The spiritual successor to the legendary Quattro, some would argue that the Audi S2 slightly missed the mark. Today, however, it makes for a great modern classic
Words: James Bowers
It’s never easy to succeed an icon; just ask Chris Evans or David Moyes. So, when Audi eventually retired its Quattro flagship, the S2 Coupe had a huge weight of expectation placed upon its shoulders. On reflection, that’s probably why the S2 was never officially marketed as a successor to the German marque’s ‘rally car for the streets’, but instead as a car with its own identity.
However, if that really was the plan, then giving it the ‘S’ moniker might not have been the wisest choice. After all, that badge had gained fame while attached to Audi’s revered S1 rally monster of yesteryear, making the S2 the first production-spec vehicle to have it adorned upon its boot lid. No pressure then.
On paper, it looked as though the new car might be up able to live up to those lofty standards that the outside world had set for it. Although it utilised the same 2.2 litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine found in the Quattro, its drag co-efficient had been reduced to 0.32cd (significantly better than the corresponding figure for the original car). So, when this more aerodynamic shell was accompanied by a slightly longer top end gear ratio, the maximum speed now peaked at around 150mph whereas the old Quattro topped out at 140 in its final guise. Plus, once the 1993 facelift was introduced, an extra 10 brake horsepower and sixth gear widened the performance gulf even further.
The gearbox itself was light and rewarding to use, at the time being praised by road testers as one of the best that Audi had ever produced. The new B3 chassis platform and suspension was a tangible upgrade on the old car as well, offering a noticeably more refined cabin experience.
However, for some, that is where the S2’s identity issues were compounded. Accompanying the softer feel was Bosch’s Servotronic steering, a performance-sensitive system which adjusted the weight of the steering in line with the speed of the car. Some felt as though the end result wasn’t well-executed enough for spirited use, and as such, severely hampered the amount of feedback that the car could give to its driver.
For that reason, the S2 is not a particularly great B-road machine, perhaps reflected by its toned-down outward appearance, which was another point of derision for the car in period – but its styling has matured nicely as the decades have gone buy.
As you would expect from a premium German brand, the Audi S2 boasts build quality that’s generally very good. Rust shouldn’t be too much of a problem, though given the climate of the UK, a car of this age should always be checked for signs of corrosion anyway. In regard to the S2 specifically, the join between the bumper and front wing has been cited as one of the first exterior surfaces worth looking at for signs of rust, as this is a common area for panels to have been replaced badly by previous owners.
Meanwhile, on the underside of the car, the front and rear sub-frames should also be examined. The side mirrors are another part of the bodywork which might require attention, not for rust, but for faulty electronics. As standard, the mirrors are heated to guard against frosting, but their internals have a tendency to expire. Finally, if you experience an annoying metallic rattling sound coming from the rear of the interior, then you may need to have the boot locking mechanism repaired.
Engine and transmission
The Audi S2 power unit is arguably one of the biggest potential problem areas that you’ll come across. In general, it’s a suitably sturdy engine, however there are a few weaknesses to note. Pre-ignition can be the most damaging symptom found in these five-cylinder blocks, typically caused by a failure of the crankshaft pulley or timing belt.
Though in general, this fault isn’t so common that you should be scared away. Plus, being a turbocharged car, boost leaks are something else to keep an eye out for, which may be as simple as checking the hoses for any tears or splits.
Overall, if these cars have been well-maintained they can comfortably live beyond 150,000 miles, however it should go without saying that you’ll want to check its service history to make sure of its chances of doing so. Dedicated S2 owners will usually suggest that the oil needs to be changed every 5000 miles, while the air filter should last for about 10,000. Spark plugs are another element which might require attention. Due to their Audi branding they can often be on the pricier side, but it is recommended to have these changed every 20,000 miles.
There is little to report regarding the transmission. An oil change for the gearbox and differential every 40,000 miles or so will go a long way to sustain the longevity of its parts, though you can get away with leaving it much longer.
After a while, you might also hear a whine coming from the rear diff and propshaft bearings, but other than that, the S2 has no major common faults with its drivetrain.
Suspension, steering and brakes
The suspension systems in these cars are pretty tough for the most part. Rubber components like bushings can of course degrade over time though, so if these have never been replaced, doing so will make a big difference to how the car feels to drive.
By comparison, the braking system can be a little more prone to developing issues. Hydraulic fluid pipes might begin to leak if they have started to perish with old age, so this is another ‘wear and tear’ part that is worthy of a check. Elsewhere, the car’s brake pressure accumulator – commonly referred to as ‘the bomb’ amongst S2 owners’ groups – might become weak.
Designed to assist the brake servo in emergency situations, this isn’t a part that you want to be faulty. To test its condition, see how many pumps it takes for the brake pedal to feel rock hard. If the answer is ten or less, then the accumulator needs urgent attention. Around 30 is the benchmark of a healthy example.
Some argue that the S2’s front brakes are one of its relative weaknesses in terms of performance, so be prepared to wear them out quickly if you plan on lots of track days or intensive driving.
Interior and electrics
The S2’s exterior build quality is reflected within the interior too. Of course, age will have played its part with some of the finishes and fabrics, but the materials used are of the quality you would expect. Plus, despite its two-door guise, the S2 is a genuine four-seater – though leg room in the back may be a little cramped for adults.
Of course, there are some things to look out for though. The air conditioning, as a start, may need its pump replaced, while temperature gauges are another potential problem area.
Audi S2: our verdict
Nowadays, the S2 is somewhat overlooked, but it still holds up as a perfectly reasonable coupe so long as you take it for what it is, rather than what it is not. So, whereas prices for the Quattro are currently through the roof, the S2 – which, let’s not forget, is superior in some ways – remains far more accessible.
Buy a good example today and we reckon you could expect to see some return as time goes on. But if you simply want a brisk, well-made and stylish modern classic from a time when cars were still interesting, the Audi S2 makes a strong case for itself.