The Audi RS2, made in conjunction with Porsche, was a mid-’90s icon. But sadly, it was never sold in the United States and plenty of Americans have never even seen one. Well, these cars are finally old enough to import and we found one Audi UK has been hiding in its private reserve for over two decades.
When you write about a Jaguar E-Type it’s a legal requirement to say that Enzo Ferrari once commented that it was the most beautiful car in the world. When talking about the Reliant Scimitar you must say that Princess Anne once owned one. Hey, the original NSX was developed by Senna don’t ya know! Similarly, when scribbling about the Audi RS2, you’re legally bound to comment that, in its day, it was faster 0-30 mph than a McLaren F1. With that out of the way, on with the show.
(Full Disclosure: Audi UK has a pristine RS2 in its heritage fleet, I asked to have a go and they invited me up to HQ to give ’er a spin. The car is all original, bar the tires–it’s riding on modern rubber. The originals had to be replaced because the rubber was past its best. They also had some lovely pro snaps of it, so I popped a few in here as well.)
Now that the RS2 is 25 years old, keen fast wagon enthusiasts can finally bring one to the U.S. and burble around to their heart’s content. I wanted to find out whether it was worthy of its legendary status or whether it was a bit scary in that “built to go but not stop” way that fast cars from the ’90s can be.
The answer–yes and yes.
Finding an open stretch in an RS2 might be one of the best ways to experience what turbo lag is all about. You hear people complaining about modern turbo motors taking a beat to spool–that’s nothing, chum.
Snatch third leaving town, pass a “national speed limit” sign and plant your foot. Nothing dramatic will happen. You’ll hear five cylinders quietly throb, wind lash at the super-thin A-pillar. You’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Then you hit the magic 3,000 rpm and go forward at a rather alarming rate. This car pulls. And keeps pulling until you’ve run out of gear. Shift quickly to fourth and you’re still deep in turbo territory, so you keep going faster, and faster. It doesn’t just feel “a bit brisk;” this 25-year-old car is still properly quick.
OK, an RS 3 will beast it in every conceivable way today. But imagine getting your mitts on one of these in 1994. It would have seemed obscene for a family car to go this fast.
Playing with the boost becomes a bit of a game. Leave a junction or roundabout, keep it at low revs, apply foot and booost. It’s childish and addictive and you’d do the same thing, don’t deny it. Also, as you give it more beans, the five pot begins to sing and sounds decently rumbly. It’s not overwhelming but it makes itself known.
Slowing down from the warp-speed shenanigans is another matter. I’m sure shiny Porsche brakes were wonderful in period but today… yikes. Keep your eyes up and plan to stop and you’ll be fine. Just hope there aren’t any errant animals wandering out in to the road. The pedal isn’t stiff, but you have to work it to get it to do anything of consequence.
A Porsche with a trunk? An Audi with a Porsche motor? A Frankencar. Underneath the slightly accentuated lines of the RS2 is an Audi 80 Avant (Audi’s word for “wagon”), a small longroof for people who wanted something German to take their things from A to B. The RS2 made the humble wagon something a touch more lairy. It’s also the first Audi RS. Genesis, if you will.
Audi teamed up with Porsche to make something a little jazzier than what was otherwise available. Porsche took Audi’s 2.2-liter inline five-cylinder turbo and did some serious work. A bigger KKK turbo was fitted, an uprated radiator, a bigger intercooler and higher-flow fuel injectors. On top of that, the camshaft was switched out, the fuel pump pressure regulator was sourced from a 911, and the RS2 got a fresh ECU, wider tailpipes, metal catalysts, and a low-pressure exhaust system was popped in as well. The motor kicked out 315 horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque, which for 1994 can be described as “punchy.” All of that power is delivered to all four wheels via a six-speed manual.
How many 300+ HP cars today come with no auto option? Not many, but that’s what the RS2 gave you.
The motor wasn’t the only thing fettled, though. It got Porsche brakes and suspension as well as sitting 40mm (about 1.6 inches) lower than the standard 80 Avant.
Cosmetically it got the wing mirrors and wheels from the 964 Turbo, as well as a beefy bodykit on the outside and some pretty stunning Recaros inside.
It’s a special thing, made more so by the fact while various bits of RS2 were made all over the shop, final assembly took place at the same factory that churned out the Porsche 959.
315 HP, 302 lb-ft from a 2.2-liter five pot? That’s impressive. Audi reckoned it’d crack the 0-62 run in 5.4 seconds and top more than 160 mph. Autocar magazine tested its 0-30mph time as 1.5 seconds as well. Audi’s official in-gear acceleration figures make interesting reading. 80-100 mph in forth takes just 4.3 seconds. 100-120? 6.46.
With all that power, Audi reckoned it’d do a solid 16 MPG in town and (according to the launch release) 31 MPG at “a steady 56mph” and 26 MPG at “a steady 75 mph.”
It’s quick, but also rare. Originally 2,200 were due to be built, but nearly 3,000 rolled off the line to match demand. Fewer than 300 of those were right hand drive (180 were to be for the UK because we like fast wagons), the rest have the wheel on the America-appropriate left hand side.
Being an Avant it’s pretty roomy. You get 13 cubic feet of trunk space with the seats up and 42 with them down. Maybe not quite enough space to move house in one trip, but more than enough volume to swallow your family and their things for a long weekend.
