What Does A "RS" Badge Even Mean Anymore?
Tons of vehicles offer special "RS" editions, but do any of them, even deserve it?
Rally Racing can be traced back to the dawn of the Automobile. In 1894, Pierre Giffard, editor of "Le Petit Journal", organised the world's first motoring competition from Paris to Rouen to publicize his newspaper, to stimulate interest in motoring and to develop French motor manufacturing. Sporting events were a tried and tested form of publicity and circulation booster. The paper promoted it as "Le Petit Journal Competition for Horseless Carriages" (Le Petit Journal Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux) that were "not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey", the main prize being for "the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal". So, over 100 people grabbed their cars, a few tools and supplies and the first rally event was held.
Albert Lemaître (pictured on left) finished second in a 3 hp Peugeot but was still judged the winner.
Jump ahead 125 years, and we still have the automobile, and we still have Rally Racing. Though times have changed. The first rally race car to ever win an event had 3 HP. Over the last century, cars started getting faster and more powerful, and racing became even faster, and more dangerous. While most racing takes place on the smooth surfaces of asphalt, rally continues to drive over anything and everything. Road, Gravel, Dirt, Mud, Snow, Ice, Sand. Sometimes all in the same race. And not only do Rally drivers have to worry about going forward, backward, left, and right like most other racers, they also have to worry about going up and down as well. As, leaving the ground is a common occurrence. Also, unlike other racers, they have no support team other than a single person sitting next to them, helping navigate the driver around the long courses by informing him of upcoming turns and jumps, as well as their severity and difficulty. They don't get to make pit-stops for a top off of fuel, or a quick tire change. In most cases, if the car breaks, you lost. Sometimes in cross-country events, you have enough time to dig out the tool box and repair your car yourself, on the side of the road.
From simple potholes in the path, to massive, man-made ramps of dirt, these cars going flying airborne constantly, which adds even more strain and tear on the vehicles as they constantly crash back down to the Earth and continue to race. These cars need to be not only fast, but also durable and tough as nails.
The 2006 Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak. It's twin-turbocharged 2.0L V6 pushed out an insane 1000HP!
So, to summarize: A good Rally Car needs to not only have the power and performance of it's track racing brethren, but it also needs to be built like a tank, in order to endure the harsh environments it races in. And, that's what we're here to discuss today. You see, for as long as people have been racing cars, manufacturers have been using that to promote their rides.
Special edition models to either celebrate a victory such as from a huge prestigious event like "The 24 Hours of Le Mans" or the "Daytona 500", or sometimes to actually qualify a new race car. Some racing organizations require a set number of street-legal versions of the car to be sold, in order for the vehicle to qualify to race. For example, Regulations for the GT1 category of racing stipulates that to be eligible, a total of 25 cars must be built for road use.
Porsche 911 GT1 "Straßenversion". The street legal version of their GT1 Race Car, made and sold in order to compete in GT1 racing.
So, here we are in the 21st Century, and now there's about 50 special editions of every car available. Okay, that's a bit of hyperbole, but then again, there are 17 different trims available for just the 2019 Dodge Challenger. (Okay, you asked for it. *DEEP BREATH*... SXT, SXT Plus, GT AWD, R/T, R/T Plus, R/T Shaker, T/A, R/T Plus Shaker, R/T Scat Pack, T/A Plus, 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker, T/A 392, SRT 392, SRT Hellcat, SRT Hellcat Widebody, SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody, and finally the SRT Demon!)
Today we are focusing on vehicles that have been released with a special edition dedicated to "Rally" Racing. Usually, this is denoted by a "RS" or "Rally Sport" tag. These vehicles are usually sportier versions of the basic models, and usually are exclusive to models that currently compete in Rally in some form or another. Or, some marketing person, just decides to slap a turbo and a RS badge on whatever, in order to charge a premium over the base model.
At least there's no "Challenger RS"... yet.
Let's start by looking at a few cars had the RS badge for good reasons:
Ford Escort RS2000 Mk I
Ford Escort RS2000 Mark I - 1973
Perhaps the greatest of the much loved performance Ford Escorts was the RS2000. Which was created by Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operation in July 1973. These cars were fitted with a solid 2 liter OHC Ford Pinto engine mated to a German transmission that gave them quickness and agility.
