Audi RS models have always boasted style that hints at the performance under their skin
Audi RS models have always boasted style that hints at the performance under their skin. But what shape will that take in an all-electric future?
How do you define what makes an Audi RS so, well, ‘RS’? What is it that elevates it head-and-shoulders above the rest of its siblings within each model’s line-up?
Is it the RS name and heritage? After all, RS stands for ‘RennSport’ or ‘race sport’, evoking Audi’s long-standing philosophy of using its extensive (and hugely successful) wealth of race experience and track-based development to craft and hone ever-better road cars that set ever-higher benchmarks for excitement?
Is it Audi’s potent RS powertrains, which propel you effortlessly along the motorway or up a winding B-road, while raising the hairs on the back of your neck? Or Audi Sport’s precision-damped RS suspension and quattro all-wheel drive, which delivers supreme driving confidence and elevates the experience on every journey?
Or is it simply the way an Audi RS looks, even standing still? Let’s park the experience of driving it for a second (although, let’s face it, you’ll be hard-pressed to step out from behind the wheel). Let’s just revel in the detail of that head-turning design. Because it’s oh-so-easy to spot (and oh-so-easy to fall in love with) an Audi RS.
It’s that low-slung stance, the ultra-wide track, and those bold ‘blister’ wheel arches on all four wheels that nod to each and every Audi RS model’s underpinning race – and rally-inspired quattro all-wheel-drive heritage.
Today’s line-up of 16 Audi RS models is the ultimate epitome of that ever-evolving 40-year Audi RS DNA. But what about the next 40 years? Can Audi really retain that iconic ultra-desirable performance-focused character in an all-electric world?
Learn more about the Audi RS e-tron GT
40 years of iconic RS design heritage
The man responsible for shaping the future of that iconic Audi RS look is Audi Head of Design Marc Lichte. His passion for performance styling was fanned when he first saw the Audi Sport quattro at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show – the moment where the seeds of Audi’s RS design DNA really took root.
Designed to elevate the grip offered by the original 1980 Audi quattro’s pioneering quattro all-wheel drive on slippery stages of the World Rally Championship, the Audi Sport quattro boasted a significantly wider track with large bold flared arches to cover the four wheels.
It certainly had the desired effect on-track: propelling Audi drivers Hannu Mikkola and Stig Bloqvist to a series of dominant back-to-back World Rally title wins that changed the face of the sport. But it also marked the start of a styling philosophy – ‘making technology visible’ – that still sits at the core of Audi RS design to this day.
For Marc, it was a synapsis-igniting moment that ultimately set him on the course to becoming an Audi designer. “The Audi Sport quattro stood out from the crowd like no other car,” Marc says. “It was totally different from anything I’d seen. With its wide bodywork and its ‘blister’ wheel arches, it had such incredible character.
“The idea to express automotive sportiness that way, to use styling to make technology so dramatically visible, inspired me so much I immediately decided to become a designer at Audi. Ever since, sporty cars have represented that anticipatory excitement for me: adrenaline that has been cast in a mould; that has assumed a shape.”
Amping up RS e-tron design
But can such bold style still remain relevant in an all-electric world? Well, Audi Sport managing director Sebastian Grams has certainly made it clear that future all-electric RS e-tron models will retain their own distinctively elevated driving character – and won’t just be a range-topping trim that’s all style and no substance.
That will be just as true for their design as it is for the performance delivered by the potent all-electric powertrain technology under their skin. But Marc is well aware of the challenge. “As a designer and as a performance enthusiast, I’m a huge fan of our RS models,” he says. “But how can we carry the Audi RS genes that customers have desired and valued so much over the last 40 years into the electric age, and inspire at least as much – or even totally new – enthusiasm?”
For Marc, it’s all defined by one simple principle. “For me, an automobile must be visually so attractive – and should thrill me while driving – that the aspect of arriving almost becomes secondary. That’s the feeling I want to put into a tangible form.”
A timeless quality
So, how do you evolve and electrify the Audi RS breed, without changing the fundamental building blocks of its DNA and character. “It’s pretty much the greatest challenge you tackle as a designer, no matter what industry you’re in,” says Marc. “Timeless design is always the baseline and the highest objective. Our sportiest Audi cars must exude an air of timelessness alongside progressiveness and modernity, because through it we creative longevity and universality.
“One way to achieve that for the design of Audi RS models is by combining that important characteristic of a wide track and large wheels in a form that creates fantastic proportions – that brawny look that clearly distinguishes RS models from their respective base models. That differentiation will even increase in the future.
“Plus, there’s how the body surfaces are styled: without gimmicks, every line a defined function. A beautiful form calls for functionality, or else the whole thing’s for the birds. When every line has a purpose, you’ve done your job as a designer.”
Form defined by function
That idea of ‘form defined by performance function’ has always been key to Audi’s RS design DNA. In the 1980s, the rally-bred Audi Sport quattro’s expanded track and bold ‘blister’ wheel arches were all about quattro all-wheel-drive that added raw mechanical grip and traction. But in the all-electric age the race is for efficiency.
“We literally shaped the Audi RS e-tron GT in the wind tunnel because, with an electric performance car, range is the decisive criterion,” says Marc. “You could make the vehicle’s battery larger, but that would make the car heavier, and that’s bad for performance. So, more efficient aerodynamics is the solution for longer range. To achieve that, we keep tweaking it with our aerodynamicists until there’s no more room left for improvement. All-out meticulousness for all-out functionality.”
Alongside the changing nature of all-electric powertrains, the next-generation of Audi e-tron models must also be built in a more environmentally conscientious way, with lower impact in terms of materials and processes.
“For me, sustainability is primarily the result of reduction,” says Marc. “In the future, the interior [of Audi cars] will be clearly more reduced. We’re already working on the new Audi RS interior, and it differs radically from what people are familiar with today: how the driver will sit, what the seats look like. The partly recycled materials used – and their styling – create an impression of maximum quality and a warm atmosphere. We’re re-imagining that space from scratch.”
40 more years of looking forward
So, by being able to draw on 40 years of iconic Audi RS styling provenance and a rich palette of design cues, Marc is confident that his design teams will be able to evolve and match the mood of the moment, while still staying recognisably familiar.
“Tradition provides impetus for the future,” says Marc. “Today in front of me, on my desk, the Audi Sport quattro and the Audi RS e-tron GT sit side-by-side. The Audi RS e-tron GT has so many elements that my team and I adapted from the Audi Sport quattro during its design. It has strong links to Audi’s history and iconography.”
“For me, what’s truly unique is that the form of Audi legends like the original Audi quattro or the Audi Sport quattro – the muscles, the blisters, the extra-wide fender flares – can be found on ever current RS models. And I can promise they’ll be found on every future RS model. Audi RS design is so deeply anchored in Audi’s DNA that we could keep reinventing it without ever diluting its essence.”
Learn more about the Audi RS e-tron GT