By on February 18, 2015

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Ten Cars We’d Go to Prison For.

Jeez guys, you could just head North a little ways. Nobody’s going to force you to cheer for the Leafs or listen to Celine Dion.

Anyway, here’s what it’s like to drive something rare, obscure, fast, and practical. The Audi RS2 – she’s a beauty, eh?

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First, a little history about what makes this odd little Euro wagon so special. Through the 1980s Porsche was in fairly tight financial straits, and would turn eventually to building cars for first Mercedes-Benz and then Audi. The first was the 500E, which had an interesting and complicated shuttling back-and-forth between its parent companies during construction, and an owners’ list that reads like a who’s-who of Formula One at the time.

One little historical tidbit that’ll pique the interest of Porsche fans is that the 500E was built in the Rössle-Bau factory inside Porsche’s Zuffenhausen complex; this, the same line that produced the 959 supercar. The first partnership married an overtaxed Mercedes-Benz R&D department with Porsche’s seriously under-employed production facilities. The 500E likely saved Porsche with an infusion of much-needed cash, but Mercedes kept a firm hand on the tiller of the project, and the resulting car was more Merc’ than Porsche – an invigorated version of the W124’s bank vault ideal.

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With the RS2, Porsche’s next off-brand project, the reins were loosened considerably. Unlike Mercedes, which just wanted Porsche engineering, Audi wanted an infusion of Porsche prestige into their car. In fact, the badges on this unassuming compact Euro-wagon actually bear a hybridized badge that incorporates both the four rings of Audi and the Porsche name.

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As pictured above, the 500E and the RS2 overlapped each other for the last two years of the former’s production, but while the Mercedes would be an interesting one-off, the RS2 would establish a new direction for Audi’s performance image. It is also considered by many to have created the ideal of the hot Euro wagon.

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For regular TTAC reader Rob Stevenson, the seed was first planted as a young man on a trip to Europe, seeing one of these machines light the afterburners coming out of a parking lot – forbidden fruit, the dream car forever out of reach, that sort of thing. And yet here it is today sitting alongside downhill mountain bikes in his North Vancouver garage, dressed in unassuming black paint and wearing a set of fat, optional 18” boots.

Canada’s 15-year grey market rule is most often associated with JDM imports: Delicas, Skylines, and kei cars. However, there are any number of specialty Euro-market cars floating around locally, from M5 tourings to Lancia Delta Integrales, to Alpinas. Rob found his RS2 after a lengthy search and effectively ran his own version of the European delivery programs provided by a number of luxury marques; he bought the car before it was eligible for import into Canada, then flew to the UK and had a delayed honeymoon with his wife driving his dream machine throughout Europe.

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The RS2 has a number of visual clues showing its mixed parentage, like a illegitimate child with the nose and ears of Henry I. The simple boxy shape is pure 1990s Audi, based on the 80 (B4) Avant. However, here we can see the wolf’s fangs peeking out from behind the humdrum sheep’s clothing: the side mirrors and turn signals are the same as the 993-generation Porsche 911, the wheels are cup-style Porsche alloys in a unique bolt pattern, the rear hatch has a broad stripe of red intended to match the back of a contemporary 911.

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Pop the hood and Porsche’s fingerprints are even more obvious. Rob opened the hood at a local 911-heavy cars and coffee event, and more than a few PCA members wandered over to scratch their heads at the Porsche script carved into the head of the 2.2L five-cylinder engine that just barely fits into the engine bay. Longitudinally-mounted, the five-pot is long enough to necessitate moving the radiator to an offset position.

Audi already had this twenty-valve engine in the S2 coupe, where it was making 227hp, similar to an old Subaru WRX. Porsche raised the boost to 20psi with an uprated KKK turbocharger, massaged the camshafts to improve flow-through, and fitted bigger fuel injectors, more efficient intercooling, and a specially-tuned Bosch ECU. The result was 310hp, a respectable figure even now, and pretty damn impressive for 1994 standards. The RS2 seated five, had a trunk big enough to fit a labrador retriever, and had enough steam to laminate said dog to the rear hatch glass.

