Top Gear's Bargain Heroes: the Audi RS2 Avant

By topgear, 28 December 2019

First, a bit of history

The Audi RS2 wasn’t the world’s first fast estate – the Volvo 850 T5 arrived a year earlier – but it is the most iconic of those early hard-hitting haulers. It was also Audi’s first RS model (yes, an estate) and because Audi didn’t have the expertise it needed for the project, was built with help from Porsche.

Quite a bit of help. The shells, adapted from the standard Audi 80, were constructed at Ingolstadt, then sent to Zuffenhausen near Stuttgart where they received the brake, wheel and tyre package from the Porsche 968 Clubsport, plus the uprated engine, 6spd manual gearbox and new door mirrors.

The 2.2-litre 5cyl was boosted by a single KKK turbocharger, yielding 315bhp at 6500rpm and 409Nm at 3,000rpm. 0-95km/h was over in 5.4secs and flat out it would hit 262km/h. For the time these were stellar figures, as quick as a Ferrari 456.

How it feels to drive today

It’s the turbo lag that gets you – there’s so much of it. That’s where the gains have come in the last few years. Here you put your foot down at 48km/h in third gear and count to four before anything meaningful happens.

Keep the tuneful five cylinder bubbling away and it’s better, but best the best way to overcome the lag is the old rally driver’s trick of left foot braking and building the power up with your right. Not great for brake longevity, but it does mean you exit corners with a proper whoosh.

It’s light and nimble and holds a line well as long as you don’t push it too hard, and to be honest I didn’t hurl it about as it’s over 20 years old now and it doesn’t seem right. OK, I did on a couple of occasions and it understeers.

Open the bonnet and you’ll see why – the whole of the in-line longitudinal engine is ahead of the front axle. It’s still quick though – as rapid about the place as a Golf R, and way more involving.

And compared to modern stuff it feels bright and communicative. I’m not sure the steering would have been that great back in the day, but in a world of electric set-ups, this hydraulic system just has more about it.

The pillars are thin, the seats narrow, the gearchange a bit crunchy, the chassis less rigid than we’re now used to, the ride less insulating (but well damped on plump tyres) and overall the whole car is shot through with an eagerness and ability that the vast majority of modern cars struggle to match.

What to watch out for

The RS2 was renowned for its toughness, so mechanically it’s the usual stuff you need to keep an eye on – that the annual oil change and inspection has been carried out, and the sills and arches haven’t succumbed to corrosion.

The 6spd manual gearbox will likely be slack and loose on higher mileage cars and the manually activated locking rear diff on our car (there’s a button on the centre console) wasn’t keen on staying locked.

The one reoccurring issue that owners report is tyre rub. The original tyres were 245/40 ZR17 Dunlop SP Sport 8000, but apparently many newer 245s come up larger, causing them to rub when turning. The answer, apparently, is to fit narrower 235 or 225 tyres stretched to fit.

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