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Audi RS4 — long-term review
Meet the ancestors
Quite why a fast Audi estate gets me a bit sweaty and breathless but the equivalent coupe or saloon does very little is one of life’s little mysteries. But after some thorough research I have traced the roots of my rapid-wagon soft spot to the Audi RS2, a car I have long-since coveted but, until now, never had the chance to drive.
The reasons for my desire are many. Not only does it look perfect – enough subtle enhancement to convey there’s a hooligan under there, but not so much as to ruin the family-friendly vibe. Then there’s the backstory – the Volvo 850 T5 may have arrived a year earlier, but this was the first fast estate that really caught everyone’s attention. And because it was the very first RS model, Audi didn’t really have the expertise to pull it off on its own… So it called up Porsche to lend a hand. Look closely and you’ll see the Porsche name across the bottom of the RS2 badge, on the red calipers and on the engine, too.
Audi built the painted bodies, quattro transmission, gearbox and base then sent them to Porsche’s factory in Zuffenhausen where it was all screwed together and fitted with the brakes from the Porsche 968 Clubsport, 17-inch cup wheels from the 911, a six-speed manual gearbox, new door mirrors and the engine was upgraded.
The Audi 80 S2 estate’s 5cyl 2.2-litre received, among other enhancements, a bigger KKK turbocharger, boosting it from 230bhp to 315bhp at 6,500rpm, 0–60mph in 5.4 seconds and good for a top speed of 163mph… supercar figures in 1995. It was built in supercar numbers too, with only 180 right-hand drive RS2s coming to the UK, 43 of which are still registered.
And none better than this car, with only 3,500 miles, it’s basically a rolling museum piece and drives as brilliantly as it did 20-odd years ago. The first thing that strikes me is the size next to our RS4. It’s diddy. Narrow, short, more delicate in every respect. Even on the inside, the pillars are slimmer, the view out superb.
Now, the RS2 isn’t perfect. The entire engine hangs out in front of the front axle – it will understeer if you push it too hard. The engine is a lesson in turbo lag, too. Push the throttle at 30mph in third and you’ll get nothing for what seems like an eternity, then slowly the turbo wakes up, boost builds, then WHOOSH, you’re off. Next to the RS4’s near-instant V6, this could be seen as a fault, but really it’s pure fun and games. You start daring yourself how early you can floor it in a corner, trying to time the boost to arrive perfectly as you pass the apex. The steering is alive and clear, the body rolls but not enough to stop the 4WD clawing you forward. I think they call it character, and it’s proof that a car doesn’t need to be a dynamic masterpiece to be addictive. Much of the same traits have been passed down to the new RS4: grip, security, speed above finesse, but when you know where it comes from you realise it isn’t because the RS4’s engineering team ran out of talent – they’ve simply stayed faithful to its roots.