Cars with Jan Coomans. Four decades of Audi Quattro

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Audi Quattro

Forty years is quite a long time. Doesn’t feel like it exactly, but I can certainly tell when I step out of bed in the morning that I ain’t a teenager no more. What’s that? I’m not supposed to talk about my recent entry into a higher age bracket but rather give Audi some props on the 40th anniversary of their legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system? Well, that’s a relief.

Truth be told, since I was literally zero years old when Audi launched its revolutionary all-wheels-driven drivetrain back in 1980, I can’t exactly recall what my impression of it was at the time. I hope this fact doesn’t reflect too negatively on my professionalism. What we can reflect on, thanks to the invention of the internet, is how it was perceived at the time by the automotive press. By now, we’re well used to seeing cars being offered with all-wheel-drive to the point where it’s just the norm, but back then this was a genuine shift change. Suddenly, there was a regular car that regular people could conceivably buy that would take them to places they simply couldn’t go before.

Audi Quattro

If you lived in a mountainous part of the world, especially one which also gets cold in winter, Quattro was an absolute godsend. That’s probably why, a full forty years later, Audis with Quattro (or RS) badges are still ubiquitous in places like Switzerland. Quattro is what started it all, which means many people have owned a long line of different Quattro models and are happy to continue that tradition into the present day where options for similar cars are plentiful. Here in Russia, it does get cold (well it’s supposed to, anyway) but most Russians don’t exactly live in places with an alp-like topography. As such, you can perfectly get by with only two driven wheels and a good set of winter tires. But getting by is only getting by, of course, and I have very fond memories of owning a couple of Quattro cars myself.

Audi RS6
My Audi RS6

When I first moved to Moscow nearly 10 years ago one of the first things I did (after putting together a computer and getting the internet connected) was to find a nice powerful car that would get me anywhere throughout the fabled Russian winter. I landed on a C5 generation Audi RS6 with the classic Torsen-based Quattro system. I loved it. I mean, with its twin-turbocharged 4.2 liter V8 and 2 tons of weight it did use fuel at a rate that made you think there was a hole in the tank, but it was otherwise pretty epic. I followed that up with a B7 generation RS4, which was if anything even more enjoyable thanks to its naturally aspirated V8 that could rev to well past 8000 RPM and manual gearbox. The B7 RS4 was also the first Quattro car with a significant torque bias to the rear wheels, which meant a lot less understeer than Audis were known for and even some power oversteer if you were really trying hard.

Audi RS4
My Audi RS4

Which brings us to the part where Quattro truly earned its epic-ness: rallying. Before Audi turned up in their all-wheel-drive B2 generation Quattro model – now lovingly referred to as the Ur-Quattro – this sport was dominated by rear-wheel-drive cars. Those were amazing enough in their own right, of course. It’s not like cars such as the Lancia Stratos for example are looked back upon as mediocre. But the fact is that, when Audi showed up with a 4 wheel drive car that everyone else didn’t think would actually work, they blew everyone else into the weeds. They won everything, and usually not by mere seconds but by an embarrassingly large amount of minutes before the first competitor crossed the finish line. The other brands in the World Rally Championship could only scramble to develop their own all-wheel-driven rally cars and suffer the onslaught of the Quattros in the meantime.


Footage of Walter Röhrl taking massive jumps with the Group B Audi Quattro and its awesome sounding inline 5-cylinder turbocharge engine is uncannily popular on YouTube to this day. It was the golden era of rallying and in the center of it all was the Quattro. From that point onwards, everyone else was just a follower who took the path that Audi had laid out in front of them. So, sure, there is a huge amount of choice today for car buyers when it comes to cars that can transfer their engine’s power to all four wheels. But there’s just the one which started it all and gave us all those great memories. So a very happy birthday to you, Quattro. And to celebrate this occasion we’ll re-watch one more time that 1986 commercial that is about as famous as the brand itself. Enjoy!

19 июня 2020
Jan Coomans для раздела Авто