Trailblazer. How many cars fit that description? Vehicles that changed the face of motoring, led by example, showcased new technology and new thinking. The Porsche 911, while easily the world's most successful sports car, was never a trailblazer-otherwise other manufacturers would have slung heavy engines over their cars' rear axles. The Lamborghini Miura definitely blazed a trail. It defined an entirely new genre: the mid-engined supercar. The Range Rover, likewise, changed the car scene forever. It was the first luxury SUV and proved you could drive almost anywhere in complete comfort. The original Mini and the first Golf (or Rabbit) GTI should probably be on the list. And then there's the Audi Quattro.
To say the Quattro shook things up when it came along in 1980 would be doing it a huge disservice. It tore up the rulebook and started over, setting a template for the uture of car design. Yet anyonelooking at a Quattro in 2008 might be forgiven for wondering what the big deal is. It's boxy, looks dated and, judged against today's cars, not all that fast. Quite different from the new S5, which is a stunning amalgam of swoops, curves and in-your-face attitude. The S5 is also mighty quick, but, if it weren't for the original Quattro, cars such as this wouldn't exist.
It's been dubbed by many as the 'Ur-Quattro' to differentiate it from the herd of all-wheel-drive Audis that emerged after it, as they've all been given the Quattro moniker. 'Ur' is often used in the German language to mean 'first' or 'original' and the Germans sometimes refer to these Quattros as 'Uris.'
The Ur-Quattro brought four-wheel drive to the masses, redefining expectations en it came to safety and stability. Never before had a car been able to grip like his. It was a revelation and stole the 1980 Geneva Motor Show.
The Quattro name became ubiquitous. It turned motorsport on its head, particularly on the world's rally stages, and dominated all comers, thanks to its colossal grip and unbreakable build quality. Picking up the gauntlet that Audi threw down, other manufacturers jumped onto the four-wheel-drive bandwagon for their rally cars and soon Group B was upon us. Rally cars with previously unheard-of power tore through the world's forests. Casualties were inevitable. Drivers and navigators sometimes met their maker in a ball of flames, while spectators, who weren't as quick on their feet as the cars were on their tires, were killed with alarming regularity.
To end the carnage, Group B finished, but the Quattro legend lived on. Because, ultimately, it did more good than harm. Four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes save lives-lots of them. But the Ur-Quattro is where it all began. And I feel incredibly privileged to be handed the keys to this rally replica, as well as a brandnew, out-of-the-box S5.
Ur-Quattros still quicken the pulse 4 when occasionally seen on the road. Yes, they look like they were designed using a ruler rather than in free hand, but they have plenty of presence, thanks to those blistered fenders and low ride height.
In comparison, this beautiful black S5 turns as many heads as an Aston. It's truly a wonderful thing to behold. Getting them side by side, it's obvious their designs are separated by a quarter of a century. Under their skins, it's a similar story. The Ur-Quattro was a mechanical tour de force, where computers were only just beginning to take charge. The impression when driving this thing is that there's an awful lot of metal meeting metal. Pull a lever, push a button and you can almost feel the ker-thunk as cogs meet and driveshafts are turned.
The inline five-cylinder engine, taken from the 200 sedan, is punchy and sounds unmistakable, with a real off-beat burble. Performance is brisk enough once wound up past 2500 rpm to get the urbo on boil. But judged against modern machinery, it can't help but feel a little asthmatic. Turbocharging was still relatively new technology when the Ur-Quattro was developed and it shows in its massive lag. Foot down, wait a while, then bam. There's nothing like an old-school turbo for heart-stopping thrills.
Getting power to all four wheels was no easy task. The gearbox is mounted behind the engine, like a rear-wheel-drive car. Power is sent to the rear wheels in the usual fashion, but also transmitted forward through a hollow shaft to the front differential. With all this going on, it's not surprising that you need to be quite deliberate with the lever when on the move. With practice, you can time the changes perfectly to avoid shunting the drivetrain, and soon get used to the fact that you can't carry out lightning-quick shifts through the gate.
The S5 couldn't be more different. You feel totally isolated from anything as vulgar as gear linkages. It's refinement all the way and this suits its GT character perfectly. The big-hearted V8 sounds gruff. While there's no forced induction, it feels and sounds almost as though there's a supercharger under the hood. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and although it's way less powerful than an RS4 on paper, it certainly doesn't feel it.
The A5 family showcases new Audi technology with the company's Modular Longitudinal Chassis (or MLB) platform, which the next generation of Audi models will share. The front differential is now mounted in front of the clutch and this, combined with a longer wheelbase and short overhangs, gives a driving feel that's been missing from Audi for quite some time. The 50/50 weight distribution is perfect.
The Quattro drivetrain has evolved considerably over the years, with mixed levels of success. Audi went through a dry spell during the mid- to late-1990s, when its cars were safe enough, but offered little interaction with their drivers. That's all changing and the S5, along with its less powerful A5 sibling, is a hoot. The latest Quattro transmission feels more rear-wheel drive in practice, but enter a tight-radius bend at speed and the car will haul you around instead of catapulting into the nearest tree. Anyone who says you need rear-wheel drive to enjoy a car is missing the point, because you can do extraordinary things in a modern Quattro.