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The first impression, upon climbing behind the wheel and cranking up the grumbly straight-five, is how little this car is. The B4-chassis Audi wasn’t far off the Mk3 GTI in dimensions, and compared to the massive RS7 I showed up in, Rob’s car looked like a Hot Wheels.

On the move, there’s a signature feel here that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s driven any moderately performance-oriented Audi. The steering is very light, perhaps even floatier thanks to the extra-wide tires. Even so, there’s the sensation of grip and weight, a more substantial feel than in a WRX. There’s the sense here that the car’s built for high-speed autobahn runs – a machine to be loaded up with skis and boots and a brace of tow-headed children and then blasted straight at the Alps on a wave of forced induction.

Standing in for an Alp today is one of Vancouver’s North Shore mountains, and I head out from its summit with gentle throttle, as this is someone else’s car. But Rob’s not having any of that, so let’s let that Porsche-fettled fiver off the leash.

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The RS2’s party-piece is a hugely abusive dump-clutch holeshot that returns acceleration figures impressive even in a time where the Tesla P85D exists. English magazine Autocar famously returned a 0-30mph time quicker than either the McLaren F1 or even an actual Formula One car of the time. Through the quarter and in roll-on acceleration, it’s capable of going toe-to-toe with the first of the wasser-boxer Porsches.

On the uphill, revs climb slowly, with not much going on, 2000rpm, 2500rpm, 3000rpm, 3500rpm. You can’t help your inner Dark Helmet asking, “and what have we got on this thing, a Cuisinart?” But then four grand hits and it’s a jump to ludicrous speed.

Nothing sounds quite like a boosted five-cylinder engine at full growl, all gravel-spitting rally fury and whooshy overboosted hiss. It’s like someone cutting a robot snake in half with a Huskqvarna. Far from being a family pet, this little wagon’s a snarling menace.

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The RS2 was the first of the breed, the first of a line that’s currently capped by the Aries-red liftback I brought along for photos, but the two are very different. Grandpa RennSport is all Ur-Quattro for the family man, a raw and visceral thrill. Its gawp-mawed descendant feels a lot more like somebody fitted a ZF 8-speed to Spaceball One.

Over a brief run, the RS2 is wonderful. But to live with?

Stevenson is an engineer, specializing in fuel-cell technology, so he has both the skill and temperament to put up with an older German vehicle that was never supposed to make it to our shores. He does much of the work himself, and as a long-time Audi owner, knows where to look to find some of the trickier stuff. His RS2 is also on collector plates, so he’s not relying on it to get him to work (for that, there’s a Tacoma or a stick-shift Cobalt SS sedan with the GM performance boost.

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Just under 3000 RS2s were made in 1994 and 1995, but even with that relative rarity, the car is not yet as expensive to purchase as early 993s and late 964s are getting. All that, of course, will likely change in the next five years, as the cars become importable under US 25-year grey market law.

In the meantime, this particular RS2 is doubly special, not just because it is a rare machine with an interesting history and thrilling potential, but because its specific story should appeal to every gearhead. Here is a car that captivated a young man’s imagination, and through dint of effort that fantasy became a reality. No skirting the law; no endless dollars thrown at a problem.

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Persistence, and a dream, and Canada’s relatively reasonable importation laws. And say, have I mentioned we’ve got poutine?

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28 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1994 Audi RS2...”


  • avatar
    319583076

    Beautiful car, great write-up. Thanks!

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Fascinating. I love obscure autos like this especially due to my odd love of wagons, with a stick, that are brown oh wait, I will pass on the brown diesel.

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved the styling and interiors of the older Audis–the ones from about 1983 to 1995. That this one is rare and has serious performance creds makes it all the more cool.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    One of my all time favorites. Made my morning. Five more years? I better start saving now.

  • avatar
    jkk6

    Cool

  • avatar
    John R

    That is a really sharp sled.

    Surprised to hear it shares space with a Cobalt SS, though. Figured on a WRX as a roommate.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Same interior as me ole 93 90S FWD 2.8. That was a solid car.

    But of the whole list of forbidden stuff, what do I bring here? The Avantime. All day, every day.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    You had me until you mentioned the poutine.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    As a truly Canadian perspective review, I mandate that there has to be a Large Tim’s (double/double, natch!) in at least one of the photos in every review by a Canuck. Especially during “roll up the rim” time!

