A tracks is about the only place an RS3 can be taken anywhere near its limits without risking licence or life

A tracks is about the only place an RS3 can be taken anywhere near its limits without risking licence or life

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Back in 1994 a bunch of Audi and Porsche engineers got together to create the RS 2 Avant, a brawny estate – based on the Audi 80 – intended to reinstate the Ingolstadt company as a performance car manufacturer after the successes it had enjoyed with the quattro the previous decade.

RS, now an established sub-brand operated by Audi’s Quattro GmbH division, is 21 years old this year, and is vastly changed from the fledgling operation that started with the RS 2.

The RS 3 Sportback, based on the compact five-door A3, is the latest of the line. Like all RS models, it looks relatively meek and mild but, with a 367hp I5, 2.5 litre turbo engine, seven speed double clutch gearbox and all wheel drive, it can outperform many a supercar and with the drive select system in its dynamic setting, the noises it makes are capable of making an entire village think that war has just broken out.

In the intervening years all RS models have been numbered according to the car on which they were based: so, the RS 4 is a derivative of the A4, and so on. And whereas there used to be only one RS model in the Audi range at any given time, usually arriving at the end of the donor car’s life cycle to add a bit of lustre just before run out, now there are as many as the market will take, appearing as and when they are needed. 

Audi’s attitude today is that if the customer wants them, then they can have them. RS models regularly account for up to 5% of sales of the corresponding range.

RS stands for RennSport, which translated literally means racing sport, and the cars which wear the red, black and silver badge are the pinnacle of the Audi fleet, except for the stand-alone R8.

Only 16 of these halo variants have ever been produced, based on the A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, TT and Q3. The most popular for RS conversion has been the A6, saloon and Avant, with four models between 2002 and 2013. Next up comes the A4, with three itinerations between 2000 and 2012. Last year Audi produced its first RS SUV based on the Q3.

It took Audi six years to introduce its second RS model after the RS 2 when the RS 4 Avant came out in 2000. These days they pop up at regular intervals: in 2013 alone there were three – the RS 5 Cabriolet, RS 6 Avant and RS 7 Sportback. 

The RS 2 churned out a meaty in its day 315hp but that now seems pale in comparison with some of the power outputs of subsequent models. The most powerful RS of all time was the  V10-engined bi-turbo RS 6 of 2008, which delivered 580hp.

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