Design, high-performance and presence are the tangible factors, but there is an indescribable quality that makes the RS models the very essence of the Audi brand.

26 May, 2020

They represent the very pinnacle of their respective model lines, a high-performance elite that are designed to thrill and inspire in equal measure. The product of Audi’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Audi Sport GmbH, the RS models (short for Renn Sport or motor sport) are very special vehicles and Australians can’t get enough of them.

There are currently 12 Audi RS models covering all of the existing Audi model lines. From the RS 3 Sportback and Sedan, through to the RS 4 Avant, RS 5  Coupé and Sportback, RS 6 Avant, RS 7 Sportback, TT RS Coupé and Roadster, RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback and the RS Q8. Eight of these models were only introduced last year in conjunction with the brand’s 25th anniversary, and Audi Sport GmbH already has plans to add to the family in the future.

But what is it that makes the RS models so popular and desirable and what goers into creating one of these top flight, high-performance models?

“An RS is a true Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde,” says Oliver Hoffmann, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH.

“It is important for every kilometre, no matter how it is driven, to be an experience. This is achieved thanks to breathtaking design, high-end look and feel, and outstanding quality.”

But the actual process of producing any one of the 12 current RS models is exhaustive to say the least, with hundreds of thousands of test kilometres conducted around the world in the most extreme conditions to fine tune every last component and feature of each model. 

Take the all-new Audi RS Q8 as a case in point, with test engineers from Audi Sport GmbH spending around two years on the road in the RS Q8, covering more than 1.2 million kilometres, which is the equivalent of driving around the world 30 times. The test drives took them to Finland, Sweden, France, Italy, South Africa, China, and the USA. They were conducted on all types of race tracks and roads, like the high-speed circular track in the southern Italian town of Nardò was used to test the resilience of all components at a consistently high speed. The ice and snow in Scandinavia offered ideal conditions for putting the finishing touches to the response characteristics of the suspension and control systems and the heat and elevation in South Africa presented the air conditioning, engine cooling, and performance characteristics with special challenges.

Then of course there is the North Loop (Nordschleife) of the Nürburgring – the Green Hell – where every RS model must earn its stripes during the development and refinement process.

This 20.832-kilometre course is considered one of the most, if not the most demanding race track in the world, where straight-line speed, elevation changes and even differing weather conditions around the track present the ultimate high speed challenge for the vehicle and the driver. More than 80 percent of the course is driven flat out and 8000 kilometres of endurance testing on the North Loop easily equates to a car’s entire lifetime.

“The North Loop represents the ultimate endurance test in our development and co-ordination work,” explains Oliver Hoffmann, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH. “Every RS model undergoes at least 8000 kilometres of testing here. The track provides us with detailed information about the durability of our parts under extreme conditions and specifics about the suspension. With the RS Q8, our main focus was on the setup of the springs, dampers, and the ESP as well as the performance characteristics of the roll stabilisation and the sport differential”

Racing driver Frank Stippler has been an integral part of Audi Sport for many years, not only winning the 24 Hours races of Spa in 2012 and the Nürburgring (2012 and 2019), but also contributing his engineering expertise and working on evaluating and testing numerous RS models.

Last year Stippler set a new lap record on the North Loop in the RS Q8, recording a blistering seven minutes and 42.253 seconds to beat the former best time for standard SUVs by 12 seconds. 

It’s all part and parcel of ensuring that eAch RS model is worthy of the coveted badging and lives up to the all-important reputation.

‘Fine-tuning’ is the magic word when it comes to the long road that is the development of an RS model. “A unique character will only evolve if we work consistently and with great precision. A lot of experience and a clear vision are the keys to creating a coherent overall concept,” says Oliver Hoffmann. 

That same attention to detail is as I’m portent in the vehicle’s design, fit and finish.

Design is very much inspired by motorsport, and that requires more extreme component shapes. According to the principle of ‘form follows function’, it is therefore natural that the use of high-performance technologies from motorsport is also reflected in the visual appearance of RS models. 

The bodies also feature an exclusive look, which is particularly striking in a model like the Audi RS 6 Avant for example, which is 80mm wider than the base model. In fact only the front doors, the roof, and the tailgate are unchanged from the base A6 Avant model.

The Audi maxim of uncompromising quality applies to each of the many exclusive solutions. “Our customers demand the best products on the market,” says Hoffmann. “We have the best specialists and teams to meet their high expectations.” The RS workshops, where the first cars are assembled by hand, play an important part during the development phase. 

RS models are produced at four locations. The RS 3 Sportback and Sedan, RS 4 Avant, RS 5 Coupé and Sportback roll off the line in the German plant in Ingolstadt, while the TT RS Coupé and Roadster, RS Q3 and the RS Q3 Sportback are built at the Hungarian plant in Győr, and the RS Q8 is produced at the Slovakian plant in Bratislava. The RS 6 Avant and RS 7 Sportback are produced at the Neckarsulm site, the headquarters of Audi Sport GmbH. Nearby is the ‘Böllinger Höfe’ factory where the sports and racing cars of the R8 family are built, in large part by hand, and where the fully electric Audi e-tron GT will soon be built – heralding in a whole new chapter in Audi high-performance models.