Living up to its motto of Vorsprung durch Technik – Progress through Technology – Audi has just made a car with the eight millionth example of its ground breaking quattro four wheel drive system.
The car, a new Q5 since you ask, is the latest in a long line of all wheel drive models dating back to the original Quattro which redefined the amount of grip a car could generate when it first appeared in the 1980s.
Audi decided to demonstrate just how effective this new system was in one of the toughest environments possible when it entered and dominated the World Rally Championship, instantly rewriting the rule books and leaving the rest to play catch up.
But how important is having four wheel drive and what does it mean anyway? Here we take a look, provide some answers and suggest that to some drivers it can be essential to their job or leisure time.
What is it?
The engine produces the power to push the car along but needs a transmission (gearbox and axles) to get that to the tarmac otherwise the car will just sit there and cannot move.
Imagine that when you accelerate the tyres are trying to grip the road and pull it towards the car so that it moves forward. Now play that scenario on a wet or icy road; just as if you were walking on a slippery pavement there is obviously less grip so the tyres cannot put as much power through them to the surface.
The more powerful the engine, or the more you rev it, the worse it gets because the rubber is simply overwhelmed by what you are asking it to do.
But what happens if the job of getting that power to the road is spread between all four tyres rather than just two? Assuming the engine output is spread 50:50 between the front and back axles then you halve the amount of grip needed by the one which before was doing everything.
Result? More grip, easier acceleration, more confidence, greater safety and better stability.
How does it work?
Thankfully the arrival of modern electronics and complex clutches has made life much easier and drivers getting into their first quattro today have no idea how lucky they are!
In normal driving just the front wheels are powered because this is the most fuel-efficient way and four wheel drive is not needed. However, if the car’s computers and transmission system does detect any slippage or a struggle for grip it will instantly split the power between front and back.
The driver doesn’t need to do anything; indeed they may not even know it has happened unless a little display lights up on the dashboard to tell them.
Long gone are the days when there were two more levers beside that for the gears, one to engage 4×4 and then perhaps even a second to select low range. But that’s another story. Let’s just say that today it is almost always automatically selected and probably best left that way.
Who needs it?
Other than the odd day or two the winters where we used to get heavy snowfalls are but a memory for most of us and main roads are usually well gritted and clear of ice.
But there might be that occasion when you are driving down a country road which has not been treated or on a side road in a housing estate covered in ice. Then the quattro system comes into its own allowing you safe progress while other slip and slide.
But there are many other motorists who may well thank the day they opted for a quattro car.
One is the caravan fraternity or anyone else towing a trailer such as a horse box, boat or competition car. With a heavy load to pull having two more tyres gripping and powering is an enormous advantage (especially up a hill or on soft ground) and makes life much easier.
If you want proof of this look at the results of The Caravan Club’s Towcar of the Year award and see how many of the winners have four wheel drive.
And what happens if your job sometimes takes you off piste, so to speak. Vets, people in the construction industry…
You might be surprised just how useful these cars are.