Designed to excite

Although set to undergo a change, Audi Sport RS design will always be about capturing the essence of adrenalin.

Even as technology changes and the brand moves to electrification, the design of Audi sport’s hugely popular RS vehicles will always be driven by passion first and foremost.

25 October, 2023

'The TT RS always used to be one of my highlights because it was the first to put the ideas of the Bauhaus art school on the road'

For the past 40 years, Audi Sports’s RS models have been the aspirational models that have captured the imagination of car enthusiasts. In a fast-changing future, new technology will undoubtedly impact the design of these tremendously successful models, but even with significant design changes on the horizon, the elements that have made these cars so popular will continue to be an integral part of the design and development of future models says Audi Design Chief, Marc Lichte.

Audi Magazine: Celebrating 40 years of Audi sport this year, which RS models particularly fascinate you?
Marc Lichte: As a designer and as a performance enthusiast I’m a huge fan of our RS models. The TT RS always used to be one of my highlights because, like the production TT base model, it was the first to put the ideas of the Bauhaus art school on the road. Although ‘less is more’ applies to its design language, it does not when it comes to the sheer emotions and joy of driving the car evokes – ensured, not least, by its five-cylinder engine with its special sound. Work on the current Audi RS 6 Avant with my team was an unforgettable experience as well. At the time, we uncompromisingly carved the quattro origins into every detail and into every line. Anytime I spot an RS 6 on the road today I’m happy to see how consistently we pursued our concept back then.

Are nods to their quattro origins something that all RS models share?
For me, what’s unique is that the form of Audi legends like the original quattro or Sport quattro – the muscles, the blisters, the extra wide fender flares, can be found on every current RS model. And I can promise that [they] will be found on every future RS model. The RS design is so deeply anchored in Audi’s DNA that we could keep reinventing it without ever diluting its essence.

The genes for Audi Sport’s success stem from racing – where does your passion for performance cars come from?
How closely cars are related to passion is something I learned early in life from my dad. In the 1970s, he competed in hill-climb races every other weekend. Before the race weekends that very special thrill could be felt around the whole house. Ever since those days, sporty cars for me have represented anticipatory excitement galore, adrenaline that has been cast in a mold, that has assumed a shape.

Is it true that the Audi Sport quattro really triggered your career wish to become an automobile designer at Audi?
Yes, that’s right. In 1983, the Audi Sport quattro from Audi stood out from the crowd at the Frankfurt International Motor Show like no other car. It was generally totally different from anything I’d seen so far. This car had an incredible amount of character – with its wide bodywork, with its blisters. The idea to express automotive sportiness in that way, to use styling to make technology so dramatically visible to everyone. That idea inspired me so much that while I was still at the booth of the motor show, I decided that I’d like to become a designer at Audi later in life! That was exactly 40 years ago. For me it’s been a twofold success that the styling elements of that icon – the expressive C pillar, the distinctive air scoops, simply the entire progressiveness of that Audi – have been accompanying me in my work to this day.

'The muscles, the blisters, the extra wide fender flares, can be found on every current RS model. And I can promise that [they] will be found on every future RS model'

'A beautiful form calls for functionality or else the whole thing’s for the birds'

What type of design would customers wish Audi Sport GmbH to give to the vehicles it develops for tomorrow and day after tomorrow?
In the future, we’re going to mainly build cars using two platforms – the PPE (Premium Platform Electric) platform for electric vehicles and the PPC (Premium Platform Combustion) platform for vehicles with conventional powertrains. Going forward, customers will continue desiring RS models to deliver performance, albeit always combined with functionality. That’s the kind of feedback we receive from our customers and fans in studies as well. I can totally understand that because it’s also the credo of good design. A beautiful form calls for functionality or else the whole thing’s for the birds. However, large track width has been and will continue to be by far the most important characteristic for our clientele. In other words, the brawny look that clearly distinguishes the RS models from their respective base models. The differentiation from the respective base will even increase in the future. Aside from higher performance, that’s what we attached the greatest value to in the development.

How important is keeping design timeless as has been the aim in the past?
For me, timeless design is always the baseline and the highest objective. That’s where the TT RS, which embodies exactly that, comes into play again. Radical reduction has caused this car to become an icon in recent decades. When every line has a purpose, you’ve done your job as a designer. 

How can this apparent contradiction be overcome between design that appears to be modern and styling that retains its classic beauty even after a long time?
That’s pretty much the greatest challenge you need to tackle as a designer and, by the way, no matter what industry you’re in. One way to achieve that for the design of RS models is by appropriately combining a wide track and large wheels in a form that creates fantastic proportions. Plus, by how the body surfaces are styled – without gimmicks, every line with a defined function.

In the future, further optimisations of aerodynamics for greater range of electrified RS models will play a crucial role. How much is that going to change the design process?
The design process of the Audi RS e-tron GT provides the answer. We literally shaped that car in the wind tunnel. During the design process for it I selected four 2D draft versions and told my team to take these to the wind tunnel and then we’ll put the one with the best drag coefficient into production. That’s exactly what we did. 

The Audi RS e-tron GT's svelte, but slippery shape was literally shaped in the wind tunnel

'Before we create the first sketch, we ask ourselves what our customers wish to experience with and in the vehicle'

The new design philosophy at Audi calls for designing vehicles from the inside toward the outside instead of from the outside toward the inside – which has been common practice in automotive engineering for about 130 years. To what extent does that apply also to the future models from Audi Sport GmbH?
Before we create the first sketch, we ask ourselves what our customers wish to experience with and in the vehicle? That we understand the interior as the focal point forms an all-new process and that process of course also fully applies to our RS models. We’re already specifically working on the new RS interior and I can share with you that it radically differs from what people today are familiar with in an RS model with an IC engine. In other words, how the driver will be sitting, what the seats are going to look like and how the entire ambience is perceived. 

Sustainability, no doubt, plays an increasingly important role in interiors as well?
For me, sustainability is primarily the result of reduction. In the future, the interior will be clearly more reduced, the partly recycled materials used and their styling create an impression of maximum quality and a warm atmosphere. In a nutshell, we’re reimagining that space from scratch.