Each year, Audi runs the Audi Driving Experience, and invites Audi owners along to Hampton Downs race track to spend a half-day learning about driving their S and RS models on a track.
DriveLife was invited along this year, and not wanting to seem rude, we took the offer up. Thankfully, compared to when we were last at Hampton Downs two weeks ago, the weather was stunning, and there would be a dry track for the day. Memories of driving the GR Supra in the pouring rain dissipated.
But first up there would be the obligatory chat from Audi New Zealand on the current market, and also new models coming up.
Jarrod Ho, Sales and Operations Manager, was first up to take us through some stats. This year in New Zealand, Audi have released an incredible 25 models, including 8 Audi Sport models. That’s a huge number for a car company the size of Audi, in New Zealand.
Coming up, the first quarter of 2021 will see the facelifted Q5 – initially petrol only, and then later we’ll get the diesel version. At the end of the second quarter, the Q5 Sportback will arrive, along with the SQ5 Sportback.
Early in 2021 we’ll also be getting the new Q2, initially only the 35TFSI model, so a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine and front-wheel drive. Later we’ll see the quattro 2.0-litre version.
Next year will also be the launch of the all-new A3 Sportback, and mid-2021, arriving in New Zealand will be the impressive e-tron GT. According to Jarrod, this will be the first car to merge EV and Audi Sport ethics and design. Not only is the e-tron GT coming, but so is the RS e-tron GT. With 447kW of power, and 850Nm of torque, this is promising to be something special. It will get to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, and tops out at a speed-limited 250km/h. There’s no pricing on this model (or the e-tron GT) yet but pricing should be available in February.
The e-tron S is also coming next year; this is the sports version of the e-tron, and will be available in both SUV and Sportback body styles. This car has 370kW of power, and a huge 973Nm of torque. It will have three electric motors (two at the rear, one at the front), Audi Sport tuned suspension, torque vectoring control, an all-new quattro system, and will be available in SUV and Sportback body styles. Jarrod went on to remind us that 2020 is the 40th anniversary of the quattro all-wheel drive system, and since its introduction, 11 million Audis have been built using the quattro system.
Dean Sheed, Audi NZ General Manager, said that there are now nine R or RS models available in New Zealand, in a variety of body styles, which includes hatchback, SUV, station wagon, sportback, and coupe (the R8).
Sales numbers were shown, and how they’ve grown over the years. In 2002, there were a total of 53 Audi Sport models sold in New Zealand. The high was 2017 with 571 sold, and YTD the number is 264. For the RS, the numbers are similar, with 54 sold in 2003, a high of 287 in 2018, and YTD 251. Apparently S models make up 28% of Audi sales in New Zealand, and RS is 20%. Those are extremely high numbers, with the next closest country being Hong Kong at 10% of sales for S models. We’ve said it before: New Zealand drivers love their performance cars.
Dean mentions the RSQ3 is the biggest selling RS car here, but even the RS6 pulls in 23% of RS sales.
Getting on to Battery electric vehicles (BEV), he tells us that 20% of all Audi sales in New Zealand this year have been full EVs or hybrids.
Audi Drive Experience
It was time to talk briefly about the drive experience, and then get behind the wheel. Four groups of six people are in each group, with two sessions available, either morning or afternoon. The cost is $1,250, and for that you get some expert driving tuition, driving in nearly all the Audi S or RS models, and a huge load of fun. At the end of the day, it’s expected everyone will be smiling.
With not much talk but a quick driver’s briefing, it was off to the track. We were split into 3 groups, with three separate events to do. First up, we’d be doing the slalom in an SQ3. It’s a little cracker of an SUV, and makes all the right noises too.
With a quick tour of the slalom track, it was time for us to do some laps, then switch drivers, then go again. As always, the red mist doesn’t help here. Speed is not what gets you through a slalom the quickest. It was great fun, and while the SQ3 is no RS4, it did very well, and the sounds from the engine were a nice feature.
After the slalom, we headed off to the drag race. This was a 200-metre sprint, with the winning driver the one with the quickest reaction time off the line. There were four cars here, and we rotated around all of them. Ready to race was an RS6, SQ8, RS7 and S5. If there was one thing we all got from this event, it was that the SQ8 not only sounds amazing, it goes like stink. Yes, it is a triple-turbo with 800Nm of torque, but still, it’s a hulking beast of an SUV but it gets up and goes, the bonnet rising with all the torque trying to exit the engine bay.
The RS6 was the star here though. Performance was unreal, and sounds amazing. Even the RS7 was a joy to plant as fast as you could. By the time I got the RS6 to the braking marker, it was doing around 120km/h. It’s bloody fast, but the brakes on the RS6 (actually, on all of them) do incredibly well at washing off buckets of speed very quickly with no drama, no fade, and no pulling to either side.
It was then time to head to the track, and take turns in one of four cars; the RS3, RSQ3, RS4 and RS5. I started in the RS3, with well-known race car driver Ray Williams as my passenger. Ray gave me some excellent pointers on my lack of driving style, and I put his suggestions into place immediately. It was gold, and I was so happy that he came along for the ride. In the RS3, we were following the leader but still setting a good pace, and had a self-imposed limit of 160km/h. The RS3 sounded good, and goes very well. As expected, handling is crisp and braking into the hairpin was faultless. With a dry track, we could really push these cars along, using the paddles to get some engine braking in before the corners.
Next up I switched into the RSQ3. Again, great noises from its five-cylinder engine, and while it may be an SUV (albeit a small one), it didn’t feel like it was flailing around the track. Point it at a corner, and it went there. But then, I got into the RS4. You might remember I reviewed this car last month, and loved it. I named it the best car I have driven this year, and this was the one car I wanted to get onto a track, and today, that happened. The RS4 was in another class, it fell into the corners beautifully, the grip was phenomenal, the sounds delicious. But it is the handling and grip on the RS4 that astounds you – it is stunningly good on the road or track.
I didn’t want to, but after a few laps and then some cool down laps, I had to get out of the RS4 and into the RS5 Sportback. There are certainly much worse cars you get into after the RS4, as the RS5’s V6 engine sung a good tune. I liked it a lot, but I wanted back in the RS4.
That didn’t happen, but I still got to do something most people don’t have the opportunity to do. It was a great day, and I encourage anyone who might be thinking of doing this to just do it. It’s a whole lot of fun, and you’ll learn some new driving skills along the way.
Thanks to Audi for inviting us along, and we’d certainly recommend this event to anyone with a performance Audi in the garage, or on their list of must-haves.