Audi Quattro Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Thursday 28th September


What is it like to drive?

Let’s use modern cars as a yardstick to start with. In comparison the Quattro is merely brisk, the turbo listless at low revs and ramping in only gently when it does, the whole engine smooth and quiet, rather than the warbling wonder you may have been led to believe. It rolls, needs a good twist of steering to turn in, doesn’t grip that hard. All of this – well apart from the low key engine – you probably expected. 

But boy, even by modern standards, this thing knows its way down a sweeping road. It starts with the bodyshell, which despite being designed over 40 years ago, is as stiff as stiff can be. There’s not a creak or a trace of flex in it. It’s not something you notice initially, but once you do, it stays with you. Its sheer structural rigidity is the one facet of the Quattro’s performance that feels modern. I know, hardly a thrilling thing to talk about, but as we’re all forever being told these days, a strong core is at the centre of all performance. 

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It allows the suspension to work efficiently and effectively, and means the signals coming back through steering and suspension aren’t blurred by the time they reach you. And the suspension works brilliantly. Of course it’s soft and languid, but then it doesn’t need to be stiff because there’s not much weight to keep control of. And the car rolls progressively, not just on the springs, but the tyre sidewall. You’re aware of the forces building up – and running out – and you can do something about it. 

The Quattro is less content on tight roads. Quick direction changes are not its forte, they tax the springs and tyres and understeer soon arrives. But it’s very easily managed. Nothing happens too fast (hardly a surprise), and when it does, you can do something about it. Lift the throttle and the Quattro obediently tightens its line. But you’ll have lost momentum and revs, and neither is quickly regained. 

The five speed manual gearbox prefers a measured hand, shall we say. It’s long throw and won’t be rushed. By the time you’re through the gate the engine, unless you were a long way round the rev counter, will be off boost. You might need to drop to second. Which is a long way below third. And then there’s the brakes: reasonable power, no ABS. It doesn’t feel right to use them hard. 

The Audi prefers roads where it can work the third/fourth plane. I’d expected tight roads to be its forte allowing the 4WD to pull it out of corners, but there you’re actually at the mercy of the available tyre grip and it feels a bit untidy, whereas through carving sweepers, hard on the power, you notice the 4WD assistance. Mainly because you exit neutrally, nose lifted, background thrum from the engine letting you know that all’s well. 

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This is the Quattro in its happy place, and it’ll make you happy too. There’s plenty of feel through the power-assisted steering, it seems to almost glide above the surface, unruffled and unfussed about the quality of the surface beneath. It reminds you of what many modern sports cars have lost, with their hard suspension, low profile tyres and hyperactive steering racks. The Quattro blends speed and comfort very satisfyingly – in fact as you may have guessed it’s more of a GT than a sports car. Interior noise levels are low, the engine is quiet, the ride soothing. It’s as refined and easy to do distance in as a brand-new Mercedes-AMG A45 S. 

But nothing like as quick. In 1980 Motor recorded 0-60mph in 6.5secs (against a claim of 7.1secs), having reached 30mph in a then record time of 1.8secs. The latter is on par with a VW Golf R, but the Quattro is lagging two seconds behind at 60mph. No matter. Back in 1980, amongst its rivals only the Porsche 911 SC was faster. But it’s not the sort of car that likes being wrung out to the 6,500rpm limiter in every gear. It’s best from 3,000-5,000rpm, ramping into the 210lb ft boost, where it feels breathy, honest and gutsy. On roads that suit it, it can deliver a proper turn of speed.

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