An Audi with quattro all-wheel drive is like peanut butter with jelly. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. Since 1980, there’s been an Audi available with quattro. Now the automaker is celebrating its 5 millionth all-wheel-drive vehicle rolling off the line, a white 2013 Audi allroad 3.0 TDI that’s destined for some location that isn’t the U.S. since we don’t get that engine in that model here.
Seeing as how every model in the U.S. is available with quattro outside of the A3 TDI, it’s evident just how vital quattro has been to Audi’s lineup. Starting when Audi was conducting cold-weather testing in Sweden in the winter of 1976 and 1977, the automaker had a military-spec Volkswagen Iltis along as a support vehicle. Despite being down in power, the Iltis trudged along where the Audi couldn’t go. Audi figured it could put all-wheel drive in its cars, too.
In 1980, Audi began racing quattro-equipped cars, dominating the World Rally Championship and forcing other automakers to follow suit. The “ur-quattro” as it was called spawned a legacy for Audi’s lineup, with nearly every model coming after that having quattro available, if not standard, as is the case with the Audi R8, S, and RS lines.
Last year, more than 43 percent of Audi customers worldwide opted for quattro. That number is far higher in the U.S. Where companies like BMW have relied on rear-wheel drive for their sporting models, Audi’s approach has been different: power all four wheels. It’s not just for slick conditions; it’s also for dry-road performance. In new models, it uses three different forms of quattro: one for small cars like the A3 and Audi TT with most power usually going to the front wheels, a longitudinal engine setup version for the A4 on up with a 50- to 60-percent power split going to the rear, and the system set up exclusively for the R8 for mid-engine car and its Lamborghini equivalent. For its R18 race car, there’s also a hybrid setup.
As much a marketing piece as a performance improvement, Audi has become synonymous with all-weather performance, sort of like the luxury equivalent of Subaru. Overseas, Audi’s slogan is “Vorsprung durch Technik”: Advancement through technology. We can’t think of a better slogan that more encapsulates what Audi does, and quattro is most definitely the driver behind it the way nothing else from Audi could be.