Nobody needs reminding that the fast car landscape is changing faster than ever, and Audi is leading the charge - pun intended. The RS e-tron GT is the first all-electric RS product, the latest RS6 and RS7 make use of mild hybrid technology and the e-tron S Sportback has more torque than two RS3s. The electrified Audi era is coming, be in no doubt about that - and it's coming fast.
Given the way of these things, we can broadly expect the new generation of Audi to be perfectly good - but that's not what we're here to celebrate. Right now we're discussing the back catalogue; i.e. the cars that helped Audi Sport establish the kind of rock-solid performance foundation its new era rests on.
Some are at the core of what makes the brand great, others are at the periphery. Some are appreciating in value, some are going the other way. A couple might be as cheap as they're ever likely to get. All though are brilliant in their own way though, and well worthy of consideration as secondhand buys in 2021. Let's get counting down...
Up to £15,000...
While a TT might not be first on everyone's fast Audi list, the Quattro Sport was not a common or garden Mk1. As a farewell to the original, definitive TT, the special edition model - which was developed by quattro GmbH - ditched the rear seats for a 49kg weight saving, stiffened the chassis and gave the four-cylinder turbo more power than ever - 240hp nearly matched the contemporary V6.
Furthermore, even though the Quattro Sport wasn't a dynamic revelation, it was pretty much a cult classic from the get-go. The two-tone bodywork, lovely Recaro seats, strut brace, 18-inch wheels and liberal application of Alcantara ensured a greater sense of occasion; combine that with a production run of just 800 and it's easy to see why it's so coveted 15 years later. Once upon a time £8k would have got a good'un - now that's more like £12,000. But with the model's future reputation assured - and any upcoming Audi sports cars looking a lot less certain - the Quattro Sport is a safe purchase in 2021.
Up to £20,000...
For one reason or another, the S1 doesn't get much recognition in the pantheon of great Audis. True enough, it is the one model on this list that had nothing to do with Audi Sport - but don't let that fact get in the way of a terrific production car. It required considerable effort to produce, for one thing: a whole new rear end was created to accommodate the driven back axle, and the manufacturer found room for a 2.0-litre motor upfront to power it.
Even better, all the tech was just a means to an end. And that end was fun with a capital 'eff'. The EA888 ensured brawny performance, the ride wasn't punishing, and the car could be thrown around with genuine abandon. As Audi's only foray into proper pocket rockets - and featuring a manual gearbox, too - it is virtually assured future classic status. Launched at £25k you'll still pay £15,000 for an S1, indicative of the regard that it's held in. With a £20k budget one of the last Competition cars is available with less than 20,000 miles. And though its interior might look a bit old in 2021, Audi hasn't made a better driving hatchback since.
Up to £25,000...
No prize for originality here: the B7 appears in umpteen lists. But there's a good reason for that - it's arguably the definitive fast Audi. And that's not just because time has been kind to it, either; it was a revelation at launch, then continued being brilliant, and is now rightly regarded as a legend. Don't be surprised if its stock rises even further as the company fully embraces an alternative fuel future.
The RS4's genius was in confounding expectations. By 2005, we knew Audi could make great looking fast cars with bombastic powertrains and immense traction. What we didn't know is that it was capable of building a performance flagship that retained those traits while adding new ones: poise, balance and feedback to name three, the sort of intangibles that separate the good from the great. And which the RS4 delivered in spades.
That Audi has rarely scaled class-leading heights again only amplifies the point. Values are slowly creeping up, and a good one can still be bought for £20k; with £25,000, however, it's possible to buy a real gem, with low mileage and the Recaro wingback seats. Rest assured it'll look timeless on the driveway and deliver the kind of driving experience that simply doesn't exist anymore.
Up to £35,000...
The mega-hatch has evolved quite a way since the RS3 first burst onto the scene a decade ago. We've seen two generations of Mercedes A45 AMG - a first for the brand - as well as the BMW M135i go from hero to zero in the eyes of enthusiasts since 2011. The rise of the sub genre shouldn't really be much of a surprise, given it attracts both younger buyers and anyone after a bit of fast-edged practicality into the brand; possibly it was more of surprise that Audi got it right the first time around.
Because while the 8P RS3 wasn't as good at larking about as an M135i, or as ruthlessly focused as an A45, the way it combined speed, quality and traction - not to mention the soundtrack of a terrific inline five - meant it won plenty of fans. And it's also why you'll still need £20k for one. The 8V update was a better handling car with more power, further improved on with the facelift of 2017.
Along with the saloon's introduction, the engine was tweaked for 400hp and, crucially, 26kg less over the front end. It's the RS3 to get, especially one close to the facelift, avoiding the particulate filters that stifled the five-cylinder's war cry towards the end of its life. One just like this in fact, for sale at £32,495.
Up to £45,000...
