Audi Sport has become a performance goliath, with something for everyone. But which is best?
By PH Staff / Saturday, 14 January 2023 / Loading comments
11 . RS Q3 (SUV and Sportback)
Let’s give Audi Sport its due here – it has, by and large, resisted the temptation to glue an RS badge to every SUV in its lineup. Some of its rivals have not been so selective. But the chance to wring more profit from the platform-sharing Q3 – and particularly its turbocharged inline-five – proved irresistible. The result, of course, owes much of its objective appeal to the 400hp 2.5-litre engine, and it’s probably worth pointing out that if the RS3 really has exited stage right (more on which later) this is the only brand-new way to access its idiosyncratic charm in a family-friendly body shell. Sure-fire traction and offspring-terrifying pace are guaranteed, but away from the engine bay the often aloof compact SUV has insufficient charm to fill a thimble. Last place by a mile.
10. RS5 (Coupe and Sportback)
Technically it appears Audi still sells the RS5 in the UK – in both three- and five-door formats, no less – but it would probably be fair to say that both variants have slipped from the general public’s radar. In some ways this is unfortunate, as the RS5 is conventionally handsome, nicely appointed and, as ever, very well put together. But in truth the model has a long history of relative anonymity – especially when compared to the equivalent BMW M car. The previous version was notable only really as the final resting place of the voracious 4.2-litre V8; its replacement, powered by the 2.9-litre turbocharged V6, was denied even that USP. A victim of the mechanically identical RS4’s long shadow, yes, but also of Audi Sport’s failure to properly distinguish it as a noteworthy option in its own right. Shame.
9. RS4 Avant
Where the RS5’s shortcomings merely seem unfortunate, the RS4’s qualify as unforgivable. Having cornered the market in super-fast, all-weather wagons, Audi Sport ought to have treated the flagship like BMW treats the M3 – as something too big to fail. Unfortunately, it gives every impression that the concept peaked with the heavenly B7. In fairness to it, the B9 is not innately bad, it just suffers from a familiar modern malaise: it feels as though it were created by a committee that insisted on going in three directions at once. Consequently, despite being perfectly capable of going very quickly indeed, the RS4 has few properly endearing qualities – and virtually no attitude whatsoever. As a swift and pragmatic family car, it’s perfectly acceptable. But who wants to pay more than £67k for one of those?
8. TT RS (Coupe and Roadster)
A mite surprising to see the TT RS still on the Audi UK website, as we featured it the In Memoriam feature last week and were convinced it was no more. Regardless, there are two ways to see the top spec TT: one is much as it was regarded for virtually its entire existence – as not nearly as interesting or as good to drive as a Porsche Cayman or the BMW M2 that was built to rival it (which is both true and totally valid). The second is to look back at it in retrospect from a little further down the road. Because there’s a sneaking suspicion that with its astonishing (and supremely reliable) engine, idiot-proof handling and terrific interior, the RS might be regarded a little more kindly in the future. Especially when Audi doesn’t replace it and depreciation eventually makes the asking price seem a bit more acceptable. We shall see. In any event, the last version was also the best one, so it’s got that going for it too.
7. RS e-tron GT
Certainly if you told us you prefer the idea of a fire-breathing 400hp TT to a supremely expensive electric car, we’d understand where you were coming from. But Audi’s sports car was always a go-to example of automotive style over mechanical substance, and by that measure there’s no question which model currently ranks higher. The RS e-tron GT is astonishingly satisfying to ogle in person – perhaps ever more so than the pictures suggest. It makes the closely related Porsche Taycan look like a cheap knockoff in comparison. Which makes it doubly upsetting (and bewildering really) that Audi Sport has failed to make the 646hp flagship GT drive like a Porsche Taycan. It is still hugely fast and capable, of course – but it lacks the all-court bandwidth of its sibling, not to mention the sensation that you as driver are an integral part of all the blurry action. Still, if you want to turn heads, this is the RS car to do it in.
6. RS7 Sportback
Much like the RS5, the chief accusation one can level at the liftback RS7 is that it has failed to catch the public’s imagination. Certainly it’s hard to recall ever seeing one on the road. Unlike the RS5, this has little to do with the relative strengths of the model itself. Perhaps the design remains a touch divisive (certainly its proportions don’t click like those of the current BMW M5) but no one could cast doubt on the atomic shove of the turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, not least because it outputs fully 630hp in the latest Performance variant. It matters not a jot that the RS e-tron GT marginally overshadows it in this regard; the V8 endows the RS7 with the sort of aura that no EV can replicate. There isn’t a powerfully-built director alive that would instantly understand the appeal – but evidently the car’s target audience has had its head turned.
