1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2 vs. 1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2, 1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2, 1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4, 2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N and 2007 Audi R8 Type 42

2020 Charlie Magee and Drive-My EN/UK

All Audi’s key movers driven, from Coupé to R8 40 years ago, little-known German outfit Audi sent shockwaves across the landscapes of motor sport and road cars alike with the release of the Quattro. We celebrate by driving the greatest hits. Words Sam Dawson. Photography Charlie Magee.

Audi’s landmark Quattro turns 40 – evaluating four generations of four-wheel drive

Quattro at 40 Celebrating four decades and six evolutions of Audi’s groundbreaking four-wheel drive sports cars with Turbo, Sport, 20v, 80 RS2 Avant, TT and R8.

PLUS Hannu Mikkola on the difficult birth of the rallying Quattro.

1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2 vs. 1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2, 1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2, 1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4, 2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N and 2007 Audi R8 Type 42
1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2 vs. 1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2, 1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2, 1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4, 2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N and 2007 Audi R8 Type 42

What you’re looking at here is a celebration of an idea. Because Audi Quattro isn’t just an iconic car, it’s the name of the engineering that underpinned it. Engineering that revolutionised rallying, touring cars and endurance racing via crushing victories, forcing rivals to expensively scrap and rework plans in an attempt to keep up. We’ve brought the Quattro in its most successful forms to the Bicester Heritage test track to pay tribute to the fearsome phenomenon.

1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2 vs. 1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2, 1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2, 1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4, 2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N and 2007 Audi R8 Type 42

1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2 vs. 1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2, 1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2, 1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4, 2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N and 2007 Audi R8 Type 42


1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2

The first sense to be tingled by the Quattro Turbo, the earliest Audi Quattro is, surprisingly, smell. Approach most classic cars and you’ll anticipate either pungent or musty leather, oil or glassfibre-bonding chemicals. But the scent to emerge most strongly from this 1980 ur- (original) Quattro’s interior symphony of multi-hued brown is uniquely German and Eighties – sweet, slightly waxy, reminiscent of a felt-tip pen. The smell not of overt deluxe frippery, but solid, high-quality plastic fresh from the injection mould. Air-freshener companies have since coined a term for it – ‘new car smell’.

In 1980 it marked a different way to spend £16k on a four-seater coupé. The plasticky interior, as cubist and simple as the Giugiaro-initiated, Martin Smith-massaged bodyshell, is reminiscent of an Eighties supermini’s sans brittleness, but what it isn’t is luxurious or even overtly sporty. What you were paying for was cutting-edge avant-garde technology – a turbocharged, electronically fuel-injected five-cylinder engine, four-wheel drive, and a galvanised bodyshell with a lengthy anti-perforation warranty. A car Audi engineer Jorg Bensinger conceived specifically to be completely unphased by poor road or weather conditions after testing Volkswagen’s off-roader, the Iltis, in the Alpine snow in 1976. And this reimagined take on the sports coupé arrived in a motoring world where you could still buy a brand-new MG BGT.

The engine fires crisp and undramatic, and the long-throw gearchange clonks around the gate in the manner of a Volkswagen Golf. With the exception of wooden-feeling, non-antilock brakes, it’s reminiscent of a modern Golf in general at lower speeds. But pick up the pace and it reveals a different character altogether.

The first surprise is how urgent the acceleration from the 2.1-litre turbo five is. There’s no noticeable throttle lag, and the induction note that had seemed so flat and quiet at idle becomes a zesty rasp under load, all accompanied by a reassuringly firm shove in the lower back that builds in force as I near the 5500rpm power peak. Bicester’s track really gives the Quattro the chance to shine. The rear wheels feel so firmly tied down that they appear to grip hard even on gravel under acceleration, like a well-balanced rear-wheel-drive car. But whereas a period front-engine, rear-drive competitor like an Opel Monza or BMW 628i E24 might feel twitchy in bends, demanding opposite-lock and throttle-steer to rebalance it if you carry a bit too much power in, the Audi feels like it possesses power-enhanced direction control. The steering is tactile and alarmingly faithful via relatively dainty 205/60 R15 tyres, and the Quattro changes course with sudden verve and millimetric precision, combining the best qualities and counteracting the drawbacks of both front- and rear-drive within the same manoeuvre.

Priced to compete with the Porsche 911SC and Lotus Elite S2.2, it’s a different kind of performance car. It possesses a similar level of oomph – 0-60mph in 7.1 seconds en route to a 137mph maximum – but unlike its rivals, it exhibits a surefootedness to achieve those figures without threatening any hedgerows. Before the Quattro, the faster a car went, the more wayward it often was. Not any more. It’s got a sense of humour too – the full two-bar pressure on the turbo boost gauge and the empty marker on the fuel gauge are marked with chequered flags, as though they’re destinations.

