Audi Sport Morphs Further For More Distinct Identity

By Lee Pang Seng

AUDI might be seen as the more premium range in the Volkswagen Group but that doesn’t stop this carmaker from establishing itself as a manufacturer of exciting cars to drive. Its participation in motor sports, such as the World Endurance events (although it has now switched its focus to Formula Electric) and world rallies in early times, exemplifies its ambitions all too clearly.

It even has a dedicated entity – Audi Sport GmbH (also known as Quattro GmbH) – to steer its sporting and performance ambitions. With its headquarters in Neckersulm, the current role of this subsidiary of Audi AG is to develop and manufacture Audi RS and R models; Audi Sport customer racing and motor sports; Audi vehicle customisation under the Audi exclusive programme and Audi Sport lifestyle articles and merchandise.

Located about a 30-minute drive from the Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt, the Audi Sport complex has a sprawling circuit going beyond two kilometres in overall length that could be halved for drive routines. There is also a huge ground on which other drive routines could be conducted, either on simulated wet surfaces or dry tarmac.

Audi Sport was established in 1983 to build exclusive parts and merchandise for the brand with the four rings. It was 10 years later that it built its first performance Audi RS model, the RS 2 Avant, which is the predecessor of the current day RS4. Since then, Audi Sport has quietly expanded the RS range; today this sporty range starts with the RS3 Sportback.

A recent move that Audi Sport has taken is to provide a more consistent identity to the sporty models within each model ranks. While the ‘S’ logo was used previously to denote the beefier models in the respective ranks, the ‘R’ appears to be favoured, especially when both letters are combined as ‘RS’. However, the R8 remains the pinnacle benchmark in outright performance.

We were given a sampling of these new RS models during a visit late last year to Ingolstadt and Audi Sport in Neckarsulm, these being the RS5 Coupé, RS6 Avant and RS7 Sportback to showcase how power models could come in different body forms and yet be exciting to drive on the autobahns.

The RS5 Coupé is seen as the ‘baby’ of the group as it has the smallest displacement engine - 2.9-litre TFSI bi-turbo V6 that delivers 450hp and 600Nm, and accelerates to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds. The RS6 Avant and RS7 Sportback are powered by the same 4.0-litre TFSI V8 that churns out 560hp and 700Nm. However; the 0-100km/h acceleration performance is similar at 3.9 seconds, despite taking into consideration body weight versus power output.

As a comparison, the flagship R8 plus earns its benchmark status with its 5.0-litre V10 engine that is located midship. There is plenty of punch as this V10 delivers 610PS at 8250rpm and 560Nm at 6500rpm. All that oomph and grunt means it would scoot to 100km/h from standstill in 3.3 seconds and a 330km/h top speed if you have the road for that.

Our adventure began at the Munich Airport where Audi AG has an office and our respective RS cars were waiting in the basement carpark. Unlike our previous drive experience with Audi in which we got to sample the car’s prowess over a wide variety of conditions that include winding roads through rural and often scenic areas, this recent experience was purely an autobahn affair.

Given the open speed sections on some stretches of the autobahns, we could enjoy the more extreme end of engine performance as we exceeded 200km/h easily where possible. There was that sheer thrill of the respective car picking up the pace strongly when we floored the accelerator and passed the slower traffic as if they were standing still. We had the speedometer needle at 220-230km/h a few times although another member of our group boasts a higher 250km/h top speed.

The RS5 Coupé did appear to be slower in initial and passing acceleration but once it got up to speed, it could match the 4.0-litre models in going great guns. Good body aerodynamics and strong suspension systems supported by electronic management gave us the confidence to drive these Audi RS cars at heady speeds; the cars felt planted on the road at those speeds and noise levels were not intrusive, allowing normal conversation.

What has changed on the Malaysian front is that Audi no longer has a representative office that directly dictates the models to be sold here. It has reverted to the previous arrangement where the Audi office in Singapore would oversee the carmaker’s role in Malaysia. As such, earlier ambitions to introduce one of the three RS models that we drove would no longer be realised.

Should we see the grey importers taking over the initiative as they had been doing all along? Such is the fate of the Audi marque here with its vicissitudes in the local market environment, enjoying spells of a good run before slumping to lows of mediocrity in sales. The positive side is that the only way Audi could look now is up as it prepares for yet another strong re-emergence, hopefully in the not too distant future.

Understeer and oversteer
On a happier note, we continue with our second experience at the Audi Sport complex. This time we completed the drive programme in the Audi R8 plus that we couldn’t in the earlier visit in 2015 as the place was taken over by a group of Audi owners who had signed up for the experience.

This was the understeer and oversteer experience and the steady drizzle added to the fun. By understeer, it means the car wants to go straight as you try to make a turn while oversteer refers to the readiness of the car’s rear end to break lose when making the turn.

In the first instance, we were instructed to drive into a ‘corner’ at 80km/h and make a full steering lock turn. This was to exaggerate the turning momentum and with the Audi R8 plus Electronic Stability Program (ESP) turned off, it would just drift straight instead of turning.

What we were supposed to do was to turn back half a steering lock and power out to make the turn. Needless to say, it was easier said than done. We either turned too little or too much and with all the 560Nm torque rushing in, we were pretty busy knocking the cones all over the place while trying to do what was barked over the walkie-talkie by the Audi instructor. We each had seven to eight attempts to get it right and we probably managed three or so satisfactory runs.

The oversteering experience was almost as comical and we took our hat off to the instructor as there were a few near misses. He was standing at the cone where the turn was to be made but the exuberance of some in trying to get it right also almost got it wrong, us included.

This routine required a shorter run-up to the ‘turning’ cone, entering the point at about 50-60km/h. At that instance we were told to gun the accelerator as we turned the steering wheel so that the rear end swung loose.

Our job was to catch the loose tail by easing off the accelerator, restore steering direction and power out. It was in the ‘restore steering direction’ part that looked the harrier one for the instructor as a few us came pretty close to knocking into him. Nevertheless, it didn’t fluster him as he seemed to enjoy looking at us going all over the place in our respective attempts while he yelled out instructions. We were probably less successful getting it right in the seven or eight attempts.

Correcting these extreme dynamic instances could be properly done with practice, lots of it. The important lesson here was to learn to recognise the respective dynamic reaction of the car and to try correcting it without getting into trouble. While these instances are more obvious when it comes to wet roads, they arise too when you are driving way too fast on dry roads or dirty roads with less traction.

Our experience here was with a flagship car in the Audi R8 plus that boasts a higher level of dynamic engineering and performance. You could imagine how it would have been that much harder with a ‘lesser’ vehicle in correction and recovery. As if to impress us on this lesson, one of our three media cars actually encountered a road accident that they could do little to avoid.

The team in the Audi RS6 was waiting at a traffic junction for the green light to come on early one morning in Ingolstadt; it was 3-4 Centigrade then and the road appeared slick from overnight condensation. A young chap in a Camaro was obviously in a hurry approaching the junction from the opposite direction. As he gunned the accelerator to make the turn, the rear end of the Camaro broke loose in an oversteer, leading to the car spinning uncontrollably.

The sheer dynamics of the spin had the Camaro crashing into an Audi (driven by a woman with her child in the back seat) that was waiting at the lights alongside our RS6 media colleagues. The impact was so strong that it pushed the Audi into the RS6, damaging the front end and making it a police case. And we were down to two cars for the rest of our adventure there. All told, driving safely is still the best way forward.