In 2017, back when every other press release about a performance car seemed to mention a drift mode, Audi insisted it wasn’t interested in such shenanigans. Speaking to various outlets including Autoblog head of technical development at Audi Sport (now head of R&D for Audi AG in Neckarsulm) Stephan Reil quashed the imminent prospect of such a feature on a car from the division. “Not in the R8, not in the RS 3, not in the RS 6, not in the RS 4,” he said.
Reil added, “I don’t like them. I do not see the reason for them. We do not see the sense in sitting there burning the back tyres. It’s not fast”. Fast forward to 2021, and we’ve just driven the all-new RS3, which includes - you guessed it - a drift mode. It may be called ‘RS Torque Rear’, but it’s a ‘drift mode’ in all but name. So, why the change of heart?
When speaking to RS3 chassis development chief Norbert Gößl at the car’s launch, we reminded him of Reil’s comments. After rightly pointing out they were made some years ago, Gößl insisted the RS Torque Rear mode was more of a byproduct of the torque splitter, rather than the reason for its addition to the RS3.
“It’s true, it’s not fast going sideways, he said, adding, “But we have not decided to do this rear axle for the Torque Rear mode. We decided to make the car faster and better [behaved]”. Gößl concluded, “[RS Torque Rear] was not the main topic in the development.”
Having now driven the car on both the road and the track, this makes sense - Audi’s claims to have pretty much eliminated understeer thanks to the torque splitter really aren’t far off the mark.
Using a pair of clutch packs, the device allows for a full variation of torque between the axles and the rear wheels. It works similarly to the GKN-developed ‘rear drive module’ in the Ford Focus RS, but when power oversteer does happen, it feels subtler and more natural. And yes, set to the right mode and in the right environment, you can do big skids.
They’re four-wheel drifts rather than powerslides. Looking at the video of our attempt and the overlay showing what was going where, we had 100 per cent of rear-bound torque going to the outer wheel, with drive continuing to go to the fronts. Opposite lock was still necessary, but once the car’s going sideways, you merely bury your foot on the throttle and let the torque splitter’s brain do the rest.
It’s all a little silly and of limited use to most owners, but it’s nice to know it’s there. The extra sense of agility brought about by the splitter, on the other hand, is something you can enjoy on every drive.
Save for some software tweaks and extra heat shielding the splitter is identical to ‘R-Performance Torque Vectoring’ system VW fits in the Golf R. You might be wondering, then, why it’s not fitted on the S3 (above). This, Gößl says, is down to Audi wanting the RS3 to be its first product to get the splitter, since it sits at the top of the A3 range. The part hasn’t been ruled out for the S3 further down the line, however. “We’ll see what happens in the future,” we’re told.