Audi Sport is to Audi what M is to BMW or AMG to Mercedes-Benz. Audi Sport’s crown jewel is the mid-engine R8, but its history began with the RS2 Avant Quattro, a derivative of the Audi 80 B4 that was co-developed with Porsche and features the brand’s iconic five-cylinder engine.
We take a comprehensive look at every Audi RS model past and present. Almost all of them are offered in the U.S., the brand’s most important market. Here they are, presented in the order in which they were introduced.
Audi RS2 Avant (1994)
This first ever RS model isn’t done by Quattro GmbH but by Audi itself, in Ingolstadt, with the help of an unlikely partner: Porsche. The joint effort leads to some amusing co-branding, some of which is visible on the RS2 Avant. The sporty wagon’s door mirrors, aluminum wheels, brakes, and bumper-mounted lighting units are Porsche pieces—and the horizontal reflector in the rear is designed to evoke Porsche design as well. Of greater consequence? The whopping 311 horsepower that engineers manage to extract from the legendary, turbocharged 2.2-liter inline-five of Quattro and Sport Quattro fame. For the mid-1990s, the RS2 Avant’s performance is awe-inspiring: According to Audi, it can reach 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and can keep on accelerating to a top speed of 163 mph. Last year a used RS2 with 93,000 miles on it sole for close to $78,000 on Bring A Trailer.
Audi RS4 Avant (2000)
The RS2’s success proves encouraging, so Audi creates a follow-up, the RS4 Avant. The recipe is epic: Take the B5-generation Audi A4 wagon and install a 375-hp twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 messed with by Cosworth Technology. A six-speed manual transmission handles shifting duties, and power is sent to all four wheels. The first RS4 is available only as a station wagon, and as you’ve probably already guessed, it isn’t offered in America, although we do review one in Europe in 2000.
Audi RS6 Sedan (2002)
Launched in 2002, offered in America, and powered by a 450-hp twin-turbocharged 4.2-liter V-8 assembled by Cosworth, the RS6 delivers earth-scorching performance. What’s more, the unique design of the C5-generation A6, with its posterior evocative of the TT sports car’s, looks just right when fitted with RS fender flares and huge wheels. In a 2003 Car and Driver comparison test, it places first.
Audi RS6 Avant (2002)
Despite looking more conservative than its sedan counterpart, the C5-generation RS6 Avant quickly achieves cult status. The most extreme station wagon of its era, it shares the ultra-torquey and powerful V-8 with the RS6 sedan. We’d say the impressive growl the engine emits under load sounds even better trailing the wagon’s rump. A Plus version increases output to 473 horsepower. Oh, and a fun fact: The RS6 Avant’s spiritual ancestor was the Audi V8 Avant, of which a few units were unofficially built around 1990.
Audi RS4 Sedan (2005)
The B7-generation RS4 ushers in a new era of high-revving, naturally aspirated engines to Audi Sport’s repertoire. Its 4.2-liter V-8, developed by Wolfgang Hatz, produces a full 420 horsepower and an even stronger noise, channeling its might to all wheels through a slick six-speed manual. With its widened body and a molded-in rear spoiler, the sedan is the perfect mix of stealthy and serious.
Audi RS4 Avant (2005)
The Avant tradition continues with the B7-generation RS4 Avant, which has the same naturally aspirated engine and manual transmission seen in the sedan and convertible models. Like the previous-generation RS4, the Avant remains a Europe-only model.
Audi RS4 Cabriolet (2006)
In 2006, Audi takes the RS treatment to the premium-convertible segment, and just 300 are brought to the States. For the detail oriented, the move also is noteworthy because RS4 cabriolet’s dashboard is different from those of the sedan and Avant models. (The same piece later would be recycled in the Spain-built SEAT Exeo.) In case you’re wondering, the convertible’s brushed-metal windshield-pillar trim is not specific to RS cars, having been an Audi trademark since the first Audi 80 cabriolet.
Audi RS6 Sedan (2008)
The RS6 loses—if that’s the right word—its twin-turbocharged V-8 in its 2008 redesign in favor of a 580-hp twin-turbocharged 5.0-liter V-10. Its fulminant, Formula 1–inspired engine is engineered by Wolfgang Hatz and is architecturally similar to the ten-cylinder engine in Lamborghini’s exotic Gallardo. Although the RS6 remains as allergic to U.S. customers as most other RS models up to its introduction, Audi does send us two sedans stuffed with V-10 engines: S6 and the beautiful, larger S8 (again related to Lamborghini’s engine). As far as consolation prizes go, this isn’t bad.
Audi RS6 Avant (2008)
Launched slightly before its sedan sibling, the Avant version becomes the far more successful C6-generation RS6, particularly among Audi’s European customer base. The V-10 engine pours the same glorious sounds from the RS6 Avant’s tailpipes as it does from the sedan’s, but again, we can all agree that the pairing of that noise with the Avant’s wagon shape is an altogether more special creation. C’mon, it’s a station wagon that sounds like an Audi R8 V10 supercar!