5. RS Q8
Inevitably, this is where it’s at. No prestige manufacturer can do without a planet-sized, preposterously powerful SUV, and it’s to Audi’s credit that the RS Q8 is among the better ones. In fact, if it weren’t for the sublimely good Bentayga S, the RS Q8 might be considered a class-leader. It achieves this feat by correcting many of the issues that blighted the earlier Lamborghini Urus – i.e., it’s astonishingly fast, but not annoyingly intolerant because of it. This makes it – whisper it – quite fun to drive; mostly because you don’t come to it expect nuance or feedback or finesse, you expect planet-crushing, high-riding V8-powered excess. And boy, does the 600hp Q8 deliver on that. On the right road (a deserted, well-sighted one) it almost fools you into thinking it’s a supersized tarmac rally car. It isn’t, of course, but there’s more than enough levity in those moments to get even the most reluctant driver onside.
4. RS6 Avant
Good though the RS Q8 undoubtedly is, we can’t yet give an SUV the prestige of a top-four finish – surely won’t be long, though. For the moment, there’s precious little surpassing Audi’s quintessential uberwagon; the RS6 may not have been the first RS – and may no longer dominate the segment as it did – but it remains the go-to fast Audi Avant. With good reason: the mild-hybrid V8 shared with the RS Q8 ensures epic, all-encompassing, rip-snorting performance (with the 630hp Performance to come), the four-wheel drive is cleverer than ever and, with a modest spec, it can still just about slip under the radar. Maybe not how they used to, but certainly more clandestinely than any Q8 ever will. And that’s cool. With Audi’s rapid electrification underway, we’ve not long left with a 4.0-litre RS6. Make the most of it, because super estates don’t come much more super.
3. RS3 (Sportback and Saloon)
Once upon a time, an RS3 wouldn’t have troubled the top half. All the potential in the world – a wondrous powertrain, chiselled good looks, compact dimensions – were squandered by a leaden balance, numb controls, and unyielding ride. They say the third time’s a charm, though, and so it proved for Audi’s hyper hatch. The RS3 is still wickedly fast, the 2.5 turbo still warbles and it’s still an ideal size, only now there’s some real driver involvement on offer as well. This is the car an Audi RS3 always should have been, impressing both repeat customers and hot hatch enthusiasts simultaneously. Well, almost. Few would say this generation is a more stylish Audi A3 than before, and filters have robbed the award-winning engine of something, too. That said, a bronze medal despite those gripes reflects just how good it is. Buyers agree – both saloon and hatch have proved so popular Audi stopped taking orders at the end of 2022.
2. RS4 Avant Competition
Seven places ahead of the standard RS4 ought to demonstrate how highly we think of the limited edition Competition, and that’s just from the international launch. Where the non-Comp feels like a fast estate designed to hit mostly arbitrary targets, the run-out variant gives the impression of a dedicated, small team sweating the details to make the best car they can. Modifications like a fixed steering ratio, three-way adjustable coilovers and recalibrated ABS don’t make for an easy marketing win, yet they’ve worked wonders on the car. What was vague and slightly ponderous before is now direct and engaging, while still retaining a lot of the civility that makes an Audi RS such an agreeable place to be. Here’s an Audi special edition that boasts no more power than standard and doesn’t need any, perhaps the best proof that the Comp is cut from a different cloth. No wonder the UK allocation of 75 units – at £85k each – is spoken for.
1. R8 (Coupe and Spyder)
Well it had to be, right? Sure, Audi has made other indelible marks in the modern performance car era, but none measure up to its crowning achievement. Let’s not forget that the manufacturer came to the sports car segment cold, and set its sights on knocking none other than the Porsche 911 off its perch. To say that the original R8 confounded expectations is a wild understatement. It proved that Audi Sport could do anything, and – even better – it was a smash hit with customers, many of them new to the brand. And while it’s true that the current generation didn’t reset the bar in emphatic fashion, it would be churlish in the twilight years of combustion to be downbeat about a mid-engined car – available now with either four- or rear-wheel drive – that contains a 200mph-capable V10 that revs to very nearly 9,000rpm. Moreover, the new and deeply thrilling GT ensures that the latest R8 is signing off with a variant that paints it in the best possible light. And when it is gone, Audi Sport will never build anything else like it again. More than enough reason to discover what all the fuss is about before it’s too late.
- Every new BMW M car – ranked!
- 2022 Audi R8 Coupe V10 GT RWD | PH Review
Latest Features articles
Every new Audi RS car – ranked!
Time capsule cars | Six of the Best
Gone for good in 2022 | PH in memoriam
Off-roaders for under £15k | Six of the Best
Audi RS4 (B7) | PH Heroes
Source: Read Full Article