New cars - Audi Coupé S2

Lifts and Separates

Audi call it the “Practical Supercar”. Whether those two terms are mutually exclusive is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. There is, however, something awe-inspiringly clinical about the new Audi Coupé S2. Teutonic efficiency has produced a machine that is truly capable in all respects and yet which somehow lacks the inspirational spark. It is without the charm of flawed genius. In some ways a supercar should be defined by its single mindedness. Its appeal lies in an uncompromised blend of speed and beauty. The Audi could be said to cater for too many eventualities. But it could also be argued that a supercar is only defined by its practical capabilities: by having useable speed, that is dependent upon active safety specifications, and an ability to cope with wet leaves and a muddy road as well as dry smooth tarmac and a clear sweeping corner.

Whatever the arguments, in terms of performance alone the Audi Coupé S2 is certainly well within the lower half of the supercar envelope. It can accelerate to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and go on to achieve a top speed of 154 mph. But you and I know that those figures are fairly meaningless at the best of times: what is far more impressive is the way in which the power is delivered. After staring confusedly for several seconds at a power graph supplied by Audi which claimed that peak torque came at 6000 rpm and peak bhp at 1950 rpm, I realised that they were keeping their light firmly hidden under a bushel and were even trying to confuse the journalists. The peak torque of 230 lb ft at 1950 rpm and the peak 220 bhp at 6000 rpm adds up to an engine of astonishing flexibility, and I would be the first to admit that this makes sense on the road. The car will pull from 1200 rpm in fifth, but more practically it means that frantic gear changing to keep the engine in the power band is completely unnecessary in order to extract serious performance from the car. Third gear provides excellent overtaking capabilities in the 50-80 mph region, and will produce a constant surge of acceleration from 2000 rpm to 6000 rpm. Not only does this allow for relaxed overtaking, when you might be white knuckled and sweating in a more ‘peaky’ car, but it also means that the machine is much more useable on an unfamiliar road. One gear will cater for a wide range of speeds on a strange corner: if it is faster than expected the engine won’t get breathless on the way out, if slower you don’t need to throw it down a gear to get decent speed back onto the straight.

The water-cooled turbocharged five cylinder engine has a capacity of 2226cc and a relatively high compression ratio of 9.3:1. It is essentially a development of the engine that powered the original Audi quattro, and then the 20-valve engine used on the Sport quattro. In adapting the unit for the 200, the quattro 20-valve and this Coupé S2 the camshaft gears were replaced with a roller chain, and the solid valve lifters with hydraulic tappets. A smaller turbo was fitted and the breathing, timing and compression were revised in order to increase torque.

Yes, the various car names are confusing. Audi say that they would be the first to admit that they have nomenclature problems. I would be the second. That is why they have called this machine the Coupé S2, even though it is the spiritual heir to the Audi quattro throne. Of course as such it only comes with four wheel drive. It is fitted with a Torsen differential system, which is weight and space saving and has relatively low friction for a four wheel drive system. The power split is normally 50:50, but according to available traction this can vary up to 75:25 front/rear or vice versa. The Torsen differential has an additional advantage of allowing for variation in rotation speeds between the wheels, and so the ABS is always effective, except of course when the rear diff is manually locked.

The wide track suspension at front and rear comprises of MacPherson struts and triangular wishbones with an anti roll bar. The S2 is also fitted with twin tube gas filled shock absorbers, and a stiffening strut between the front suspension turrets. The brakes are 276 mm discs all round, ventilated at the front, solid at the rear, and of course the ABS system can be switched off to cater for certain conditions like gravel or snow.

The Bosch Servotronic steering system was particularly impressive: it varies the amount of steering assistance according to the speed of the car. At parking speeds the assistance is considerable, and the steering very light, at high speeds the steering becomes pleasantly heavy and communicative. Although the compromise means that it’s not as accurate or responsive as a more direct manual system can be, the Servotronic set-up stands favourably against many other contemporary power steering systems, which can all too often make the driving experience comparable to playing the guitar with gloves on.

On the move the Coupé S2 is precisely what it set out to be; an extremely practical sports car with impressive performance and handling. The engine will fling you toward the wide blue yonder with all the enthusiasm you could wish for, and yet the exhaust note is as inspired as Beethoven’s 10th symphony. The four wheel drive provides for tenacious grip even on a damp unpredictable road, and yet there is rarely the sense that you are pushing up against the limits of the car’s ablility. At this point it will lapse into controllable understeer; wild tail wagging has to be deliberately provoked. The frequently used words to describe the S2 were safe and civilised. It will never necessitate a change of trousers as you tread the ragged edge of life itself (unless of course you drive it off a cliff, in which case you won’t be worried about the trousers), but it will always get you from A to B in extreme comfort, and surprisingly quickly. Surprising, because you can slip past 100 mph and still think you’re doing 70 mph; testament again to the nature of the car.

On the inside the S2 has one big additional plus: the chronograph dials. The speedo, tacho, petrol, water temp, oil temp, oil pressure and battery charge gauges are all attractive light grey dials with red and black figures and slim needles that really do enhance the sporty nature of the cockpit. The interior is good in most other respects, being tastefully designed and well arranged. The attractive steering wheel is at the correct height and distance from the body, the gearstick a comfortable drop of the left hand away. The seat provides good thigh and side support, but not enough for the shoulders or head. The pedals are correctly weighted, and well spaced, with a useful clutch foot rest. The stalk controls are attractive, and have a pleasant feel to them, as do the buttons on the central console. Visibility is superb, and there is even back seat leg room.

For those people torn between a Porsche, a BMW, and a Volvo, the Audi Coupé S2 would seem to provide the perfect compromise: it is fast, civilised and safe. There is a strong argument for the fact that high performance should be tempered with a consideration of the realities of everyday road conditions and everyday use. But a compromise it is, and as such you lose out on some of the unalloyed pleasure of absolute performance, as much as you do on luggage space. You pays your money and takes your choice, in this case £29,394.20. — CSR-W.