Road Test

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Audi’s superb Quattro —4-wd appeal—but so much else as well

While some new cars are heralded by an enormous publicity build up which subsides into anti-climax when the cars themselves are actually tried by the press, there is no doubt that the 4-WD Audi Quattro coupe justifies the enormous praise which was lavished on it at first acquaintance. Of course, four wheel drive is nothing new in the motoring world, it first being tried by the Dutch Spyker company back in 1906, and has been used on Land Rover and Range Rover machines for many years with great acceptance and success. Moreover, Tony Roles specialist company FF Developments of Coventry has periodically carried out 4-WD conversions on various production cars over the past two decades and, from our experience, the benefits of such systems are unquestionable. However, up to now, no major manufacturer has taken the plunge and put a practical 4-WD car into production (for the purposes of this discussion we regard the Rover 4-WD machines as specialist off-road creations) as it was felt that the production engineering complexities and cost factor would make it an uneconomical proposition. Almost by accident, a group of Audi engineers found themselves considering the virtues of the Volkswagen Iltis off-road 4-WD drive utility vehicle during a winter test session in Scandinavia. Using many slightly modified Audi 80 components, the Iltis was obviously an infinitely more nimble proposition in the slippery conditions than some of the larger, more powerful FWD vehicles in the range. When Audi’s design team sat down seriously to consider the realities behind producing a high-powered 4-WD coupe, it dawned on them that production problems could be reduced by utilising a lot of existing components from within the company’s range. Thus, the Audi Quattro may be a totally new car as far as the complete package goes, but it incorporates a great deal of material from the rest of the German manufacturer’s range.

The Audi Quattro is a squat, purposeful coupe with two large doors, a high waistline and all the equipment one would expect from a German built sporting machine. Its power unit is a modified version of the five cylinder turbocharged engine which has been used for some time to propel the Audi 200T, now equipped with a turbo intercooler and fully electronic ignition and developing 200 b.h.p. (DIN) from its 2,144 c.c..  The power is delivered via a very effective five speed gearbox to all four wheels, the splitting of power between the front and rear wheels taking place within the gearbox itself rather than by means of a differential alongside. There is a differential lock incorporated between the front and rear axles and one between the two rear wheels, both of which can be seperately engaged and disengaged. Activated by controls on the transmission tunnel between the seats, these differentials can be locked when the car is on the move, but for all practical day-to-day tarmac driving conditions they effect little improvement. In streaming rain, on a diabolically muddy farm-track surface or (so we’re told) on snow, engaging those locks makes all the difference. The Audi Quatttro’s recent rallying exploits are sufficient to testify to its ultimate capabilities; for road use, it simply re-sets accepted standards of adhesion and braking to the point where just about everything else you encounter seems to be in your way!

It’s not possible to talk about the engine’s performance in isolation. We at Motor Sport are well experienced in the smooth ways of the five cylinder Audi, iron block, s.o.h.c., alloy head engine and in its latest guise within the Audi Quattro it delivers its power in an impressively smooth surge, developing a massive 210 lb/ft/torque at 3500 r.p.m. When you hold the revs up to 4,500 r.p.m., enough to keep the turbocharger on full boost, the Quattro’s 4-WD simply bites in on dry tarmac as you drop the clutch and the effect is quite startling, to say the least. Teetering on the verge of dire wheelspin, this Audi rockets off the line to make 60 m.p.h. in 6.7 sec. from standstill and, if you don’t fluff the two remaining “long throw” gear changes, you will see 100 m.p.h. come up in under 19 sec. This is quite remarkable, of course, although hardly a representative demonstration of the Quattro’s “day-to-day” capabilities. This engine has a real “Jekyll and Hyde” character about it. It’s tremendously tractable, pulling from 35 m.p.h. in fifth gear, although if you are sampling this side of it’s character you cannot expect much in the way of response if you flatten the throttle. In fact, trying out its flexibility might lead one to believe, erroneously, that it is a somewhat unresponsive motor car. But once that turbocharger chimes in, the transformation is simply amazing. The engine is smooth and willing, revving sweetly up to 4,500 r.p.m. beyond which point a more “businesslike” throb takes over all the way up to its maximum of 6,500 r.p.m. where an electronic rev limiter cuts in to remind the careless that it’s time to change up to the next gear!

The long-legged fifth gear comes into its own for quiet, high speed journeys which are most restful affairs as a result. Although many people seem to have reduced the Quattro’s fuel consumption figures to well below 20 m.p.g., the writer’s average was 23.6 m.p.g., and with a 20.2 gallon fuel tank fitted that provides a range of almost 500 miles.

The gearchange and clutch are typically Audi; smooth and progressive, but in need of firm and precise handling. If you fail to depress the clutch pedal fully, then you will almost certainly fail to engage the gear cleanly. Fifth is dog-legged away to the “top right” quadrant and reverse is always particularly difficult to engage.

