AUDI’S FIVE-POT GIANT-SLAYER
WITH A RUMBLE AND A BURBLE, AND MIND-BENDING POWER, THE AUDI RS3 RELIVES THE GLORY DAYS OF THE RS2 AVANT. FERDI DE VOS SETS THE SCENE FOR AUDI’S RALLYING GLORY DAYS.
It is that distinctive sound – an alluring burble with a particular rhythm that quickly changes to a reverberant howl with alluring, oddly harmonic frequencies – that catches your attention first.
It is mesmerising and enthralling; the beautiful noise emitted from Audi’s fivecylinder engine masterpieces in full song. So memorable is it that it should have been trademarked by now.
Those old enough to remember the characteristic chirrup from the turbo wastegate on Supervan’s Quattro S1 echoing through the leafy forests of Swaziland, will probably also recall the first production five-cylinder petrol engine that powered the second-generation Audi 100 introduced in 1976. Derived from the VW Group’s EA 827 concept, this 2.1-litre powerplant produced 100 kW in the Audi 100 5E, delivered from 1977.
Many enhancements followed, with turbocharging, emissions control, and four-valve technology, rally engines and five-cylinder diesel units, and over more than four decades they have achieved cult status – mostly due to their successful deployment in motorsport.
The first turbocharged variant, with an output of 125 kW and 265 Nm of torque, made its debut in 1979, and in the “Urquattro” of 1980, with turbocharging, an intercooler, and permanent four-wheel drive, it initially delivered 147 kW.
By 1984, the four-valve powerplant delivered up to 331 kW in Group B rally specification, and in the 1989 IMSA GTO racecar, it delivered a whopping 530 kW – from little more than two litres of displacement.
THE FIRST RS
The first RS, designated internally as P1, was the result of a collaboration between Audi AG and Porsche. Unveiled in March 1994, the RS2 Avant – a compact station wagon with the power of a sports car – took the automotive world by surprise.
Using the most advanced version of the 2.2-litre inline five-cylinder engine available, now delivering 232 kW of power and 410 Nm of torque, this special wagon accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in a scything 4.8 seconds and could reach 262 km/h (electronically restricted) despite weighing over 1,600 kg.
It was a pukka supercar chaser; according to tests quicker to 48 km/h than a McLaren F1, and it could hold its own in a straight line, against purpose-built sports cars such as the C5 Chevy Corvette and the 996 Porsche 911.
However, the five-cylinder units bowed out in 1995, with the RS2 superseded by the six-cylinder RS4 Avant in 1999. Ten years later, five-cylinder engines – now with a displacement of 2.5-litres, new turbocharging technology, and direct fuel injection – made a big comeback.
The redeveloped, now transverse mounted engine delivered 250 kW and was first used in the Audi TT RS, followed by the 2009 RS3 Sportback and the RS Q3. In 2012 power was mustered up to 265 kW in the TT RS plus, and nowadays the powerplant delivers an impressive 294 kW and 480 Nm of torque.
Compared in terms of size and layout, the latest RS3 Sportback (and not the RS4 Avant) is the real spiritual successor to the original RS2 Avant. In current guise, the Sportback is marginally broader and taller than the first RS2, with a wider track front and rear, and a 40 mm longer wheelbase.
It is slightly shorter than the wagon-like original (161 mm), but has more luggage space, due to more efficient packaging and a transverse mounted engine. And despite more sound-insulation material, it is about 60 kg lighter.
The first Sportback redefined the compact hot hatch segment. Produced in limited numbers, Audi SA delivered 174 units in the local market and sold 265 of the second generation, which followed in 2015.
The latest Sportback has striking design details, such as a more sculpted singleframe grille, new front bumper blade design, new headlights with a jagged lower edge, a rear diffuser insert divided by vertically running struts, large elliptic tailpipes and a distinctive roof spoiler.