Three decades ago, it was the first of its kind in the world – an invention created by necessity that spawned a sub-brand that is still revered today. Now, the legend shaped by the RS2 Avant has come full circle with the RS3 Sportback, the last of the five-cylinder RS models, and thus the spiritual successor to the original RS.

It was October 1994. I was on a media visit to Audi to be briefed on the new B5 Audi A4 coming to South Africa when, as a special surprise, a Nogaro Blue RS2 Avant was rolled out for short test drives around Ingolstadt. Although well-versed in this fast estate car (a one-off project at the time), none of us realised what significant impact this super wagon would have on the motoring realm back then.

To be honest, like many of my peers, I didn’t really comprehend the raison d’être for this station wagon on steroids, and while different and exciting as a concept, we viewed it as a unicorn, just another exercise in German engineering. Still, the Porsche-tuned blue wagon was surprisingly capable, with supercar-type performance.

Even today, four things still stand out from my initial experience in the RS2 Avant: the on-off nature of that big turbo bolted onto the Audi’s highly strung engine, making it difficult to modulate the power distributed to all four wheels; its head-jolting acceleration off the line, its tendency to understeer when turning in under power, and man, oh man, the fabulous sound of that five-cylinder mill when you were chasing the red line.


The history of the RS2 Avant is well-documented. In essence, it was born out of necessity as Porsche, under severe financial strain, needed a product to keep its assembly lines operational after the deal with Mercedes-Benz to build the special W124 500E ended. So, Porsche approached Audi with the same kind of concept – to create a high-performance, Porsche-tuned model.

Whoever decided that it should be a station wagon is not clear, but it was a masterstroke, as the end product not only took the motoring world by storm, but also established a tradition of fast Avant models lasting to this day. It was also a clever way of ensuring the special Audi could not compete with any existing Porsche product.

Based on the B4/8C platform of the Audi 80, it received the internal designation P1 (and therefore is listed as a Porsche model). It was powered by a modified version of the 2.2-litre inline five-cylinder 20-valve turbocharged engine used in the Ur-Quattro, with a larger turbocharger, a heavy-duty intercooler, higher flow fuel injectors, a newly designed camshaft, a more efficient induction system and a low-pressure exhaust system.

The highly tuned engine delivered 232 kW and 410 Nm of torque on tap – a lot of power back in the 1990s. To put this into context, only the latest version of the VW Golf R Estate 4Motion, introduced in 2021, surpasses the RS2 Avant’s power figures, and then only by 3 kW and 10 Nm. 

The revised engine was coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox – no auto transmission or double-clutch systems back then – and Audi’s trademark Torsen-based quattro permanent four-wheel drive system. With this kind of power, the RS2 could accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, and reach an electrically restricted top speed of 262 km/h. Its off-the-line performance is phenomenal, even by modern standards, and it was deemed faster than a McLaren F1 from zero to 50 km/h.

Using parts from the contemporary 968 Clubsport, Porsche upgraded the braking and suspension systems with bigger ventilated discs and Porsche-badged Brembo callipers front and rear and dropped the ride height of the original RS to 40 mm lower than a standard 80 Avant.

In addition, the wheels and side mirrors were identical to those used on the Porsche 964 Turbo and the RS2 emblem affixed to the front grille and rear tailgate was inscribed with the word Porsche. The interior of the RS2 Avant is mundane compared to some of its successors, with only white-faced instruments, console materials in either wood or carbon fibre trim, full leather seats (or a combination of leather and suede) and a three-spoke leather steering wheel setting it apart from its lesser siblings.


Manufactured at Porsche’s Rossle-Bau plant in Zuffenhausen from March 1994 to July 1995, approximately 2,200 RS2s were initially built, but this figure increased to 2,891 units due to demand. Some sedan models were also built as test units but were all scrapped. However, only about 180 (this figure differs, depending on source) right-hand drive cars were built for the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and South African markets.