However, there’s one aspect of the car that the new Quattro was struggling to impart – a sense of identity. The four rings in the nondescript, rationally rectangular air intake signify the four amalgamated firms that came together under Audi’s banner just 15 years earlier. The rocker cover bears the seal of Audi’s often-stifling corporate parent Volkswagen. There’s a sense of chaotic trial and- error under the bonnet too, as though the decision to give it its defining technology was a hasty afterthought that resulted in the engine being mounted so far forward that the radiator and turbocharger ended up skewed to the side.

However, a plan to brand the four rings and the Quattro concept on the consciousness of the world had been present ever since Bensinger drove an astonished Ferdinand Piëch at speed up a snowbound Alpine pass in a saloon car without snow chains…

Owning a Quattro Turbo B2

‘My affinity with the ur-Quattro began with watching rallying antics in the early Eighties,’ says long-term Quattro Turbo owner Edward Heath, who bought his current 1985 car in 1995 for £6750 after a two-year search. His first Quattro Turbo, a sun-faded early car bought from a pub landlord and refurbished to its former glory, was stolen in the early Nineties.

‘Although I’ve run her for 24 years the quality of build has meant very little mechanical failure or faults,’ he attests. ‘There have been things like blowing the digital dashboard during a jump start – £300, ouch! – so I’ve kept it on a battery conditioner since. I swapped the old rubber hoses when silicone ones became available a few years ago too. ‘On that subject, spare parts for Quattro Turbos are a mixed bag of availability, with some easily sourced from specialists such as Quattro Corner, and others like trying to find a dodo to sell you a feather…’

1981 Audi Quattro Turbo B2

Engine 2144cc in-line five-cylinder, dohc, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, KKK K27 turbocharger

Max Power 200bhp @ 5500rpm

Max Torque 210lb ft @ 3500rpm

Transmission Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Suspension Front and rear: independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bars

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Weight 1290kg (2838lb)

Performance Top speed:

137mph; 0-60mph: 7.1sec Fuel consumption 22mpg Cost new

£16,000 Classic Cars Price Guide £10,000-£28,000

‘The Quattro changes course with sudden verve and millimetric precision’

Drive combines surefootedness with tactility Underbonnet view is a VW-badged tangle of pipes Quattros retain base ‘Coupe’- badged tailblazer.


1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2

It’s one of the motor sport world’s greatest clichés – Audi landed in the World Rally Championship with the Quattro, swept all before it, forced all serious rivals to develop four-wheel drive contenders, and defined both the wild Group B era and the previously-indistinct Audi brand in a devastating series of blows that left the sport reeling. It’s also completely wrong. Because the story told by this brutal short-wheelbase Group B homologation-special Sport Quattro, one of 200 built, isn’t one of commanding innovation but a bitterly-fought game of catch-up.

Rather than a revolution, four-wheel drive was seen as a questionable, unreliable technology at the end of the Group 4 era. Rallying was pulling in several directions in 1980. The Lancia Stratos and Ford Escort RS1800 were still winning, but the mass switch to front-drive left some manufacturers in a quandary. Two of them postulated solutions – Renault shifted a front-drive powertrain to the middle of its supermini to create the immediately successful 5 Turbo, while another tackled a number of rallies in 1980 with a four-wheel-drive saloon without much success – Subaru, with the Leone.

Audi grabbed three wins on loose-surface rallies in 1981, but otherwise the season was embarrassing, marred by regular retirements, understeer-induced crashes and, on the Acropolis, disqualification when the Audi Team attempted to modify the cars mid-rally to circumvent turbo cooling issues (see the Hannu Mikkola interview to follow). Audi’s reign truly began in 1982, with Michéle Mouton securing it the manufacturer’s title, ahead of the 1983 driver’s title for Mikkola, and finally the double in 1984 with Stig Blomqvist, after which the Quattro’s brief reign was over. However, it was clear by this point that wrestling one across the finish line was a job for experts only.

As a result, the 1984 Sport Quattro intimidates by reputation. Competitions boss Walter Treser shortened the Quattro’s wheelbase by 12.6 inches and replaced steel bodywork with Kevlar and glassfibre to create it, looking for better agility and power-to-weight ratios against the much smaller mid-engined Peugeot 205T16 and Lancia Delta S4. But the engine is still a long way forward, a fact exaggerated by its pared-down weight and overhangs. How much can its 225/50 ZR15 front tyres do to contain it in corners?

The interior of this road car is a strict two-plus-two affair rather than the full four-seater the ur-Quattro is. But from behind the wheel, despite the simplified WRC-style dashboard makeover, it doesn’t feel so removed from the more urbane road machine.

Well, until you put your foot down. Acceleration is savage, 306bhp slamming me back into my seat. Lift off, and my ears are greeted by the clatter of a heavy-duty wastegate. I apply the brakes for a right-handed hairpin, and unlike the earlier car they’re so effective my chest strains against the seatbelt. It might be violently powerful, but it’s also confidence-inspiring in equal measure. It’s a car you can hurl about as well. The steering tactility of the ur-Quattro is still there, but the shorter wheelbase means it changes direction even more decisively. Confidence building, I start to push it harder through Bicester’s right-angles, amazed at how acute its cornering line can remain at speed.