With wholesale electrification beckoning, the obvious question presents itself: will Audi ever build a better car than the first generation R8? Quattro GmbH will surely never get to pour its heart into anything as bespoke ever again - certainly not anything powered by a naturally aspirated V8. And possibly nothing that so well splices together such diametrically opposed qualities.
The Audi faithful loved the concept car styling and interior pizzazz, while those really into their sports cars could admire the lucid steering and the sublime compromise of mid-engined ride and handling. It was a neat trick to pull off and clearly a difficult one, too, given the R8's impact has never been replicated - not even by its replacement.
Strong sales ensures plenty of choice for the used buyer - and at not much money, either. An R8 V8 can be bought for less than £35k, still, which is little short of remarkable; with another £10k the best eight-cylinder cars are available, ones like this 2008 example with just 25,000 miles. With the current model believed to be under threat, there's no better time to see what all the fuss is about.
Up to £60,000...
More than 600hp for less than £60k is an appealing prospect however you want to cut it, but especially so when the car in question is a C7 RS6. Because there's a very persuasive argument which says that this is the best RS6 there's been in almost 20 years of the breed: more discreet than the current car, miles better to drive than the previous two and effortlessly fast by any measure.
The RS6 was perfectly quick enough with 560hp, but uncorked as a 605hp Performance model it was properly rabid, taking just 3.7 seconds to hit 62mph. An extra 37lb ft of overboosted torque helped the model live up its name, too, and justify the £7k premium that included a sports exhaust.
It proved popular with the buying public, and so now there are plenty of examples to choose from - and no shortage of trade-ins from people moving into the latest version. Less than £50k nabs a decent one; our budget here gets a late, low mileage example. RS6 tradition dictates it'll continue to lose money from there, but it will be exceptionally hard to care while you're driving the thing.
Up to £85,000...
The R8 Rear Wheel Series was a deeply curious - and undeniably appealing - departure for Audi. Here was a manufacturer that had, for decades, successfully sold a lot of cars off the back of what quattro could do. Then, for no apparent reason and with no desperate clamouring from fans, it decided to make 999 R8s with rear-wheel drive only. And now it's followed that limited edition up with a series production R8 RWD, which was also a bit unexpected.
The passage of a few years has done nothing at all to harm the appeal of an RWS. While removing a bit of weight and complexity didn't turn the R8 into some stripped-out road racer, it did create a car that rode and steered better than the four-wheel drive equivalents while losing little in terms of performance. It would also do enormous powerslides if required - and the incongruity of adding corrective lock via an Audi steering wheel keeps the amusement factor high.
Added to which, despite limited edition status and a phenomenal engine, the RWS didn't initially hold its value well; they seem to have firmed up around the £85k mark - but that still provides you with access to one of the modern era's great engines, and a proper rear-drive supercar to go with it. Add it to the long list of great value R8s...
Up to £100,000...
Sure, you could have the latest RS6. Most people will. But there really is nothing that looks quite like a RS7 - apart from a new RS e-tron GT, perhaps. Long, wide, low and with enormous presence, the car demands attention even in the more reserved colour schemes it's usually seen in. And even with that questionable front end.
Furthermore, and this is a point often overlooked with the RS7, everything that makes the RS6 so awe inspiring to drive is very much present and correct in the Sportback. Same wickedly powerful twin-turbo V8, same supremely agile chassis, same uncanny ability to shrink the distance between here and there like little else. Perhaps it isn't the richest driving experience out there - certainly when compared with several others on this list - but it is very good, and formidably capable, too.
With both RS6 and RS7 so new, it'll obviously cost a lot to get into the latest uber Audi. But it's possible to get one for a smidge under £80k, which is already a significant saving over a six-figure list price. A Vorsprung like this one brings the larger wheels, the Dynamic Ride Control suspension and the raised speed limit - just the thing for when European road trips are back on the agenda.
Sky's the limit...
The legacy of the Sport Quattro cannot be overestimated. Audi still makes repeated reference to it today, the bonnet nostrils now reintroduced across the range and the five-cylinder engine a constant touchstone. The manufacturer would be a very, very different company today without the influence of the oddly truncated rally car and its forebears. There were many Audis before it, but as far as the modern incarnation of the brand is concerned, the Sport Quattro is pretty much genesis.
The irony, of course, is that by the time of the Sport Quattro's introduction, the bespoke Group B cars had stolen a march on Audi. Even a drastically shorter Quattro couldn't hope to be as agile as the mid-engined cars. But icon status was assured nonetheless. As a road car it was brutally fast - with 310hp moving just 1,300kg - sounded like nothing else and was, of course, very rare as well.
So rare, actually, that there isn't currently one for sale on PH. But there was no way this list could end without mention of the most storied Audi out there. Prices are now in the hundreds of thousands for one of the 164 road cars, and have been for a while; when RM sold a UK Sport Quattro in 2016 - one of just five such cars - it made more than £400,000. Don't expect to pay any less now - but then don't expect to be disappointed, either.
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