry over. New styling and a fresh interior highlight running changes to the seven-seater SUV.
Among changes for this year, lesser TT S, S4 and S3 models received mild exterior tweaks and thousands of dollars’ worth of interior upgrades.
Just around the corner are facelifted versions of the V6-powered RS4 wagon and RS5 coupe and sedan.
There is a long but gratifying wait until the third quarter for the new RS6 wagon and RS7 sedan, which pack thumping 441kW twin-turbo V8s underneath muscular bodywork.