Eventually the nose pushes wide. However, unlike a rear-drive car, you can pull it back in line by merely lifting off the throttle. And yet, thanks to the front wheels hunting for grip as well as the rear, there’s no threat of lift-off oversteer.

And that’s the real surprise of the Sport Quattro. It might deliver devastating performance, but it’s civilised and forgiving with it, a sense aided by a progressively damped ride that later, more mass-produced yet somehow more prestigious Audis could learn from. It even boasts comfortable, figure-hugging seats.

In fact, when I bear in mind the performance on offer allied to the all-rounder competence of the underlying Quattro concept, I find myself comparing it with the Porsche 911 Turbo. That car is most regularly cited as the best real-world supercar in terms of combining practicality, reliability and friendly dimensions with howlingly fast performance. But the Sport Quattro is actually a far better car in this respect. I certainly know which one I’d rather be making progress with on a wet country lane in February.

‘The ur-Quattro’s tactility is still there, but the shorter wheelbase means it changes direction even more decisively’

Lightened interior uses 80 saloon mouldings 2134cc five-cylinder kicks out a rally- winning 306bhp Sport’s 80 saloon screen and doors improve visibility.

Owning a Sport Quattro

Former Audi rally co-driver Phil Short took 15 years to track down his Sport Quattro. ‘You couldn’t buy them from dealers,’ he says. ‘Audi struggled to sell them, and Christian Geistdorfer had some role in finding buyers for the 200 built. AM Cars found a good one in Switzerland and I part-exchanged my 20v for it. ‘They’re reliable, but full of specialist parts. They don’t really rust – panels are Kevlar on a galvanised steel chassis – but don’t crash one; a bonnet is £10k, front wings £7k! ‘Replica builders chop a foot out of the wheelbase, but a genuine Sport has shorter doors and an upright screen from an 80, requested by the drivers to improve visibility. Also bear in mind that there are only 20 genuine works rally cars.

‘By the time I co-drove a Quattro on the British Championship with David Llewellyn in 1985, it had been sorted, but I did the 1982 Welsh Rally with Björn Waldegaard, the first time he drove one, and discovered that unlike an Escort or Ascona, if you pulled the handbrake all four wheels would lock. To get round tight hairpins you had to drive round very slowly or even shunt it backwards and forwards.’

1984 Audi Sport Quattro B2

As Quattro Turbo except: Engine 2134cc in-line five-cylinder, dohc, Bosch LH-Jetronic fuel injection, KKK K27 turbocharger

Max Power 306bhp @ 6700rpm

Max Torque 258lb ft @ 3700rpm

Weight 1273kg (2807lb)


Top speed: 154mph

0-60mph: 4.8sec

Fuel consumption 17mpg

Cost new DM 198,000 (approx. £55,000)

Classic Cars Price Guide £180,000-£300,000


1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2

Winning rallies and pioneering technologies got Audi noticed, but it also made its cars expensive.

Throughout the Quattro’s early years, while road testers regularly ran out of superlatives to describe the car’s high performance and disarming road manners, they tended to be less complimentary about its overall design and execution. True, it was well-made, but the same money bought much more overt luxury in the form of the Jaguar XJ6 and Mercedes-Benz 280CE C123. No longer an underdog manufacturer – infamously, before Michéle Mouton spearheaded the rallying campaign, a customer survey in her native France revealed that the public thought Audi made washing machines and fridges – Audi had the prestige to justify selling more luxurious cars. But in a sector where the BMW M635CSi E24 stood as the benchmark, Audi didn’t have enough mass-market appeal.

Enter the 1985 Quattro 20v. You can spot its mainstream luxury aspirations merely by lifting the bonnet. Whereas the ur-Quattro is unapologetically messy and haphazard under there, the 20v sports a cleanly-styled, clearly branded cam cover alongside more neatly-integrated radiator and turbocharger installations. Plastic badging has given way to chrome. Clasp its stainless-steel-wrapped doorhandle and there’s an instant sense of greater quality and attention to detail, continuing in the form of much more comfortable seats now available with leather trim, a more ergonomic steering wheel, and an overtly stylised digital dashboard. The uneven floor – a result of the hasty reworking of the exhaust to include a catalytic converter – is the only real distraction from the Quattro’s new-found executive-class aura. On the track, it immediately feels more solid, yet less delicate than the ur-Quattro. The smaller, thicker-rimmed steering wheel transmits its feedback in brutal punches rather than gentle eddies, thanks in part to blockier 205/55 R15 tyres, and while the gearchange is much slicker, the ride is harsher, in the manner that Audi was regularly criticised for especially in the Nineties.

It feels like more of a blunt instrument, so I’m minded to drive it in a more heavy-handed way, hurling it harshly into bends and letting it prove itself, rather than feeling compelled to seek out the finer nuances of its technology.

Acceleration feels much more thuggish, with peak torque arriving at a markedly lower 1950rpm. This makes the 20v’s performance feel more overt – the throttle is ultra-responsive and you don’t need to rev the straight-five in search of the power as you do with the ur-Quattro or Sport. Beyond 2000rpm it sounds fiery and aggressive, surging with torque as it seeks out Porsches and M-Power BMWs to duel. And yet, there’s something missing.

