What makes an Audi RS an Audi RS? We go straight to the experts to find out.

What makes an Audi RS an Audi RS? We go straight to the experts to find out.


Audi RS Q8

This year, Audi is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its RS performance line. The whole thing started in 1994 with the RS2 Avant, a joint venture between Audi and Porsche that made the seemingly humble Audi 80 wagon into a real screamer. The 80’s 2.2-liter five-cylinder engine got a bigger turbo, bigger intercooler, lumpier cam, more free-flowing exhaust and a tuned ECU. Those changes bumped horsepower up to 315, good enough for a top speed of 163 mph. Twenty-five years ago, that was a big deal, especially for a wagon. With standard quattro AWD, it could outperform many rivals in snow and rain, as well as on certain road courses—if anyone ever took a station wagon on a road course. Who’d have expected that?

If you look back, you could argue that the RS2 and the many RS models that it spawned took Audi from what had often been seen as a less expensive (read: less prestigious) European alternative to BMW and Mercedes and really brought Ingolstadt onto the same playing field as the best of the imports. The RS line was a step up from the S and matched performance cred with BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG. Now Audi makes RS versions of many—but not all—its models, and the world is a better place for it. At the L.A. auto show, we saw powerful performance RS versions of the A6 wagon and even the Q8 crossover. We also had a chance to sit down with several Audi executives and ask what makes an RS an RS. Here’s what they said.

Autoweek: How is Audi RS doing?

Julius Seebach, managing director, Audi Sport GmbH: We are at the moment where we want to take Audi Sport to the next level. We have new models in all segments now in our portfolio, especially in the RS Q8. It’s the absolute highlight of our initiative this year—it’s the sportiest and most exciting SUV from Audi on the one hand and at the same time, it’s maximum comfort. I think especially the RS Q8 fits perfectly into the U.S. market and then for us it’s the best place to introduce it.

Autoweek: Are people going to accept an SUV as a performance car or are people just going to want to have the highest trim level no matter what it is?

Rolf Michl, head of marketing, Audi Sport GmbH: I think they want a superb SUV. Performance is one aspect, but there is also the luxury aspect and the versatility. You can use it every day, but it’s also capable to go for a Nurburgring record.

Seebach: Seven minutes 42 seconds, which is even faster than a lot of sports cars. It’s the fastest SUV on the Nurburgring Nordschliefe. And how do we do that? Every RS model is designed and tested by our dedicated engineers and our professional race drivers. Every RS model has to do a duration test on the Nordschliefe for 8,000 kilometers (4,971 miles). You can also see it on the steering wheel, one button you push where you can activate RS1 and RS2 mode. And with this activation, you get the setup of the car done by these race drivers. (Frank) Stippler won the 24 Hours of Nurburgring this year and during this test process, he also did the lap record.

Michl: You can go 0-100 (km/h) (or 62 mph) in only 3.8 seconds and you can reach 305 km/h (190 mph) maximum top speed. And this is limited.

Seebach: But there is another dimension of RS, it’s also performance, everyday usability and of course it shares a luxury coupe version with the performance of an RS model.

Michl: And it’s the start for our electrification strategy. The RS6, RS7 and the RS Q8 have the 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Next year we will bring the e-tron GT as the first fully electric sports car. Our future will be electric. Within this strategy, we also will bring the next-generation plug-in hybrid.

Autoweek: How many Audi buyers in the United States want that much performance?

Filip Brabec, VP of Product Management, Audi of America: It’s a very small percentage. It’s single-digit-percent numbers. There’s two aspects to it: there’s an exclusivity, kind of a club aspect to it, and then there’s the performance aficionado aspect to it. We tend to get both sides, and on that scale, you get all kinds.

Autoweek: Could you define what RS is?

Seebach: This is always the sportiest and most exciting model, the top-of-the-line model within the model family of Audi. Our philosophy reflects what you can see in the RS Q8, this spread between maximum performance and sportiness and on the other hand no compromise to comfort and daily usability. It’s also the design aspect. It’s the expressive and broadened design. For instance, when you look at the tires and wheels, the RS are 23-inch. We do high-performance through the car with no compromise.

Autoweek: Does that go across the model lines?

Brabec: An RS SUV is a bit different than an RS4 or an RS6.

Seebach: This year we celebrate 25 years of RS. We started 25 years ago with the RS2 (Avant). We started with the station wagon as a performance model. Next year the RS6 comes to the U.S. Based on this model we have all segments. We have new models. Our portfolio is bigger than ever. Based on this we will double our sales compared to 2018 by the end of 2023. How do we do that? With this big portfolio we have more models than ever, then we offer these models in more regions worldwide, the product availability is better, we have constant growth starting with one model 25 years ago, now we have all segments and we bring this now to every market in the world.

Brabec: I just want to make a couple points. On the styling of the RS, when Mark Lichter started at Audi, we dragged him into a room in the U.S. and we said, ‘Push the styling of the RS models, we want to be more aggressive.’ And I think you see the fruits of that now. Every car out there has a wider body. Every car out there is much more expressive in the way of styling. A lot of that was a U.S. input, we wanted that, and I would say the team delivered.

Seebach: Audi of America has been a very important market for us. It’s a huge market.

Autoweek: It’s Audi’s biggest market, right?

Seebach: At the moment Europe is quite big for our RS portfolio.

Autoweek: Do you have a plan to put RS across the board like AMG did?

Michl: There is a plan but not completely across the line.

Autoweek: Did you learn from AMG making an R Class?

Seebach: Our strategy is clear, when there are decisions on the portfolio on the Audi side we are talking to them to see if it makes sense. And in the end it’s also kind of business case, not just to bring every model has an RS, but every Audi RS has to fit to the customer and to the market. So we clearly decide which is the right model at the right time for the right market. And this is the reason why there is no RS based on every model. But in every segment we have an RS model. Into the future we will go into fully electric. By 2050. It’s the vision. And on this way we will have milestones. We will have next year the fully electric e-tron GT. We will have the plug-in hybrids. So we will have the right drivetrain for every customer, every market because there are a lot of differences around the world where you have infrastructure or customer needs. And every RS model we have should be a world car, so we don’t differentiate within the car.

Autoweek: How would you distinguish the RS line from AMG and from M?

Seebach: In the end we stand for the sexiest and most exciting top-of-the-line model of Audi. The spread between sportiness and comfort is perfectly done. The best example is the RS Q8 or RS6 or RS7. And Mark Lichter does a perfect design. This is pure Audi, this is pure sportiness, the right touch of understatement but you have the power, you have, really sports cars there… Next year we will bring the greatest and biggest high-performance portfolio to the U.S. ever.

Mark Dahncke, Communications Director Audi of America: We have those three (RS6, RS7 and RS Q8) and then we have two more coming that are not announced.

Autoweek: Why don’t you tell me what those are.

Dahncke: I can’t.

Autoweek: Come on, man.

Dahncke: I can’t. All of these cars will be coming within two or three months of each other and next summer is going to be a very exciting time for our enthusiast fans.

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