Driving the Quattro

Brief impressions of Audi’s 140 m.p.h., 4WD wonder car 

Merely to read the specification of the Audi Quattro, described elsewhere in this issue, is enough to leave one stunned. To drive it is to discover a new experience in motoring. We were lucky enough to be among a handful of journalists allowed to take the wheel during the Geneva Motor Show, on a demanding mountainous route. 

Any suggested comparisons with four-wheel-drive dual-purpose vehicles like the Range-Rover can be dismissed immediately. The Quattro may have a go-anywhere capability which anybody from skiers to point-to-pointers and the landed gentry will appreciate, but it is also one of the fastest and safest cars on the road, setting new standards in so many departments.

Its handling on tarmac is superbly balanced, neutral most of the time, responding best to power-on all the way round a corner, yet barely disturbed by lifting off in mid curve. Audi’s new generation power steering, planned as an option on the 80 in the future, has perfect directness, weight and feel with no sensation of assistance except when parking. The roadholding is in a class of its own, the wide tyres biting ever harder the more the throttle is applied, with no sensations of scrub or squeal. 

Traction takes on a new meaning with the Quattro. On dry tarmac there is no loss of grip, however hard the acceleration. Where a conventional car would have been scrabbling for grip out of the mountain hairpins the Quattro simply glued itself down and shot like a rocket from comer to corner. Audi claim a mere 0.4 sec increase in 0-100 k.p.h. acceleration time between wet and dry conditions. From dry tarmac we sped up a steep, snow and ice covered pass with little loss of adhesion, which no conventional car could have mastered without chains. Some steering correction was necessary to avoid sliding into the snow banks, but stability improved once the rear and centre differential locks (the latter lazy in engagement) were engaged by means of two T-handles each side of the handbrake. The photographs illustrate the light work our Quattro made of a snow-covered cart track. On snow, ice or gravel the front will run wide if the power isn’t kept on and we found the braver we were with the throttle, the better the Quattro responded.

Audi have avoided the complications of brake anti-locking devices like Maxaret or ABS, suggesting that in really bad conditions of snow and ice they can be a hindrance, whereas locking of the Quattro’s differentials will prevent the locking up of individual wheels. Braking performance on tarmac is magnificent and what with good turn-in and sensational cornering adhesion the Quattro is a late braker’s dream.

Performance, with 156 b.h.p./ton, is electrifying, throttle response almost totally from from turbo lag, but the gap between second and third gears is too wide. We thought the exhaust note under acceleration to be harsh. Wind and road noise is exceptionally low, even at an indicated 220 k.p.h., and the ride most comfortable thanks to long suspension travel.

Civilised in the quality and comfort of its interior, docile in its town manners and almost beyond belief in its combination of roadholding, handling, traction and performance, the 4WD Quattro knows no peers. — C.R.