The RS2 came in a few colors, but the blue on Audi’s fleet is the absolute balls. The color suits the shape perfectly, and helps it stand out without being overpoweringly blingy.
It’s quiet on the day-to-day. The motor isn’t intrusive or angry at highway speeds. If anything it’s pretty calm in there. You don’t need to select a mode to calm it down, Audi/Porsche simply made it sensible at speeds you’d want it to be sensible at.
Then there’s the boost. BOOOST. So. Much. Boost. It’s a turbocharged car from the ’90s; it’s gonna be laggy as hell. Now, if a manufacturer dared do that today we’d be having strong words, but it’s part of the RS2’s charm. Until about 3,000 rpm you plod along, waiting for what you know is coming. Then, BOOM, you surge forwards. It’s hilarious.
It’s also nice that you can see out of it. The pillars are thin, the glass is huge. You can see all of the things. Wonderful. The fat A-pillars of modern cars may improve your odds of surviving a crash, but there’s something to be said for the thin beams of the ’90s improving your odds of preventing one in the first place by the virtue of affording good forward visibility.
Despite the fact that the RS2 is small by today’s standards, it feels pretty damn roomy inside. I can quite happily sit behind myself, for one thing. Also, there are no big screens or tech tat littering the center console, which makes the whole thing feel delightfully airy. They don’t make ’em like they used to, and all that.
25 years is a long time. Parts become hard to source, cars are crashed over the years, and maintenance comes with big bills. Taking an RS2 on, even with specialists nearby, is going to be an undertaking.
In the instrument binnacle there’s a little panel that shows various bit of information. Some (like MPG) are obvious. Others less so. While bumbling around I noticed one simply said ‘G’. Could it be a G-Meter from 1994? The RS2 has power beyond its years, but this? No. It’s a real time measurement of how much gas you’ve used. Lame.
Audi’s RS cars have been given stick for having pretty numb steering over the years. The RS2 is not only the origin of the species, but the origin of this problem. It’s decently weighty, but you don’t get a great impression of what the front of the car is actually doing.
Porsche fans may be dead pleased to see the 964 wing mirrors on board. Try using them and you’ll be less keen. They’re tiny and don’t show you much of what’s behind you. To get a wider view of what’s going on you have to contort your head, do a strange neck dance, and hope you’ve got the whole picture. Mercifully, the rear view mirror and enormous rear screen give you a better view.
This may well be the cleanest, mintiest RS2 in the world, so it’s not likely representative of the rest of the market, but oh my, is it smooth. Low speed stuff is a doddle thanks to a slick gearshift and great visibility. Keeping it under the magic 3,000 rpm means you’re not troubling the turbo and it simply glides around. Listen closely and you can hear its five cylinder thrum but it’s pretty unobtrusive.
The six-speed stick is tight as they come. It’s a short throw and comes with a pleasant notch to each shift. The clutch is nicely weighted as well, so you feel like you’re actually doing something to the car.
Being a car from the ’90s, you can easily assume it was built to go but not necessarily to stop. It’s a common trait of cars from that era... and the RS2, despite its impressive-looking Porsche brake set up, suffers from it. If you’re urgent with the stoppers they react well, but normal road use requires some thinking time. Rather more than you may be used to in 2019.
Thanks to its relatively modest footprint, the RS2 is easy to thread through narrow lanes and city streets as well. Bonus!
Pootling around town is all fine and dandy, but it’s also not remotely what the RS2 was designed for. It was designed to be driven very, very quickly indeed. It’s good, then, that it’s chuffing hilarious.
We’ve already talked about how this car seduces you into having a good relationship with turbo lag... and it does. But there is a little more to the driving experience than putting your right foot down, waiting, waiting, and then riding an absurd rush of power.
Stick fans will be pleased to hear the RS2 offers a silky-smooth shift. The ’box has a decently short throw and its neatly notchy. It’s easy to use. Or, the ’box on a 3,000-mile car is at least. The clutch is well-weighted too, so it’s a genuine joy to play with.
Start playing in corners and the magic begins to wear off a little. The steering, feels nicely heavy on turn in, then lightens up once you’ve passed a certain point. It also doesn’t give you many clues as to where the front wheels actually are. You get used to it after a while, but if you’re expecting a finely honed Porscheaudi in the bends you’ll be a bit miffed.
Porsche’s modified springs do a good job, though. Yeah, there’s some ’90s roll but no so much that you expect to lose your lunch. The ride isn’t harsh, either. Potholes (of which there are many in the UK) will jar, but the patchwork tarmac that makes up most of the roads over here don’t trouble it, even when you’re cocking about playing the boost game.
At the time of writing there were four RS2s for sale in the UK on Pistonheads. Two LHD, two RHD. The most expensive (a green LHD with 13k on the clock) was sitting at $97,950. The cheapest (a very leggy silver RHD car) was nearly $40,000. This is where the value bit gets tricky. The RS2 is something many would call a legendary car. Its name is often bandied around as something people want to own at some point. Problem is, the window for owning one at a relatively same price is closing. Do you want to spend nearly $100,000 on an Audorche? Me… no. But $40k seems more sensible...ish.
For your money you get a rare car with kickass heritage and a hell of a party piece. It’s also pretty big, so you can take people and things with you.
Flawed but brilliantly so. In period it was heralded, today it’s a cool thing. If you’re in the position to get on in, do it. You won’t regret it for a second. The boost game will keep you amused for years. Just brake early.