A highly potent car in its day, the RS2 Avant was powered by a 2.2-litre five-cylinder 20-valve turbocharged engine, producing 311bhp and hooked up to a six-speed manual, shooting the car from 0-62mph in 5.4sec and on to a top speed of 163mph. The first RS-badged Audi proved a trendsetter in its day, with room for five adults, luggage and the ability to keep pace with the likes of the Honda NSX and Porsche 993 Carrera.
Fast forward six years and a new mid-size platform of the ‘B5’ Audi A4 laid the foundations for the next S and RS derivatives, the halo model becoming the RS4 Avant – again only in estate form. The B5 RS4 Avant came propelled with a Cosworth-fettled 2.7-litre V6 twin-turbocharged unit, making 382bhp.
Engine aside, the B5 RS4 was Audi’s own project, having severed its ties with Porsche. The 0-62mph sprint was now dispatched in 4.9sec and the estate would accelerate on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Demand for the B5 RS4 Avant was so high that Audi doubled its production volumes. Production ceased after only a year in 2001, with over 6000 examples made.
In 2002, Audi unleashed an entirely new model to its RS line-up – the A6-derived RS6 saloon and estate. With a muscular body, aluminium mirror caps and two large oval pipes for the exhaust, both the estate and saloon had an intimidating presence.
Again, Cosworth handled the engine - its 4.2-litre V8 endowed with two turbochargers for good measure, serving up 444bhp. Partnered with Audi’s five-speed tiptronic transmission, it enabled the RS6’s hefty frame to dash from 0-62mph in 4.7sec, while again being reined in at 155mph. The RS6 Plus made its debut in 2004, with power increased to 480bhp and speed limited to 174mph. However, the C5 RS6 was plagued by vague steering feel and a heavily understeering character.
Audi regained form in 2006, when it launched the new RS4 after a long hiatus. Available in saloon, Avant and cabriolet guise, the B7 RS4 variant was, for a long time, regarded as Quattro GmbH’s ‘sweet spot’ and finest RS model. Drive was supplied by an all-new, high-revving 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8, pumping out 414bhp at a heady 7800rpm and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. 0-62mph was taken care of in 4.8sec while (still conforming to the voluntary agreement) being limited to 155mph. Derestricted B7 RS4s were capable of cracking 180mph. After just 18 months, Audi brought a premature halt to the B7 production line.
To this day, the beautifully proportioned B7 RS4 is fondly remembered at Autocar for its fluid ride, engaging handling and superb powertrain.
In 2008, the engineers at Neckarsulm went on a power craze, launching the ‘C6’ Audi RS6 with a 572bhp twin-turbocharged 5.0-litre V10, spearheading its BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG rivals in the evident ‘power war’ at that time. Despite a chunky kerb weight of 2025kg, the beefy RS6 could still hustle to 62mph in 4.6sec, though even on a combined cycle fuel consumption was poor. Despite possessing very fast acceleration for such a big car, some questioned the integrity of the RS badge – it was refined, almost too civilised and heavier at the front than perhaps was necessary.