Audi TT RS (2009)
The original, first-generation TT sports car never sprouted an RS variant. Fast forward to the TT’s second generation, and Audi finally gives it the full RS treatment. Perhaps this is penance for the TT’s softer, less iconic style than its predecessor. Either way, a 340-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual find their way under the TT RS’s stubby hood. Europeans are given the option of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but Americans can only buy the stick shift. (For the record, we’re entirely okay with that, less so with having to wait until 2011 for it to go on sale stateside.) Audi upgrades the TT RS to 360 horsepower when it makes its way to America. We have a ball testing the car and later running one at our Lightning Lap track test, where it lays down a blistering 3:04.8 lap time at Virginia International Raceway.
Audi TT RS Roadster (2009)
It might look cute, but the droptop version of the TT RS is just as mean as the coupe. Audi offers the roadster only in Europe, though, either with the manual transmission or the dual-clutch automatic.
Audi RS5 Coupe (2010)
Not only does the first ever RS5 coupe enjoy an exceptionally long production run of five years, it crowns the first-generation A5’s lineup. As designer Walter de’Silva has said, it is “the most beautiful car I ever designed.” It performs even better than it looks, thanks to its 450-hp naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8. The RS5 doesn’t make its way to the U.S. until the facelift arrives for the 2013 model year; in our testing, the two-door reaches 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. A quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only available transmission.
One especially interesting variation on the original RS5 theme? The 385-hp RS5 TDI prototype, whose diesel V-6 engine sports sequential turbochargers and an electric supercharger powered by a 48-volt electrical architecture. Cool though it is, the TDI prototype never makes it to production (it shouldn’t be difficult to guess why).
Audi RS3 Sportback (2011)
The first-generation Audi RS3 is available only in five-door Sportback form with the TT RS’s 340-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder. One quirk? The RS3’s front tires are wider than its rears. You probably don’t remember this generation of RS3 because it was never sold in the United States.
Audi RS5 Cabriolet (2012)
Two years after introducing the RS5 coupe, Audi adds the RS5 cabriolet to the lineup. Fitted with the same naturally aspirated 450-hp V-8, it combines the coupe’s speed with the A5 cabriolet’s lack of a roof. Simple!
Audi RS4 Avant (2012)
The B8-generation Audi A4 is larger than its predecessor, and for the RS4 version, Audi makes sure it is wider, too. Designer Karl Witowski is responsible for the sport wagon’s big fender flares and interesting front-end treatment with triangular outboard intakes. Under the hood lurks the same evolution of Audi’s 450-hp naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8 that is used by the RS5 family. Ditto the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Audi drops the sedan from the RS4 lineup, and the RS4 cabriolet is effectively replaced by the RS5 cabriolet, leaving only the Avant wagon.
Audi RS6 Avant (2013)
With the C7-generation RS6, Audi takes a modest approach, ditching the previous generation’s exotic V-10 engine for a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 coupled with an eight-speed automatic. Although the car is lighter than before, it also packs 20 fewer horsepower, for 560 ponies overall. Eventually Audi adds a Performance variant with 605 horsepower. Were we complaining about the defunct V-10? Never mind. Also, like the contemporary RS4, the RS6 is no longer available as a sedan (it’s wagon only). The RS6 remains outside of the U.S. market, and once again, we make the mistake of juicing our appetites for the RS6 by driving one in Europe.
Audi RS7 (2013)
As if to placate those of us stewing over the RS6 Avant’s restriction to markets outside of the U.S., Audi concocts the stunningly beautiful RS7 for 2013. Mixing the C7 RS6’s mechanicals with the A7’s low-slung, hatchback body, the RS7 is nearly impressive enough to make us forget all about that whole RS6 Avant thing. The interior is largely carry-over from the RS6, with slight alterations in decor. Like on the RS6, Audi eventually adds a Performance model, raising output from 560 horsepower to 605 and dropping the RS7’s zero-to-60-mph time from 3.4 seconds to just 3.2 in our testing.
Audi RS Q3 (2013)
Surprisingly modest for an RS model, the RS Q3—Audi Sport’s first RS-badged crossover—comes with a 306-hp version of the turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder developed for the RS3 and the TT RS. The compact, high-performance SUV is eventually upgraded to 335 horsepower and gains a Performance version with 362 horsepower. Curiously, there is no in-between SQ3 performance model that sits above the regular Q3 crossover but below the RS Q3. This is yet another RS creation that does not come to America.
Audi RS3 Sportback (2015)
Audi continues to make the RS3 as a Sportback (hatchback) for Europe. This new-generation RS3 is powered by a 367-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder, which is later upgraded to 400 horsepower when the Sportback is facelifted. The only transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Audi TT RS Coupe (2016)
The third-gen TT reverts back to the original TT’s tight look and packaging. Volkswagen Group chairman Ferdinand Piëch himself had personally requested that the car’s tail be modeled after the first-generation TT’s rump. The RS model returns to the lineup, although it loses its manual transmission. The new model makes 400 horsepower, and in our testing the TT RS streaks to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds.
