Sunday October 8, 2017
By Richard Bosselman
LOCAL popularity of Audi RS product potentially lends false impression as to the international strength of Ingolstadt’s black ops department, now known as Audi Sport.
In reality, Kiwi per capita favouritism for Ingolstadt’s ultimate fliers, especially in RS4 sedan and wagon and RS3 hatch formats, not only sets the international pace, but is also exceptional.
New Zealand preference for high-powered engines mated to Quattro drivetrains and abetted by ground-grabbing rubber and rock-solid suspensions makes sense – we have exactly the right kind of driving conditions to exact the best from that blend.
But the fact that just as likely to spot an RS here as, say, an AMG, is not the case in most places, Germany included, where the reverse is true.
Audi Sport sold 20,020 models last year, while Mercedes’ performance arm, sold nearly 100,000 units.
There’s so serious catching up to do, then, and the push has started.
Audi Sport presently has 11 models in its portfolio, including the next to come to New Zealand, the RS5, but wants to add another five over the next couple of years, including more sports utilities.
The family expansion is likely to be of great interest to Audi New Zealand, but for now it is speaking only of the RS5.
It has just announced it is taking pre-orders for a model which, in dropping the old-school 4.2-litre V8 for the same 2.9-litre biturbo V6, in 331kW/600Nm tune, already located in the Porsche Panamera 4S (and swapping out from a double-clutch transmission to a conventional automatic box) represents something of a seachange for the RS effort.
How will the fanbase take to this revision? Perhaps guardedly. The V8 has been a legendary engine and downsizing always takes some getting used to, all the more so if they are taking mind of reputable international press reports which have been somewhat lukewarm.
One big name UK outlet reckoned the drivetrain, though up to scratch for sizzle – it has 170Nm more than the V8 and is 0.5 seconds faster to 100kmh from a standing start (Audi quotes this being a 3.9s feat) - “is just a device” and also lamented that the handling “… seems to have reverted at least halfway back to the bad old days of fast Audis.”
Kiwis have not long to wait before being able to make their own assessment of this $152,900 product, though with just 30 cars promised pre-Xmas, they might have to act quickly.
For its part, the national distributor is expressing confidence, with general manager Dean Sheed pointing out that the new gen model provides “significantly” more performance and efficiency than its predecessor.
“We expect that they (the first shipment cars) will be in high demand.”
Among the five new models coming by 2020 are a new RS6 and RS7. Audi Sport boss Stephan Winkelmann has not given any information about the others, but conceivably one will be something new, an RS edition of the Q5.
“We’re naturally picking the segments that are growing worldwide, and SUVs is one of these,” Winkelmann said in a recent interview.
It’s thought that, once those 16 models have launched, Audi Sport will take its first step into electrification, with its first electric car due in 2020 or 2021.
Winkelmann has told Britain’s Autocar magazine the model will be either a sporty saloon or a “coupé-ish” SUV, thanks to the packaging benefits of larger cars for electric battery packs.
How much bigger can Audi Sport become? While Winkelmann is still talking relatively modest volumes to ensure exclusivity, Audi boss Rupert Stadler has previously speculated that Audi Sport sales could double, largely thanks to growth outside Europe.