Audi RS3 vs Audi RS2: how do they compare?
Audi’s oldest RS (1996) meets its youngest (2021). Generational conflict ensues
Hang on, why are we comparing a 2 with a 3?
Good point, well made. The RS3 we have here is the Sportback – the baby of the RS range these days despite having 394bhp – while the RS2 was the genesis of fast and large Audi estates. We have a lot to thank it for. And yet, both are turbocharged five-cylinder Rennsport cars from Ingolstadt with massive power and large price tags. The RS3 Launch Edition here retails at just the wrong side of £60,000, while the RS2 cost £45,705 when it launched back in 1994. That’s over £92,000, inflation adjusted. Yikes.
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Surely the stats make for grim reading for the RS2?
Kind of, although every time we drive an RS2 we’re reminded just how quick it really is – once you get past the almighty turbo lag. The Porsche-fettled 2.2-litre 5cyl has a giant KKK turbo and makes 315bhp and 302lb ft of torque. That means 0–60mph in 5.4secs, or roughly the same as a manual Aston Martin DB7 from the same era. The RS3 is a monster, though. The power figure is the same as the previous generation, but torque’s up to 369lb ft and we clocked a 0–62mph sprint at 3.6secs, below Audi’s claimed 3.8.
I sense a “but” coming...
Everything about the RS2 is real. It’s a joy to drive, feeling light despite the size and rapid if you can get above 4,000rpm and stay there. It’s properly engineered; the grilles are metal and functional, the bonnet release pops satisfyingly out of the third Audi ring and the interior is glorious with blue weave carbon fibre on the dash and doors, plus soft blue Alcantara on the Recaro seats. It sounds decidedly unsporty at low speeds, and of course there’s none of the RS3’s acoustic enhancement, but there are good vibrations even at a standstill that let you know you’re in serious company.Advertisement - Page continues below
Didn’t Audi need a whole lot of help in the Nineties?
It did, but that makes the RS2 even cooler. The shells were built in Ingolstadt and shipped to Stuttgart for Porsche to fit the powertrain, wheels, brakes, even the door mirrors. Frustratingly, this generation of RS3 actually feels less special than before. Unless you’re staring at the expanse of grille up front, the exterior looks as though it could be from an S3, and the interior is dark and dour. We wish Audi offered a big rear wing à la Mercedes-AMG A45.
Must have been some improvement over time, though?
Drive this pair back to back and the main difference is in the braking. It may say Porsche on the RS2’s calipers, but brake tech has come a long way in the last couple of decades. You can even have carbon-ceramics on the RS3. They both have quattro all-wheel drive too, but the RS3 is now so tech-filled that you can stick it in ‘RS Torque Rear’ mode and the computers allow you to do big lairy skids. Please don’t ever try that in a now-precious RS2.