Audi RS3 Sedan (2016)
Plot twist! Unlike so many RS models that never make it to the United States, the RS3 sedan is designed from the outset with the American market in mind. (It is also offered elsewhere, but we’ll take credit where we can.) Its performance is stunning, thanks to its all-new 400-hp 2.5-liter inline-five, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive, and launch control. As a result, we name it to our 2018 10Best Cars list, citing the car’s intoxicating mix of athleticism and subdued sheetmetal, which makes it outwardly difficult to tell apart from regular A3 and S3 sedans.
Audi TT RS Roadster (2016)
As with the previous TT RS, the new model is offered without a roof. Also as with the original TT RS, the roadster is not sold in the States. We enjoy our time in a Euro-market example nonetheless.
Audi RS5 Coupe (2017)
In this age of downsizing, the new RS5 coupe reverts to the twin-turbocharged V-6 arrangement of the B5 RS4 model. The 2.9-liter V-6 makes 444 horsepower, slightly less than the previous RS5’s naturally aspirated V-8, and in place of its predecessor’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sits an eight-speed torque-converter automatic. We find the RS5 hugely capable, if a little cold and light on soul.
Audi RS4 Avant (2017)
And now for the Audi RS4 Avant! Its story is the same as the RS5’s, with the new 444-hp twin-turbo V-6 replacing the outgoing RS4’s V-8. While Audi continues to reserve the RS4 Avant for non-American markets (the only A4 wagon sold here is the lifted, body-cladded Allroad iteration), the carmaker finally does offer a five-door RS in the States . . .
Audi RS5 Sportback (2018)
Meet Audi RS5 Sportback, based on the A5 Sportback! This is the closest Americans will get to the RS4 Avant. Sharing its 444-hp twin-turbo V-6 and attendant RS chassis and visual upgrades with the RS4 Avant and RS5 coupe models, the Sportback packs a usefully large cargo hold beneath a yawning hatch. It also looks incredible, leveraging to great effect the same four-door-coupe roofline as the A7.
Audi RS7 Sportback (2019)
The A7’s fastback body lends itself to the aggressive RS treatment, and this time around, Audi took far less time than before to bring the RS derivative to market. In the RS7, the 4.0-liter V-8 makes 591 horsepower—14 fewer horses than the previous generation’s Performance version. We get a feeling a Performance model may be in the works for the second-gen RS7, too.
Fun fact: Beyond the very capable adaptive air suspension, European customers get the option of an ultra-stiff steel suspension that is an absolute dream on twisty roads. Perhaps Audi could bring it to the U.S., too? The current RS7 will set you back $115,045.
Audi RS6 Avant (2019
A high-performance station wagon is the individualist’s ultimate automotive statement. Mercedes-Benz has always known this, and Audi has listened to enthusiasts and brought the RS6 Avant back to the U.S. market. Technologically, it is virtually identical with the RS7, and while the A6 and A7 have unique front ends, the RS6 Avant gets an RS7 front end grafted onto its muscular body. The simpler lines of the RS7’s nose work well in the context of the RS6 Avant’s overall appearance.
Priced at $110,045, the RS6 Avant comes in at $5K less than the RS7. It comes down to a matter of taste; we like the station wagon, and it’s also slightly more practical.
Audi RS Q3 (2020)
With a compact, easily digestible crossover shape, the Audi RS Q3 and its RS Q3 Sportback sibling pack a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system and a straight-five turbo that makes a remarkable 400 horsepower. The sprint from 0 to 60 mph takes just over four seconds; top speed is governed at a lofty 174 mph.
That puts the finely balanced RS Q3 squarely into sports car territory, and its single competitor is the equally capable Mercedes-AMG GLA45. Too bad this Audi isn’t offered in the U.S., but we’re sure AMG is happy.
Audi RS Q8 (2020)
Of course, Audi’s sportiest and most aggressive SUV deserves an RS derivative, too. The RS Q8 uses a ubiquitous, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 makes 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. If ceramic brakes are specified, the governor is raised to 190 mph. The U.S. version, by the way, is louder than the European RS Q8: It doesn’t need the particulate filter in the exhaust system.
The Bentley Bentayga, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and the Lamborghini Urus are sister models to the RS Q8, sharing the same platform and powertrain. Arguably, the Audi features the most futuristic cockpit, and its proportions are not as exaggerated at the Lambo’s. A happy compromise for a mere $114,500, without options.
Audi RS e-tron GT (2021)
Only one of the two e-tron GT models is badged an RS, even though Audi Sport was responsible for the entire project. Derived from the Porsche Taycan, the RS e-tron GT is tuned less aggressively, yet it will effortlessly run circles around pretty much anything else on the market (as long as the battery is charged).
Developing the e-tron GT, Audi Sport was able to draw from its experience with the stillborn R8 e-tron, and it shows. Our drives with a late prototype on the Greek island of Rhodes confirmed this is one of the most fascinating Audis ever made—and certainly the one with the most stunning proportions.
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