AUDI TT RS
AUDI TT RS - 2009
With its world debut at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, Audi released the first ever compact sports car Audi "RS" variant – the Audi TT RS. TT RS has a new short-shift close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and like all "RS" models, is only available with Audi's 'trademark' quattro four-wheel-drive system. Additions to the quattro system include a constant velocity joint before the cardan propeller shaft, and a compact rear-axle differential – upgraded to cope with the increased torque from the five-cylinder turbo engine.
Subaru WRX - Not a "RS" But, "World Rally eXpiremental" is close enough, and the WRX serves the same purpose as most RS models for other companies.
There has been seven noted versions of the WRX dating back from Subaru's original World Rally Cross staging vehicles. Subaru adopted the name "WRX" to stand for "World Rally eXperimental" as all WRX versions (1992 to present) feature rally inspired technology, including all wheel drive, stiffened suspensions and turbocharged four cylinder engines.
What do those three all have in common? Other than a "Rally" badge, they all have technologies and setups derived from their Rally Racing cousins. More power, better suspension, tighter handling, etc. You could take any of those three off-road, and probably have a pretty fun time of it. (Tires not withstanding.)
Now let's look at some recent "RS" models that don't have much of anything to do with Rally racing.
Chevy Sonic RS
2014 Chevy Sonic RS
Chevy from what I can tell is by far the worst offender with slapping initials on a car for no determinable reason. They slap the "RS" on everything and everything without any thought or meaning behind it. Take for example this: This is a Chevy Sonic. An entry level, subcompact car. A first car for many. Cheap, low power, and great gas mileage. The direct competitor (Or, at least it was, until Ford pulled their cars from North America,) to the Ford Fiesta. What did Chevy do, to turn the hum-drum into white knuckle excitement? They gave it a turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec that makes barely more power than the stock 1.6L NA engine in the base model Fiesta. (134HP vs 120HP) Meanwhile, the Fiesta "ST" trim, which Ford doesn't even consider "Top Tier", bumps up their's to a more respectable 197HP, which is good for a little more than just passing trucks on the freeway.
Ford Fiesta RS Turbo
1990 Ford Fiesta RS Turbo.
I need to be non-partisan here. Though, Ford is usually the king when it comes to proper use and respect to the "Rally Sport" badge, even they are not immune from dropping turds once in awhile. Say hello to the 1990 Ford Fiesta RS Turbo. If you said a "Fiesta RS Turbo" today, people would be drooling, thinking of a Fiesta with maybe a 2.0 Ecoboost pushing 250HP, and turning the little roller-skate into a rocket sled. Ford decided to simply slap the 1.6L turbo motor from the old Escort RS into the Fiesta and call it a day. The engine still was still laggy, still torque steered and still overheated, but now add on a ridiculously stiff ride and dead steering to the mix as well. Not much fun.
Chevy Suburban RST
2018 Chevrolet Suburban Premier RST
Chevy Suburban RST (Rally Sport Truck). Read that again and look at the picture. What is sport about that? Does it have insane power? Let me check... The Suburban is almost 19 feet long, it’s nearly seven feet wide, and its wheelbase spans almost 11 feet, and it weighs about 6,000lbs. It is powered by a 6.2L V8 pushing 420HP. So, okay in a straight line? It isn't going to turn on a dime. Even with those Brembos, stopping in not going to be fun. Maybe it's a beast of a work horse? Let's see... towing rating of... 7,900 Pounds.
There is nothing "Rally" or "Sport" about this thing in any way, shape or form. So, why does it exist?
And, the worst part? It's costs $20K more than the new Mid-Engined 2020 Corvette Stingray.
Just as terms such as "Coupe" and "Sedan" have no meaning anymore to automakers, now it appears that special badging is next to follow. As the modern executives believe that simply slapping a few letters to the end of a car's name, will let you sell it at a higher premium, whether it's justified or not.
So, what are you favorite or most hated "Rally Sport" vehicles? Let's discuss in the comments.