In taking the decision to give the 20v more mass-market executive appeal, Audi chassis engineer Dr Bernd Heissing fitted a front-drive-biased Torsen differential and removed the rear anti-roll bar to make the nose stiffer than the tail, reasoning that most drivers find it easier to control understeer than oversteer. It’s a move that rendered the Quattro safer, and yet it also marked a point of severance between Audi’s road-car programme and the rally engineering that had spurred it on, and sadly it shows.

Then again, the Quattro’s rallying reign was over. A series of shocking, tragic accidents would bring an end to Group B less than 12 months after the 20v’s launch, and while Audi’s reputation as a manufacturer of worthy luxury contenders grew, the motor sport that underpinned its credibility suddenly contracted, taking with it the wild mid-engined Group S prototype that Audi had hoped would defeat Peugeot and Lancia to regain its rally crown.

Nowadays, the performance and prestige of the 20v actually makes it more valuable than the pure original ur-Quattro, but you need to check the same problem areas. Galvanising breaks down, causing rust to nibble at sills and door bottoms, and be wary of malfunctioning digital dashboards and broken interior trim – very little is available by way of new replacements.

Owning a Quattro 20v

Adam Marsden runs AM Cars (amcarsquattro. co.uk), and has specialised in the model for 35 years. ‘The main thing to look for nowadays is corrosion,’ he warns. ‘It depends where they’ve been, but I’ve seen seaside and Scottish cars that have rusted right through. The back end where sills and floors meet is a bad area for it, as is the bulkhead at the rear of the front wheelarches – it had no plastic arch liners and they were only part-galvanised, so wherever sealer breaks down, corrosion will start. Rear subframes can crack too. Check it’s had regular cambelt changes, and that suspension isn’t worn or rusty. Parts supply is patchy. Thankfully, we used to buy salvaged Quattros so we’ve got a pretty good stock.

‘The market for Quattros is more steady than other Eighties performance machines like 911 Turbos and Sierra Cosworths, as the prices didn’t spike like those cars’ did. But 20v values are being driven by Sports. Good ones start at £40k, projects are £20k, I’ve seen mint ones make £80k at auction and the European market is even keener, so lhd can be a bonus – they can make €100k in Germany!’

1990 Audi Quattro 20v B2

As Quattro Turbo except: Engine 2226cc in-line five-cylinder, dohc, Bosch Motronic M2.3 fuel injection, KKK K27 turbocharger

Max Power 217bhp @ 5900rpm

Max Torque 227lb ft @ 1950rpm

Weight 1380kg (3042lb)


Top speed: 143mph

0-60mph 6.3sec

Fuel consumption 26mpg

Cost new £32,995

Classic Cars price guide £20,000-£45,000

Quality interior reflects Audi’s move upmarket.

20v gains stability, at the expense of understeer Tidier engine bay less intimidating for executives.

‘There’s minimal lag and you don’t need to rev the straight-five in search of power like you do in the ur-Quattro or Sport’


1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4

The early Nineties were dark days for the German motor industry. A global recession rendered its cars unaffordable, and their association with the Yuppie bankers held responsible for much of the financial turmoil saw them fall out of fashion too. The Group B rallying that had raised Audi’s profile was gone, and the rules of Group C endurance racing that had been Porsche’s shop window for a decade were meddled with to favour Formula One engine manufacturers.

Audi’s post-Group B, 1987-91 ‘B3’ 80/90 range spawned the car that nearly sank the Quattro. The optimistically named 90 Sport Quattro featured much of the old 20v’s innards, but the package was overweight, laden down with luxuries, and lumbered with Servotronic steering that offered minimal feedback. Group A rally versions floundered in the wake of the dominant Lancia Delta Integrales.

However, in 1991, J Mays’ meek B3 was evolved into this much bolder Audi 80 B4 shape, complete with a separate, framed grille rather than a featureless slatted intake. The motor sport landscape had shifted too – the new Super Touring formula was much more cost-effective to homologate cars for than Group B rallying. The B4 range included the 2500-example 80 Quattro Competition, which introduced four-wheel drive to touring-car racing.

But thanks to the naturally aspirated nature of the Super Touring rules, the Competition had to make do with a 138bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder. It was hot-hatch quick, but Ferdinand Piëch reasoned that the concept of a rapid 80 Quattro had so much more potential as a road car engineered outside of homologation rules. The Porsche-built Mercedes-Benz E500 had just dropped out of production leaving spare capacity at the Zuffenhausen factory at a time when 911 sales were in freefall, so Porsche was keen to collaborate with another mainstream manufacturer on a supersaloon. Or, so it turned out, an estate, as all but two of the 2900 RS2s are.

This RS2 wears its Porsche input overtly, with badges on the grille, steering wheel and brake calipers to point out where Zuffenhausen’s main alterations were made. Alloy wheels and low-drag door mirrors come straight from the 911. Inside, carbonfibre inserts flash at you from dashboard and doorcards, and the heavily bolstered seats are almost wilfully uncomfortable.