There are no obvious idiosyncracies to be encountered as a result of the car’s 4-WD equipment. The first realisation that this machine is somehow out-of-the-ordinary dawns on the driver when, over open, twisting roads, he realises that he is catching other high performance motor cars with no perceptible increase in drivng effort. We found that you almost have to “will” yourself to drive it at a bend which, in something like a Saab 900 turbo, you might manage at 60 m.p.h.; only when you have built up the courage to do so and found that the Quattro wafts round at over 70 m.p.h., rock-steady and with no deviation from its prescribed line, is it possible for the readjustment to be complete. On tighter, second gear corners where the turbocharger is really working, the Quattro punches itself out onto the straight with a force that would send two-wheel drive machines lurching towards the outer edge of their adhesion. With this Audi, you must believe in its ability. It will take you round the corner, even though you may be reeling with a certain amount of disbelief. The ultirnate limit of the car’s adhesion is touched on in a gentle and progressive manner. The Quattro will start to understeer very much like a FWD car and you will feel this immediately through the sensitive and progressive power assisted rack and pinion steering. More power simply aggravates the understeer while lifting off brings a delightfully secure response as the front end grips again without prompting any untoward reaction from the rear wheels.

Macpherson strut suspension is used all round, at the rear by the simple expedient of turning the entire Audi 80 front suspension unit (and subframe) back to front and locating the steering arms with rigid track rods. The result is a firm, well insulated ride which compliments the car’s sporting character without the occupants feeling much in the way of road vibration or tedious drumming through the bodyshell. With servo assisted brakes on all four wheels, (ventilated 11.0 in. diamter front/non-ventilated 9.6 in. diameter rear) are strong and fade-free, their performance being more than adequately handled by the 205/60 VR 15 Fulda radial tyres on which our test car was supplied. There is, of course, the slight problem of overestimating their potential on a wet or slippery road; it is very easy to get carried away by the adhesion and traction qualities of the Quattro to the point where you inadvertently lock up the front wheels, assuming the tyres will produce more adhesion in these circumstances than is possible.

Of course, the Quattro is not simply an homologation special. For its £14,500 tax paid UK price tag, you get a properly finished, well-equipped high performance road car. What is more, despite its apparent “two-plus-two” styling, this Audi is a full four-seater, leaving adequate room for two medium sized adults in the nicely contoured individually shaped rear seats which each have their own inertia reel seat belt fitted as standard equipment. Headroom isn’t too bad, but rearward visibility is something of a problem for the Quattro driver, his sight line disturbed not only by the front seat headrests but also by the car’s high tail and relatively thick rear pillars. Electrically controlled door mirrors, both activated from a control on the driver’s door armrest, go some way towards compensating for this loss of vision, but even then things are not perfect.

The driving position is ideal, in our view, combining good relationship between steering wheel, pedals and gearchange with excellent lateral support from the firrn, comfortable individual front seats. The writer is over 6 tall and found the set-up ideal; shorter drivers may find it rather frustrating that they can only raise the rear end of the seat cushion, with the result that such an adjustment is made at the expense of support beneath the knees. One other thing; I found that the front inertia reel belts tended to fall off one’s shoulder rather too frequently for comfort. One would have thought they should remain taut and firm under all circumstances but, rather worryingly, we found this not always to be so.

Instrumentation within the Quattro is comprehensive in Audi’s customary straightforward style. Immediately in front of the driver is a hooded instrument panel containing speedometer with trip and rev counter, the latter containing an electrically driven clock within its diameter. Between these two dials there is a fuel contents gauge and a boost pressure indicator for the Quattro’s turbocharger. Should the maximum permissible boost pressure be exceeded at full throttle, incidentally, the electronic ignition control unit will reduce engine power until the boost pressure drops to its normal level. To the left of this panel, three rocker switches control headlights/side lights, instrument lighting and foglights front and rear. The matching switches to the right control hazard warning flashers, electric seat heating (quick to operate, and very effective) and the heated rear screen. There is a rear wash/wiper facility which is activated by pressing the right hand steering column stalk away from the driver; the windscreen wiper/washers, including an intermittent wipe control, are covered by moving this same lever either up or down, depending on the mode required. An effective heating/demisting system is provided, feeding both through central vents on the fascia as well as one on each extremity. There is a four speed fan for this system and, while we found the level of control over the climate inside the car adequate, it certainly didn’t seem to be anything special.

It might be nice to have a hatchback arrangement for such a car as the Quattro, but you can’t have everything! Packaging in the RWD equipment plus that huge fuel tank means that there is no prospect of having a smooth, spacious load carrying platform. In fact, the boot (which contains a space saving mini-spare tyre) is relatively commodious, accepting a 50 kilogram sack of animal feed with no difficulty whatsoever.

The Audi Quattro is a car we enjoyed driving more the longer we drove it. Left hand drive poses some slight problems in Britain, but in our view it confers some advantages, particularly on country roads where one can often see up the inside of traffic across the approach to an S-bend. Anybody who would carp about this quality German car on that basis, needs either to sample the Quattro or reject it completely from his mind before he does.

To talk in terms of cars being “bargains” in this inflated time may seem slightly frivolous; nothing good comes cheap in this life, but in motoring terms the Audi Quattro must be adjudged a superb bargain. Even a few days after returning the test car to its British importers, we couldn’t quite believe how utterly impressed we had been with it. Whether it spurs any of its close rivals into a programme of 4-WD development or not will be a matter of particular interest. Meanwhile, the Audi Quattro is available in Britain; a fact which should send more than a tinge of apprehension through the minds of those other manufacturers vying for the relatively small, yet obviously lucrative, high quality sports car market for the discerning buyer. — A.H.