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What is Audi quattro?

What is Audi quattro?

By Swansway Motor Group 16-01-2019

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What is Audi quattro? Should you choose it; do you need it, here's some simple answers from motoring writer John Swift, especially for the those of us who are not technically minded.

Should you choose quattro when buying an Audi?

The answer is yes if you're going to encounter any of these driving situations:

  • Consistenty snowy and icy Winter roads 
  • Towing a trailer such as a horsebox or caravan
  • You're job means going to inaccessible places; such as a rural vet
  • You live in a hilly area
  • You like to feel your car really gripping the road

Few brands are as closely associated with one particular technology as Audi is with its ‘quattro’ four-wheel drive. If you were playing the ‘association game’ and someone said `Audi’ then most people would respond with `quattro’; and vice versa, if you said `quattro’ the normal response would be `Audi’.

Vintage Audi quattro rally car on skid pan


So, what is Audi quattro?

Think of it like this. An engine produces power, but unless that power is transmitted to the road, the car isn’t going anywhere and the power only gets where it needs to be through the grip between the car’s tyres and the tarmac. 

When you accelerate the tyres are trying to pull the road towards the car and the faster you want to go, the more power you need to get onto the road.

The faster the tyres have to pull the road, the more is being asked of them, so, it stands to reason then that if you spread the power between four tyres, instead of two, there’s a greater chance of the tyres gripping, because instead of having to deal with half the engine’s power they just have to deal with a quarter.

This gives the individual tyres much better grip, or traction.

Audi RS quattro rally car driving in deep snow

Corners are more complex. When you drive through a corner the front tyres are pulling the road in the direction you’re steering, so the car can change direction and at the same time the grip - the friction between the rubber and the road - is resisting the centrifugal force, trying to make it fly off at a tangent and in this sense they’re trying to push the road away.

Imagine driving through a left-hand bend; the front tyres have to pull the road in from the left, while all four are pushing the road away from the right.

In a bend where you’re asking the tyres to do three jobs at once; firstly to pull the road in to change direction; secondly you’re asking them to push the road away to counter the centrifugal force and thirdly, you’re still asking them to pull the road in to move the car forward. You can begin to see why it’s so easy to overload them and before the arrival of the various anti-skid technology in today’s cars it was easier to end up in a nasty skid.

So far so good; in a nutshell the Audi quattro system gives you lots of extra grip.

When sensors detect that the tyres at (usually) the front have used up all their grip and are going to start to spin uselessly, quattro will instantly divert some of the engine’s power to the back wheels, meaning that all four tyres are then transmitting power to the road surface helping the car to move forward.


Is Audi quattro really useful?

You’d certainly appreciate it if you’re ever trying to pull away on a slippery road; if you’re towing a trailer; such as a caravan or horsebox; if you live in a hilly region; if you have to drive in wintry conditions or ever you want to go even a little bit off-road and especially so if you want to venture into rougher terrain. In fact, in that last scenario it would be downright folly to consider anything else.

It might be helpful to think of it in two ways, both equally valid.

Quattro can be a lifestyle choice and by that, I mean if you use its four-wheel drive to let you enjoy a hobby. Anyone towing will definitely appreciate how much easier, safer and frankly more likely you are to be able to enjoy using the caravan, boat, horsebox or whatever else may be attached to the towbar with all-wheel drive.

Audi Q7 towing a caravan

Having four wheels driving the vehicle forward instead of two is such an advantage in this situation because you need all the grip possible to overcome the inertia of the extra weight. I know from personal experience having towed my racing car around the country, over many years, how much easier it is with a four-wheel drive.

It may also be a platform to let you do your job. A vet in a rural area whose patients are a bit bigger than a cat or dog; anyone who needs to travel to building sites; anyone delivering to a rural or remote community…there are lots of scenarios where all-wheel drive is not just desirable and sensible, it’s essential.


Are there any downsides to having Audi quattro?

Few things bring a win-win scenarion and there is a downside to quattor and that's the increased cost. 

Any four-wheel drive has more mechanical bits in it than conventional front wheel drive. This puts a small premium on the list price and you must factor in higher servicing costs and the higher fuel consumption from carrying the extra weight around.

As a little guide and taking two otherwise identical Audi A4s, the quattro is around £1,750 more to buy, has slightly worse fuel economy figures (53mpg vs 63) and a little higher CO2 output.

Against that, and precisely because they are such good lifestyle cars, they tend to hold their value  better and we all know how fundamental residual values are to whole life running costs….

It should also be mentioned that some people argue a quattro (or other four-wheel drive equivalent) is largely redundant today in an average family car, because there are so many electronic stability and anti-skid safety systems now built-in which can deliver much the same effect when a tyre reaches its grip limit.

Not true - if, for example, you overcook it going into a bend or pressing too hard on the accelerator coming off a slippery roundabout and get yourself into a bit of an emergency. In truth a quattro car with its instant extra grip would probably not have got you into that situation in the first place!

And sorry, but there’s just nothing as effective as quattro for those lifestyle or outdoor work scenarios.

Which explains why nearly half of all new Audi’s sold are quattro.

Red car showing quattro badge


One final note and while it’s probably another story for another day, you’ll know that electric cars are on the increase. You can already drive several of the more powerful and premium models, which have two electric motors, one at either end.

These are four-wheel drive cars by default and I guarantee if you either test drive one or read a report from a journalist who has, you/they will be blown away by (a) the level of grip essential to handle the instant torque you get as soon as you so much as look at the accelerator and (b) the performance and acceleration.

Quattro is not yesterday’s technology, it is very much one for the future too.


 

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