It would feel more like a supercar than an estate were it not for the way the seats sit on standard-height runners, forcing a rather pedestrian bent-legged driving position. Unlike the earlier Quattros, the steering wheel is dead-ahead rather than slightly to the right of the seat’s centreline, but despite a completely different, much more modern dashboard design, as per the Eighties cars the RS2’s instruments are still skewed to the left.

The ride is fidgety, as if the car is restless to prove its abilities. The gear lever has a surprisingly harsh centring action that snatches the lever out of my hand if I’m not firm with it. However, it’s wantonly fast. Porsche fast, in fact. Unlike its predecessors, turbo lag is brutal, all 302lb ft kicking in close to 3000rpm. Performance is stupendous, with 80mph coming up as effortlessly as most cars manage 40, and a top speed of 163mph made it the world’s fastest estate back in 1994. Unfortunately, it’s not progressive or predictable like the ur-Quattro or even the Sport. Instead, it seemingly takes its cue from the pugilistic 20v and adds more violence. And when the going gets rough, the RS2 gets skittish – the sign of a stiff chassis bred on the racetrack, not the special stages. Enter the mindset of a racing driver, be smooth with it, and it covers ground as rapidly as a supercar, finding grip even on damp tarmac and clinging on so hard that you feel the physics of each corner rearranging your internals. The RS2 only remained in production two years before Porsche needed the factory capacity back to build the Boxster. However, it launched a new breed of supercar-fettled Audi saloon – some of the RS2’s modern successors have had Lamborghini input.

On track, too, it reflected a new era of motor sport glory. Audi’s introduction of four-wheel drive to touring car racing in the Super Touring years, with Frank Biela at the wheel, abruptly established the car as the equal of the BMW 3 Series in the German Super Touren Wagen series. Biela with the successor A4 Sport Quattro was so effective in the 1996 and 1997 BTCC that four-wheel drive was banned from the series – a rule that remains in place today. ‘Wantonly fast, but it’s not progressive or predictable like the ur-Quattro or Sport’

Owning an 80 RS2 Avant

Stephen McPherson owned his RS2 for 12 years. ‘The engine and drivetrain are wellproven,’ he attests. ‘Cars with over 100k miles under their wheels show no weaknesses, and you can expect 200k miles from a well-maintained engine. Bodywork is fully galvanised and should be corrosion-free, although the alloy wheels suffer from surface flaking. The Porsche handbrake uses separate pads acting on small drums within the rear discs, and are unable to hold the car on anything steep. ‘Anti-roll bars are plastic-coated, but the rear runs over the exhaust and the plastic cracks with the heat. A narrow body-coloured strip of floorpan behind each rear wheel isn’t as well protected as the rest of the underside, and needs undersealing. Pay £20k-£30k for an excellent UK-spec RS2, although LHD cars can be sub-£20k bargains.’

1996 Audi 80 RS2 Avant 8C B4

Engine 2226cc in-line five-cylinder, dohc, Bosch Motronic M2.3 fuel injection, KKK K24 turbocharger

Max Power 315bhp @ 6500rpm

Max Torque 302lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion


Front: independent, MacPherson struts, coupling rods, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Rear: independent, double wishbones, coupling rods, telescopic dampers, coil springs, antiroll bar

Brakes Porsche servo-assisted discs front and rear with antilock system

Weight 1595kg (3517lb)


Top speed: 163mph

0-60mph: 5.4sec

Fuel consumption 31mpg

Cost new £45,705

Classic Cars Price Guide £14,000-£30,000

Supercar uncomfortably meets family wagon The highest state of tune for the 20v straight-five Harsh ride gives the RS2 skittish handling.


2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N

Audi’s Quattros had always been performance-car icons, but they remained out of reach of the majority. The ur-Quattro contended with M-Power BMWs, and at nearly £46k the RS2 commanded Maserati Ghibli money. But in the Nineties mass market the landscape was changing. Rife theft made hot saloons and hatches uninsurable, new environmental legislation brought the Eighties power war to an end, and a recession ravaged public had a lot less to spend. But they still wanted fun cars, and the runaway popularity of the Mazda MX-5 pointed to a solution: siphon ordinary saloon components into an eye-catching lightweight sports car, give it an ordinary saloon price tag, and enjoy a massive sales boost. The tactic revived MG with the F, and changed the public perception of Alfa Romeo with the Tipo 916 GTV and Spider. Mercedes accessed a new market with its SLK, and the Elise took Lotus into relative mass production.

Audi built its contender, the TT, on the floorplan of its entry-level car, the VW Golf-based A3. Remarkably though, its Freeman Thomas-penned, Bauhaus-inspired lines and Romulus Rost’s tactile interior details went straight from 1995 Tokyo Motor Show concept to 1998 production reality with the sole alteration of a small front-wing vent. This alone made it the darling of chinstroking design connoisseurs, but is it worthy of its bloodline?

Especially given that infamously a spoiler had to be added because its Thirties-streamliner shape resulted in an alarmingly light back end. Also, despite badging, its optional four-wheel drive was not an evolution of Audi’s Quattro system, but rather one developed for the Golf platform by Swedish off-road specialist Haldex.