What was to be a special project only, soon became a phenomenon and the success of the RS2 Avant not only led to the RS moniker becoming the ultimate Audi badge, but it also amassed a cult following worldwide and spawned a succession of fast estate cars, now wholly designed, developed, and produced in-house by Audi Sport GmbH at the Audi Neckarsulm factory.

The highly revered RS4 Avant followed in 1999 (it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year), and the RS6 Avant in 2002. However, none of them used the five-cylinder mill anymore, as the original RS4 was endowed with a 2.7-litre V6 biturbo and the first RS6 with a hugely powerful 4.2-litre V8 biturbo engine.

The iconic five-cylinder power plant only returned in 2011 in the RS3 Sportback as a runout model of the second-generation Audi A3 range. The reworked engine, now bored to 2.5-litres, delivered 250 kW and 450 Nm, and was awarded the International Engine of the Year accolade in its class for nine years in a row.


Therefore, while the RS4 Avant can be viewed as the continuation model of the RS2 Avant, the RS3 Sportback, in reality, is the spiritual successor to the iconic RS pioneer, and looking at them parked side by side at the Audi Centre Sandton premise, they even matched up in terms of size.

They also share the same basic layout with a permanent four-wheel drive system, although in the new RS3 Sportback, the five-cylinder turbo engine is positioned transversely compared to the longitudinal placement in the beautifully preserved original RS2 specimen we could sample at Audi Centre Sandton.

In the latest, and last, five-cylinder powered RS3 Sportback, the legendary engine has been further tweaked to deliver 294 kW of power and a full 500 Nm of torque (a limited number of RS3 Sportback Competition models in Germany has 299 kW on tap), making it possible to screech from zero to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds thanks to Launch Control and reach an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h (optionally increased to 290 km/h if the RS Dynamic package Plus is selected).

With Black Styling Package Plus trim and RS-specific Kemora Grey finishes, the latest RS3 Sportback, now sporting a redesigned single-frame grille, widened axle tracks front (33 mm) and rear (10 mm) and characteristic oval exhaust pipes, really looks the part, more so when compared to its less extravagantly styled predecessor.

It also sounds right (if perhaps a bit subdued), with that unforgettable five-cylinder noise orchestrated by a new exhaust system with fully variable flap control, and a new RS torque splitter and specific RS3 driving modes, including RS Torque Rear mode, which makes drifting possible, makes the driving experience even more exhilarating.

With its more expressive design, legendary power plant with even greater torque, greater pull and greater top speed, and improved ride and handling traits, the latest RS3 Sportback is the best of its kind and still my favourite compact high-performance beast. 

In our view, it exemplifies all that the original RS2 Avant stood for and brings the triple decade-long legacy of the iconic five-cylinder engine in the RS range full circle.

Our thanks to Roelf Marais and Lateef Rasdien from Audi Centre Sandton for their friendly assistance in making the Audi RS3 Sportback and RS2 Avant available for our cover photo shoot.



Audi South Africa has launched several special edition derivatives across its product ranges to offer customers even better value for money and increased convenience when specifying their new vehicle. The Black Edition and Urban Edition models feature additional cosmetic and functional equipment and are available with compelling Audi Assured offers.

The first to receive Black Edition treatment was the A4 and S4 sedan ranges, with only 100 A4 Black Edition versions imported to South Africa. It was then extended to the Q2, A3 and S3 Sportback and Sedan, as well as the Q3 SUV and Sportback models, and recently, Urban Edition models were added to the Q3 and Q3 Sportback ranges as well.

Besides a black styling package, including black rings on the front grille, black mirrors and black sideblades, the Black Edition models offer extra amenities such as a sports steering wheel, unique alloy wheels, a sports suspension, S line exterior and interior, contour ambient lights and leather/leatherette seats.

Positioned between the Advanced and S line options, both of which remain available, the Urban Edition packages represent a classic design language, favouring silver trim elements, and a value-led specification bundle, including extras such as an Audi sound system, a sunroof, full LED headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, rear park distance control and two-zone climate control.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © RYAN ABBOTT

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