At the time of its launch, Audi did stress that the 52
wasn’t designed as an heir to the original Quattro • . •
When the late, great Ouattro was laid to rest a few years ago. Audi made it quite clear that the S2 Coupe was not a direct replacement. How could you follow such a car? The original Ouattro was, quite simply, one of a kind. Its demise marked not only the end of Audi’s successful World Championship rally programme, but heralded the end of its reign as 4wd road car king. Amazing though the Quattro’s talents were on road and stage, it was only a matter of time before rally-obsessed Lancia produced the smaller, nimbler integrale which sliced, knife-like, through Audi’s jugular.
Despite Audi’s protestations, comparisons between the S2 and its predecessor were, to a degree, inevitable. After all, they are aimed at a similar clientele (although an S2 saloon is also available), and they possess the same distinctive five-pot powerplant and drivetrain. Furthermore, they differ little in terms of size.
It seems ironic that Volvo has adopted the five-cylinder path for its ‘new wave’ saloons, while Audi has been steadily dropping the in-line five from its range at such a rate that the S2 is the only coupe now thus equipped. In its epic 2.2-litre, 20-valve, turbocharged form, the engine has been honed to perfection since first appearing in the original Ouattro. It produces a healthy 230 bhp at 5900rpm, and torque output is likewise impressive, with a yield of 258 lb ft at an accessible 1950 rpm. Such inherent tractability has also been aided by turbo tech
nology that has seen the virtual elimination of lag.
The engine has never been a quick revver, but it is nevertheless charismatic, with that distinctive off-beat howl that so dominated rallying’s special stages during those halcyon days.
As with previous models, the transmission includes the ubiquitous Torsen diff, which is now mated to a close-ratio sixspeed gearbox in a bid to improve flexibility.
The ruggedly handsome coupe body, galvanised and with a Cd of 0.29, has changed little since it introduction, except for the chrome grille-surround and the special Avus alloy wheels similar to those seen on Audi’s recent concept cars. As a result, the S2 has the chunky appeal of a Tonka toy. The S2 follows familiar Audi principles, with high standards of build quality and
simplicity of line. Conservative without being dull, the interior is a concoction of ergonomic neatness and understated quality. It never plummets to tacky depths of the sort that the old Ouattro suffered, with its hideous LCD instrument display. The redon-white dials, however, are not necessarily to everyone’s taste, and the heavily lacquered Kevlar trim (in place of walnut) would be more at home in a homologation special.
Otherwise, the cabin could only be accused of undue sobriety by those used to the modern fashion for stripes or plaid; it has a functional integrity which the Germans have mastered in a way that has yet to be equalled by anybody. All controls are well sited and pleasantly weighted, so most drivers should immediately feel at ease. The firm seats are multi-adjustable, so much so that there is no need for a movable steering column. Everything is just where the driver requires it except for the auxiliary dials, which have been uncharacteristically ‘dumped’ down at the base of the centre console. As a result, you have little choice but to ignore these while driving.
It would be improper to suggest that safety should be sacrificed for the sake of aesthetics, but thanks to Audi’s unique Procon-Ten system, the S2 sports a ‘proper’ steering wheel. Ugly airbags are strictly optional; the Audi alternative is a cable system which, upon impact, simultaneously pulls the steering wheel away from the driver and tightens both front seat belts. It takes little time to realise that the S2
drives like every other Audi. Engine revs drop only marginally during gear changes (which VAG users of a few years ago will regard as an improvement), and each shift is punctuated by rubbery ‘clunks’ from the ‘box.
You need almost to bury the brake pedal into the carpet before feeling in the slightest bit confident. This more or less kills the art of effective heel and toe changes.
Though stiffer than other Audis, the S2 is nevertheless softer than a sports saloon should be. The 205/55 section tyres may rumble on rough road surfaces, but otherwise the ride is impeccable.
There’s a price to pay. Hurl the S2 into a bend and the vague steering disappoints immediately. Alarming body roll follows,well before the suspension travel is exhausted. The chassis is bestowed with a wealth of grip and traction, but it is only at modest speeds that these may be exploited fully. Thus, at eight-tenths, the S2 is marvellously agile, its composure
unruffled come what may. One is able to traverse difficult terrain at a tremendous pace without breaking into a sweat.
Try a little harder and it’s a different story. Turn-in is blunt, understeer massive. It requires more lock than is comfortable, though it is easy to retrieve as easing the throttle causes the S2 to tighten its line sharply. It will even allow you to slide the car in a manner that is remarkably extravagant for a 4wd with a frontal torque bias.
Such control is not enough. There’s little wrong with the chassis it’s taut and nicely proportioned but the steering, braking and suspension are nowhere near sharp enough for a true sporting coupe. If ever there was a car designed for the ‘slow in, fast out’ cornering technique, this is it. Cross-country ability is obviously assisted by gargantuan performance and the recently introduced six-speed ‘box. You are now far less likely to be floundering in the wrong gear, and off-boost, coming out of a
corner. Like its slightly quicker, and wholly more agile, rival, the BMW M3, the Audi S2 can literally be slammed out of hairpin after hairpin with a genuine shove in the back. But unless there’s a touch of moisture on the surface, the S2 will never have the upper hand. The S2 might not be able to keep up with a well-driven Lancia Delta integrale in such conditions. it won’t be too far behind, but nor will it titillate the senses. On the plus side (and bearing in mind that such speeds are legal in Audi’s homeland), whereas the Lancia’s housebrick aerodynamics cause it
to run out of puff at around 130 mph, the S2 will be pulling like a train right up to its maximum of 155. And it will do so with four adults comfortably ensconced, which is testament to its versatility (enhanced yet further if you opt for the saloon).
There’s no doubt that the Audi S2 is a safe, competent all-rounder. It goes like thunder, is respectably frugal (we managed over 26 mpg), can adapt to any weather conditions and is impressively well equipped.
Other bespoilered machines might shout their intentions far and wide, but the S2 goes about its work with efficiency and modesty.
It could, however, be so much better.
The steering, brakes and suspension dilute what, on paper, promises to be an amazing driving experience. One senses that there’s a great car bursting to get out, but you can’t help feeling a little short-changed. Talking of which, it isn’t cheap, at almost £31,000.
Still, you can’t knock Audi’s integrity. It did say that this wasn’t a true Ouattro full marks for R R B