Climbing down into the two-seater cockpit of this rare limited-edition lightweight TT Quattro Sport is Lotus Exige-tricky thanks to its combination of low roof and the high bolsters of its one-piece bucket seats, but once I’m inside it’s a comfortable environment. Like the Eighties Quattros, all-round visibility is excellent, albeit squashed into widescreen by the low edges of the roof.

Just like the ur-Quattro, the TT’s turbo boost is lag-free, low-down and smooth, delivered with a combination of noisy whistle and serrated growl. That power is coming from a transversely-mounted five-valves-per-cylinder four from a Golf GTI, and yet because of the shared heritage of the two marques, there’s nothing particularly un-Audi about it.

The real surprise comes when you hurl it around. On fast, smooth roads it’s limpet-like, but rather than violently clawing its way through tight bends on a tidal swell of grip, the front-biased Haldex system is willing to let the TT’s 235/40 ZR18 rear tyres slip and slide, the 2428mm wheelbase and lack of heavy overhangs giving it a twitchy, darty demeanour, the Alcantara wheelrim delivering Porsche 911 levels of information overload. Its vicelike brakes are in the Sport Quattro and 80 RS2 league too.

It’s properly fast as well, more powerful than the old 20v, the same acceleration on offer as the ur-Quattro and a top speed only a couple of mph shy of the Sport Quattro. Admittedly this Quattro Sport is the Mk1 TT at its most expensive and rapid, but it’s still a revelation – in a world where Group B homologation specials command six-figure sums and buying an ur-Quattro might relieve you of your life savings, TT Quattros can be had for a couple of grand, their zinc-galvanised bodywork still largely corrosion-free 20 years on. And yet the lightweight, short-wheelbase driving experience on offer genuinely compares directly to the most desirable classic Audi Quattro of them all.

There is a common theme running from ur-Quattro to TT – nimble, turbocharged, punchy, yet ultimately exhibiting advantage via all-surface agility rather than ultimate power. Nothing expresses this so purely as the ur-Quattro, nor takes it to quite such entertaining conclusions as the Sport Quattro. However, it’s also heartening to know that all their best qualities can be found in some very cheap cars. Good TT Quattros can be had for £1200, but the Quattro Turbo experience starts at all of £900 for an old A4 Sport. You can’t say that of many classic icons.

Owning a TT Quattro 8N

Paul Schenk covered 250,000 miles in his TT Quattro 225. ‘Put simply, it’s a Golf GTI with four-wheel drive, and as a result it’s unburstable as well as chuckable,’ he says. ‘Watch out for electronic dashboard failure – I went through three of them, the first one after just five years. Make sure the water pump is replaced every 60,000 miles. They don’t rust, the boot is huge for a sports car, and my first clutch lasted 180,000 miles. The fact you can buy them so cheaply nowadays is unreal.’

Most owners report similar rust-free, unproblematic experiences, and their capacity for high mileage keeps values low. However, the combination of aluminium roof rails and steel roof centre has provoked electrolytic corrosion on some examples, whereas leaky convertibles with blocked drain holes sometimes have rusty sills. They’re tough, but don’t be complacent when buying.

2005 Audi TT Quattro Sport 8N

Engine 1781cc transverse four-cylinder, dohc, Bosch Motronic ME7 fuel injection, KKK K04 turbocharger

Max Power 237bhp @ 5700rpm

Max Torque 236lb ft @ 5000rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear


Front: independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear: independent, double wishbones, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Weight 1490kg (3285lb)

Performance Top speed: 152mph;

0-60mph: 7.1sec

Fuel consumption 30mpg

Cost new £29,335

Classic Cars price guide £6000-£12,000

TT went straight from concept to production VW engine and Haldex 4WD, but feels like Quattro Spoiler added after shape made the TT unstable.


2007 Audi R8 Type 42

And finally, we arrive at the R8, a mid-engined four-wheel-drive V8 supercar, the ultimate expression of the Quattro system’s abilities. And yet, this newest phase in Quattro evolution has roots almost as old as the ur-Quattro’s.

It all began in 1984, with Walter Treser’s one-off experimental mid-engined Sport Quattro. This morphed into the 1986 one-off RS002, a dual-role race and rally machine devised for the anticipated Group S rules. Group B’s cancellation took Group S with it, but the prototype’s engineering made it into a roadgoing supercar, the Quattro Spyder.

Powered by a 2.8-litre V6 from the 80 parts bin, it was production ready by the time the orange concept was unveiled at the 1991 Frankfurt Show, but the recession meant its DM100,000 price was deemed too steep, even though German dealerships had already taken orders. But seven years later, in 1998, Audi made a shock announcement – it was building a V8-powered sports-prototype. Rushed development got the racing R8s off to a patchy start – reliable but off the pace – but development paid off. The R8 enjoyed a Ford GT40-like period of dominance, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2000-02, 2004 and 2005. Finally, the justification for a roadgoing Audi supercar was obvious. The Le Mans Quattro concept was shown at Frankfurt in 2003, and went straight into production three years later with tiny differences, initially with Audi’s 4.2-litre V8 rather than the concept’s Lamborghini V10. The name? R8.

