Audi’s highly sporting ultra performance group, quattro GmbH, has always had a soft spot for combining understatement and envelope pushing performance into one nice, neat package. Those needing examples I can only point you to cars like the C5 platform RS6 Avant+ or the all-new B8 S4 sedan with its potent supercharged V6 and massively understated looks. Cars like the C6 RS6 or B7 RS4 push understated looks with over-the-top power to new peaks with their respectively power figures of 570+ and 420 horsepower – from mid-size sedans and station wagons.
However, there were two cars that came prior to the C5/6 RS6 or B7/8 S4. Two cars, that for many, defined the quattro GmbH group as they transitioned from a small tuning division only making a few cars a year to a full shop churning out thousands of cars a year as they do these days. These two cars are the coveted B4 RS2 and B5 RS4.
The RS2 was the first Audi to truly carry extreme power in a subdued cladding as it was based on the B4 platform Audi 80 Avant. However, while the original platform was provided by Audi, much of the modification process was done by Porsche at the Zuffenhausen facility right after Porsche had come off of the production of Mercedes 500E. Audi delivered the shells of the 80 Avants to Porsche who would in turn slap a bigger turbo on the engine along with revised camshafts, a reworked suspension and a full, Porsche-developed braking system. Porsche even provided mirrors from the 964 as well as the Cup wheels. For those possibly doubting Porsche’s overall involvement in the development of the RS2, Audi gave them a little spot on the badging front and rear of the wagon along with an engine cover stamped “Powered by PORSCHE.”
What did the collaboration add up to? A small little wagon with permanent four-wheel-drive and a sub-5 second 0 to 60 time. Impressive by today’s standards and this car went out of production by 1996! It was tested and proved that the 0 to 30mph time of the RS2 was actually a hair quikcer than that of the then-reigning car of the world, the McLaren F1 and, unbelievably, faster than the Williams Formula One car. So, with Audi’s first jump into hot wagons they had created a car that was keeping up with Porsche(ironically) 911s and Ferrari 355 Bernlinettas of the day – impressive for a station wagon. This same car also spurred on a cult following of the RS2 and firmly planted the idea in many European minds that Audi can built very fast, competent vehicles.
However, Audi’s follow-up to the RS2 – could that have been their ultimate sleeper?
The RS4 was the successor to the RS2 after all. The RS4 carried with it many of the same traits of the RS2 with the blistered wheel arches, beefier tires and brakes as well as a tuned engine and modified suspension. However, the RS4 was not the brainchild of Audi and Porsche but a collaboration between Audi and the engine great Cosworth. Cosworth took the 2.7L turbocharged engine that was originally in the B5 S4. After they were done with the engine modifications, the Cosworth-tuned V6 was pushing out 380HP – well over 100HP from the S4 – mated to permanent all-wheel-drive and a six speed manual. Other performance features were enlarged ducts for airflow to the larger turbos, increased airflow to the braking systems to keep the large discs cool. Like the RS2, the RS4 also returned to users a 0 to 60 time below the 5 second mark all while from a mid-size station wagon. However, at one point where they differed was that the RS4 was a tuner’s dream come true. Tuning firms such as MTM and Sportec had a field day with providing upgrades to the RS4 for horsepower figures well in excess of the stock 380HP. The B5 RS4 is also the weapon of choice of many European track junkies as you can find an RS4 at most track days along side BMW CSLs and Caterhams ready to lower their most recent lap times.
But which would you choose? The father or the son? The RS2 helped put the RS brand on the map with a hot station wagon. However, it was really the RS4 that gained the traction and wide-spread knowledge that the RS2 didn’t have as it was popular primarily with enthusiasts. They turn around similar performance figures while both providing the convenience of a family car – which would you chose if it was your money? For me, it has to be the RS4 – a car that has always been compelling to me, somewhat timeless with the styling and undeniably fast. However, I’d love to know – what do you think? Would you drive away with the RS2 or the RS4?