    So it was written, so it shall be….

    Great article, BTW! ;)

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    It is a brilliant car and great fun – true enough. Just do not expect lots of practicality or those children in the back not to kill you if they are over 10 or so – the rear legroom is legendarily poor and the boot comparably so. But as a fun car for driving your fox terrier (let’s not torture labrador retrievers too much) for a walk in the mountains, it is hard to beat.

    The one issue is that most of them are pretty heavily abused by now. Many ended up with something resembling a fast and furious crowd and while not all have been tuned several inches beyond their lives, they have been subjected to drive it like you stole it type antics, which often shows.

    If you do find a low mileage one from a responsible owner, it is a keeper.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    Makes me wonder why Audi doesn’t import any wagons (or wagon-ishes) other than the Allroad anymore.

    I mean, I see A3 and A4 Avants with fair regularity around here in Oregon; it’s not like nobody bought them.

    I suspect the S4 Avant would snag some sales if they bothered to import it (though admittedly, hey, maybe not enough to justify the crash testing).

    BMW (!) and Volvo do wagons, and Mercedes still sort of tries with the E (a C might well sell better; they *could* import the C-250 Touring).

    Why not Audi, apart from their Subaru/XC60 competitor?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    These older Audis are great lookers, as a second car I think I’d take one over a Subaru, or the somewhat imitative Volvo 850.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I didn’t even know these existed. I want one.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    I’m convinced that high-end auto manufacturers look not only what would sell but also how their product mix is viewed. So Audi has fewer wagon models for sale b/c it makes them look too practical and unhip. Regardless of what the population wants. The a4 allroad? They offer it. It doesn’t sell well in part because it is so dammed expensive in part because Audi knows they won’t sell many so they have to make it up on margin.

  • avatar
    moorewr

    My holy grail. When they are finally legal here (2019!) I’m sure they’ll be too expensive for me to pick up, but I can dream of at least seeing one up close.

    Maybe I can swing a euro-spec Ur-S4 Avant when they start showing up here. Or an S2.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    Thats a very cool car, and thats all I have to contribute on the topic.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I have always admired Audi’s top decision makers, and top engineering and mgt, ever since hearing about the prohibited ur-quattro being approved after the Board were all set up with rides in it. Car guys in suits sitting on the Board.

    I think of this as I churn through slush in my driveway in my A4 and it digs in, straightens out and feels really good.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    Drooled over the exterior. Interior reminds me of my ~1990 Volvo 740 Turbo. Dreamed some more, and then I thought: Driving a 2 decade old Audi wagon that is faster than my current model year A3 2.0T … what could possibly go wrong!?

  • avatar
    outback_ute

    Interesting read. I also saw one of these (in bright blue) on a trip to Europe in the mid-90s. In pre-digital days it was just about the only car that rated a photo on that trip.

    I understand there is just one RS2 in Australia, not surprising given it would not only have to be converted to rhd but also made compliant with all the other regulations too. Once it hits 25yo it can stay LHD.

    We did get the RS2’s replacement, the V6TT 390hp RS4 that was also only sold as a wagon initially at least. I think we got most or all of the RS cars as wagons including the V10TT 580hp RS 6

  • avatar
    Power6

    I have a soft spot for this RS2 my mom had this same generation 90 Quattro. I remember reading about the S2 coupe in Car and Driver it wasn’t until I started downloading rips of Top Gear from the Usenet that I found out about the later RS4 and then learned about the RS2.

    The story I have heard when I toured the Porsche factory is that the S2 was a coupe, but the RS2 was a wagon as Porsche would not build a car for Audi that competed with its 2 door sports cars. The same reason was given as to why there was not a 2 door 500E.

    The generations of fast Audi wagons continue to be denied to Americans…

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    Great piece of writing about a very cool car!

    So, B-Mac, when are we going to hear about the “ludicrous speed” RS7?

  • avatar
    PJmacgee

    duuuuuude, where have you been? I had to start stalking you on driving.ca for a few years. Welcome back to TTAC.

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