It’s a dramatic-looking car, even if it lacks the sheer shockimpact of its Italian rivals. However, this means it doesn’t intimidate either. It feels familiarly Audi inside, its sole concession to flamboyance being the polished-aluminium open-slotted gear gate incongruous among the grey rationality.

At rest the idling V8 is near-silent, but on the slightest throttle opening it erupts angrily behind me in a manner I imagine Tom Kristensen would be familiar with, bellowing as I pick up speed down Bicester’s main straight. The satisfying metal-on-metal action of the gearchange puts me in mind of Ferraris, the pedals well set-up for rev-matching downchanges as I prepare to corner carefully, anticipating something specialised and nervous.

But no Italian supercar ever cornered like this. As I pitch the R8 into a right-handed hairpin, I can feel the Quattro system working in the same time-honoured fashion as it does in the ur-Quattro: turn in, feel the front driveshafts enhance the movement, trust the front grip, accelerate gently, feel the weight shift rearwards, let the rear wheels power you through. If I attempted the same behaviour in a Porsche 911, I’d be exiting the corner backwards.

Admittedly, one thing keeping it so neat is a traction control system, but it has a simple off-switch. Hit it, and the R8 reveals Sport Quattro heritage, the rear writhing slightly rather than being electronically kept in check. And yet you still drive it like a solidfeeling Quattro rather than a delicate Ferrari, you can just sense it working in greater definition and exercise more control.

This simplicity leaves a bittersweet aftertaste – for all Audi’s high-tech credentials, it feels like the last of a classic supercar breed, something from a world of growling normally-aspirated V8s, clacking open-gate gearchanges, straked air intakes and Le Mans prototype lineage. I’m glad the R8 got the chance to exist briefly in this analogue form, and from £35k it’s a supercar bargain today, but it makes me feel as though there’s an empty seat at our Quattro table, left vacant by the R8’s unbuilt Spyder predecessor, which might have challenged so many greats of the Nineties. Unlike many motoring dynasties, Audi’s Quattro story hasn’t remained confined to a single model. Its trademark four-wheel-drive system defines the marque, and is found as an option on everything from small hatchbacks to Range Rover-rivalling off-road behemoths. Unlike so many cars, ‘Audi Quattro’ is all about engineering. It’s an idea as much as a brand. And if you love that idea, then thanks to mass-production, there’s an Audi Quattro for you no matter how much money you have to spend. And I can’t think of many classic bloodlines you could say that of.

Thanks to Audi (audi.co.uk), Bicester Heritage (bicesterheritage.co.uk)

Owning an Audi R8

Paul Schenk replaced his TT with an early R8 four years ago. ‘The only source of concern is the clutch – they’re scarily expensive to change,’ he warns. It’ll cost £2500 – plus a further £1600 if a flywheel and release bearing are needed – but you can plug in diagnostics to check wear rate. ‘Otherwise they make supercar ownership boring – rather than bespoke and handbuilt like Ferraris, R8s are built to mass-manufacturing standards.

‘Handling-wise they’re very sensitive to tyre choice and pressure, but generally they’re cheap to run for a supercar. Standard annual servicing costs £650-£750 and any Audi main dealer can do it. Be wary of independent Audi specialists though – although they know what they’re doing with the older and more mainstream models, they often don’t have the specialist tools required to remove certain bolts on the R8, and people unfamiliar with R8s always end up overfilling their oil reservoirs.’

2007 Audi R8 Type 42

Engine 4163cc V8, dohc per bank, Bosch Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI)

Max Power 430bhp @ 7900rpm

Max Torque 317lb ft @ 6000rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Suspension Front and rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1960kg (4321lb)


Top speed: 187mph

0-60mph: 4.8sec

Fuel consumption 19mpg

Cost new £101,000

Classic Cars Price Guide £35,000-£45,000

‘The R8’s simplicity leaves a bittersweet aftertaste – it’s the last of a classic supercar breed’

Shallow rear windscreen aside, visibility is great The 4.2 V8 uses Le Mans injection technology R8 made good on 1991 promise of an Audi supercar.


‘It took until 1983 to sort it out’

World Rally Champion Hannu Mikkola rallied and developed the Quattro in its early days. He recalls the car’s tortuous debut season

We had a lot of technical problems in 1981,’ recalls Hannu Mikkola of the Audi Quattro’s first foray onto the World Rally Championship stage. ‘It was never just one thing – different rallies caused different things to go wrong – but the first issue to come up, at the first event of the season, Monte Carlo, was the brakes.’

Audi hadn’t anticipated the effects a locking centre differential would have on the rear brakes. ‘They were acting too hard on the rear discs, making them very hot,’ says Mikkola, ‘so by the latter stages the car wasn’t stopping. A link came loose in the steering system, then on the last stage I lost brakes completely and had a big accident. In order to counteract the earlier problem, we’d biased the brakeforce too far towards the front and the brake balancer bar broke. That was my first competitive rally in the Quattro. I’d been setting good times, but the car was unreliable.’

