Volkswagen Golf 2021 review: GTI TCR
The Golf GTI TCR is a little bit harder and a little bit faster. But does that...
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A frigid wind whips across the Phillip Island racetrack in southern Victoria, and an intermitant drizzle patters the screen. The Audi RS7’s heating system breathes a warming raft and its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 idles with a distant, cultured bass note. I almost feel sorry for the driving instructor who stands outside, rugged against the biting wind, but still stamping his feet and shaking his lean, race-driver body to try and generate some warmth. However, fleeting sympathy quickly turns to incredulity when I lower the window and receive instructions for the next driving exercise.
We’re here to drive the best of Audi’s current performance lineup, but before hot lapping can begin, there are a few warm-up exercises to complete. We’re currently lined up on one of the few tightish corners on this otherwise fast, sometimes fearsome and always brilliant circuit. The surface in our section has been saturated, and is being kept that way by the increasing drizzle. Orange witches hats mark out the intended path. All traction and stability control systems have been very deliberately disabled. The chilled whippet in the puffer jacket leans into my open window: “Okay, Ash, what you’re to do is give it 100 percent throttle from a standing start, and hook hard left around the cones. As the rear breaks away, correct the slide, but keep the opposite lock on to the swing the rear end back the other way, scando style, which will pivot you around and point you up that escape road up there.” He points to an impossibly narrow laneway defined by blue witches hats. “Bog it in the grass and you have to push it out yourself…”
Oversteering drift kings can rule the opposite-lock kingdom from the throne of an RS model, should they so decide.
As a driving exercise, it seems, a), incongruous to Audi’s Quattro, all-wheel-drive brand values and the traction-equals-safety message constantly pushed from up high, and b), a bit bloody tricky. But who am I to argue? If an instructor wants full throttle and a power slide on a narrow wet turn, then I shall do my damndest to deliver. I mash the pedal to the firewall, all 700Nm almost instant break the 21-inch rear rubber into a violent flurry of wheelspin as the V8 erupts into a volcanic roar. The rear end of the big five-door swings like a cricket ball in a sock, and suddenly the view of my intended direction of travel is through the side glass, not the windscreen. On goes opposite lock, lots of it, to hold the slide on the greasy surface. The moment we’re on the drier line, back it comes, and perhaps as much by good luck as good management, I find myself executing the prescribed Scandinavian flick – okay a little messily – into the escape road with barely any blue-cone carnage.
After a moment’s pause for thought, it becomes clear of what’s really going on here. The corporate minds within Audi’s shiny enclave know that perceptions are malleable, and they want to alter any thoughts that the RS models, with their Quattro drivetrains, are all about carving clean lines through the corners; managing a bit of ungainly understeer when things get ragged; fast, but ultimately a bit dull at the limit. No, they want us to get the message: oversteering drift kings can rule the opposite-lock kingdom from the throne of an RS model, should they so decide. The RS7’s monster kilowatt count and rear-biased torque-split differential on a wet road provides the proof. Good point well made.
But what about beyond artificial low-speed oversteer exercises? Which of the RS models can really hang together when pounded around a circuit as fast and flowing as Phillip Island?
Well, the RS6 and RS7 pairing sure don’t wilt at the challenge. What they provide is near-supercar levels of shove out of the fast turns, and ferocious levels of traction out of the couple of slower ones, all to the polished howl of that brilliant twin-turbo V8. Lift off and it thuds and booms on the downshifts, making sounds like mortar fire from a distant battlefield.
But here’s the caveat – with driver and fuel on board, we’re talking about a pair of cars each weighing well over two tonnes, so a careful weight management strategy needs to be woven into your driving style. Transitions need subtle steering inputs; get too aggressive and there’s high-speed understeer. Likewise, patience is needed when picking up the throttle post apex; get too greedy and aggressive and the stability control, even in Dynamic mode, will intervene and rein you in, breaking the flow and rhythm.
Back in the pits, with the optional carbon ceramic exhaling a light smoke haze and hot metal pinging angrily, it’s clear the RS6 and 7 may be track capable, but it’s not their optimised environment. What they really beg for is to be loaded with family or friends, perhaps with ski or biking gear on board, and pointed towards a derestricted autobahn. It’s in that sort of high-speed tourer environment where this pair excel: bombing along in the fast lane, when you can really appreciate the lush cabins, top-shelf equipment levels and epic drivetrains. And sure, when you hit the Alps, go ahead and hang the tail out if that’s what you’re into. They’re both up for it.
The all-new A4 line-up will be launched to the media in Italy in September, so while the next-generation RS4 is still some way over the horizon, fact is this current car is in the twilight of its lifecycle. Yet it remains a rollicking, engaging thing to punt hard around a circuit. Its steering gives a more meatier connection than its bigger A6/A7 siblings, and more compact dimensions combine with less weight to make it feel way more agile and eager. Its atmo 4.2-litre V8 engine doesn’t muster anything like the brutal outputs of the force-fed 4.0-litre, but it counters with a beautifully responsive connection to the throttle pedal, allowing you to feel better hardwired to its key input point. The linearity of the power delivery and free-breathing growl of the exhaust note all serve to remind you why high-performance atmo engines will always be loved by driving enthusiasts. The turbo tide is unstoppable, so saviour while you can.
It was probably Porsche, with the Cayenne GTS, that finally convinced doubters that an SUV could be a serious performance vehicle. Then along came Audi with the SQ5, to really mess with our minds, and prove a diesel – yes, a bloody diesel - SUV could also be a proper point-to-point weapon. The Audi Sport division, meanwhile, offers this: the most potent compact SUV on the market. The $81,900 RS Q3 runs a slightly detuned version of the rorty, characterful five-cylinder turbo found in the previous-gen TT RS, here making 228kW/420N, all delivered with a wonderful, warbling, fruity note. The high-riding driving position may do no favours for the centre of gravity, but it does give a commanding view of looming apex points, and the benign, surprisingly adjustable handling makes this thing feel a bit like a Golf R on short stilts. If your partner insists on a practical, easy-driving SUV, and you insist on something that’s still a hoot to punt hard, RS Q3 could just be a four-wheeled, four-ringed, relationship-saver.
The more you hone a tool to excel at a certain job, the less versatile it becomes. The R8 V10 Plus is no good for the school run, rubbish at carting your mountain bike, and would probably vomit carbonfibre if you tried to take it down that dirt road to your secret surf spot up the coast. But it is blindingly good around a circuit, and will carve apart a deserted back road like Dexter with a scalpel and a warm corpse. On all but two of Phillip Island’s slowest turns, the front end feels almost understeer-proof, with massive purchase fed faithfully through meaty, properly connected-feeling steering. The V10 soars through its 8500rpm rev range like the world’s most operatic bandsaw, and atmo induction, like in the RS4, means you can feed power in or feather it out with millimetric precision. It’s more twitchy on the limit than any of its front-engined stablemates here, but that only adds to sense of occasion and satisfaction when it’s wriggling around under late braking, or telegraphing messages that you’re nudging its limits through 200km/h sweepers.
The all-new R8 V10, twinned with the Lamborghini Huracan, arrives next year, with more power, more carbonfibre in its spaceframe construction, and a much smarter seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It will be the fastest road Audi ever, and lift the R8 nameplate to a new level of awesomeness. But let that take nothing away from this first-generation supercar from Audi. It was audacious when it arrived back in 2007 and still stands as Ingolstadt’s attack dog that silenced AMG’s barking SLS and blew BMW’s performance cupboard bare. Call it an Audi Sport classic.