There's a slight tendency for the S5 to invoke understeer once adhesion limits are breached, but, hell, it's epic fun. This is a precision instrument that flatters its driver at all times. And with the tantalizing prospect of an RS5 in the near future, this is a model line that could prove to be the best thing Audi has done since the original Quattro. It really is that good.
Even so, no A5, S5, RS4 or even R8 will ever achieve what the Ur-Quattro pulled off. They all makethe world a better place for anyone who loves quality engineering andhas even a small quantity of petrol coursing through their arteries, but they don't bring anything really new to the table. Which solidifies the unassailable position of the original, trailblazing Audi Quattro as the most influential and important sports car the world has ever seen.
Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Ur-Quattro
1. Each one was hand-built in Hall N2 at Audi's Ingolstadt factory by a team that never numbered more than 48.
2. It's rarer than you might think: just 11,452 were built between 1980 and 1991. The original plan had been to build just 400 for homologation purposes.
3. The rear suspension is the same as the front, just installed the other way around.
4. With the addition of so many electrical items during the production run, the wiring diagram grew from eight to 21 pages.
5. Michele Mouton drove one at Pikes Peak in 1985, setting a ladies' record that still stands today.
6. The first cars were slower from 20 to 60 mph than a 895cc VW Polo when floored in top gear, yet from 60 to 100 mph they were quicker than a 911. That's turbo lag for you...
7. The synthesized voice that came with the digital dashboard in 1983 was known as Patricia.
8. The only notable styling revision came in September 1984 when a sloping radiator grille was fitted.
9. Audi has gone on to use the Ur-Quattro's drivetrain in more than 2,000,000 cars.
10. The last one built rolled out of the factory on May 17, 1991, straight into the Audi museum.
*When we think of Audi, two words immediately spring to mind: turbo and Quattro. These technologies enabled Audi to build machines so good, so powerful they dominated the world's racetracks. That same technology made it to the street and left us with more than a few remarkable cars.
Call us old-fashioned, but we sort of miss those days. There was something terribly seductive about wringing big power from small displacement. And as much as we like Audi's current generation of naturally aspirated engines, we can't help but imagine what a turbo or two would do to the bottom line.
We've heard a few whispers in the hallways, things like the next S4 will return to a twin-turbo six. As of now, this is simply rumor. However, during a recent conversation with highly placed Audi brass, we were told: "If you like turbochargers you will like the next generation of cars. Just wait a bit."
Easier said than done. This is what else we asked, and what they told us.
EC: Recently Audi seems to have eschewed turbocharging in favor of large-capacity, naturally aspirated engines. Smaller motors, like in the TT and the [European] A5, are obviously benefiting from turbo technology, but what about the range-toppers?
Audi: RS4 models and the R8 all feature our naturally aspirated V8 engine. Its free-revving ability and spontaneous response mean it is very well suited to these particular models. But Audi has absolutely not said goodbye to turbocharging for top models. The new RS6 Avant has a 580-hp twin-turbo V10 with peak torque of almost 480 lb-ft, available as low as 1500 rpm. This means our largest station wagon is able to perform like a sports car.
EC: Regarding the RS4/RS6 and the huge power they produce: how does the company see this developing? And how much is too much?
Audi: While the RS4 and RS6 engines are both high-output units, they also feature FSI direct injection technology pioneered in our Le Mans-winning sports car prototypes. FSI delivers precisely metered amounts of fuel into the combustion chambers at very high compression ratios, leading to remarkably effi cient combustion compared to the power output. The future of Audi models is one of better driving performance, improved fuel consumption and lower emissions. The final power output of our engines will be a consequence of achieving these goals. Higher engine output is not a target in itself and is sometimes not even necessary. Take the new TT. It is longer, wider and better equipped than the predecessor model. Yet we left peak output of the top V6-powered version unchanged at 250 hp. This is because the new TT is lighter than its predecessor, thanks to a spaceframe body made of aluminum and steel. We were able to deliver better driving performance by reducing weight rather than by increasing power output.
1983 Audi Quattro Turbo
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
2.1-liter inline five, sohc, 20-valve
Five-speed manual with locking centre and rear differentials
Independent suspension with coil springs front and rear, MacPherson struts and lower wishbones
11-inch rotors (f), 10.6-inch rotors (r), optional ABS
Length/ Width/ Height (in.): 173.3 x 67.9 x 52.0
Wheelbase: 99.5 in.
Curb Weight: 2,866 lb
Peak Power: 200 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 200 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm 0-60 mph: 7 sec.
Top Speed: 139 mph
2007 Audi S5
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve
Independent multi-link front and rear, coil springs, anti-roll bars
Five-inch drilled rotors (f), 14-inch (r), ABS
Length/Width/Height (in.): 182.5 x 73 x 53.9
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Curb Weight: 3,891 lb
Peak Power: 354 hp @ 7000 rpm
Peak Torque: 324 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)