Mikkola’s first introduction to the car was in 1980, where rally input was used in lieu of development testing. ‘The Audi factory fully backed the rally effort, because our work helped them evolve the road car,’ he explains. ‘The problem was, we hadn’t done much testing on tarmac. All our testing in 1980 was done on loose surfaces to get the handling right on snow and gravel – and immediately I was setting faster times than I had done in a Ford Escort RS1800 a year earlier, but the Quattro struggled on tarmac. Part of the problem was the rear differential. It was essentially three-wheel drive in some corners, brutally pulling to the left and right, and it took us until 1983 to sort it out.’

The Quattro also demanded a radically different driving style. ‘I drove it a bit too hard early on,’ Mikkola admits. ‘I always tried to get it to oversteer, because it naturally wants to understeer, although on snow you have all four wheels pulling the Quattro into the bend. On tarmac its front-drive origins make it harsh. I was used to rear-wheel drive and wanted to get it sideways, but the Torsen differential wouldn’t let me. It was a slow process, all mechanical, so you couldn’t just plug a computer into the differential and alter settings. It had to be sent back to Gleason in America for analysis.

‘The four-wheel-drive system wasn’t as difficult to adapt to as the turbocharged engine. The 1981 car had a hell of a lot of turbo lag. I had to learn left-foot braking in order to keep the Quattro’s revs up, and drive it against the brakes, which of course didn’t help the braking issues the car already had. It had no power below 1000rpm, which made it difficult to drive on the Tour de Corse, an all-tarmac rally with lots of very tight bends.

It wasn’t just four-wheel drive that made it difficult, it was made worse by a very short first gear, so it didn’t pull immediately coming out of hairpins. Essentially, the Quattro was a front-wheel-drive car made four-wheel drive – and with the engine in front of the front axle, all its weight was up front. On tarmac rallies, this meant understeer and overheated front brakes.

The real low point for Audi in the 1981 WRC was the Acropolis Rally. ‘We had problems starting the cars when they’d been left standing in the heat, so we took two of the headlights off to create vents and get more air into the engine bay. We could have made alterations in secret, but we didn’t think there was anything wrong with what we’d done. However, the organisers said we weren’t allowed to continue because it was an illegal modification.

‘I was leading by four minutes on the Rallye de Portugal before a problem with the engine’s cams took me out of the running. I was leading in Finland later in the season when it happened again, and when I came into the service area the engineers accused me of over-revving the engine. I told them I hadn’t been, but in truth I had to keep the revs up because of the turbo lag. When it hit the rev limiter, the ignition would cut out but the fuel would still be being pumped into the combustion chambers. Then when the spark plugs came back on again, the fuel in the cylinder heads would explode and blow the cams off! I ended up third.

‘Luckily, I won the season-ending RAC Rally. By that point we were starting to get it right; you could drive it fast. But back in 1980 Audi assumed new technologies would have to be discovered for four-wheel drive – new kinds of brakes and tyres. Audi worked with Kleber to develop a different kind of tyre, but in 1983 we switched to off-the-shelf Michelins and I won the championship.’

The 1983 season didn’t look good early on. ‘We started with technical problems. The timing belt kept jumping, but that was easily put right. The rest of the car was working well. Turbocharger technology was getting better, it didn’t suffer lag any more, the suspension was finely tuned, and the brake balance was right. All this was important for Audi because it wanted people to believe that four-wheel drive passenger cars were the future.

‘In 1981, our biggest battle of ideas was with Renault with its 5 Turbo, although not on gravel and snow. Renault had chosen to build a specialised rally car from scratch, whereas Audi aimed to build safe road cars, not just win rallies. There were a lot of good people at Audi who could have designed a mid-engined rally car to beat Renault, Peugeot and Lancia, but we had to design a road car to be a rally car. Audi was using the rally team as a resource to develop road cars, and it made the process much easier.

‘Audi challenged the mid-engined cars with the 1984 Sport Quattro – still front-engined. The plan was to develop that car until 1989, but after Henri Toivonen’s fatal accident on the 1986 Tour de Corse, Ferdinand Piëch said to me, “Hannu, I don’t want to kill anyone.” Rallying was getting too dangerous, and that was Audi’s motivating factor to pull out of the sport and put the development of the Quattro into racing instead. It had learnt its lessons and went on to revolutionise touring car racing with four-wheel drive – first in the American IMSA series, then the German STW, then the British BTCC – before being banned. And then it went to Le Mans…’

‘Audi could have made a mid-engined rally car, but we had to design a road car to be a rally car’

Teething problems beset the Quattro in its inaugural 1981 World Rally Championship season An impromptu headlight modification, seen here on Michèle Mouton’s car, led to 1981 Acropolis Rally disqualification

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Additional Info
  • Year: 1981-2007
  • Type: Petrol
  • Battery: 12 volt
  • Fuelling: Injection
  • Drive: AWD
  • Type: Petrol