The eight best quattro Audis of all time

08th June 2020
Ben Miles

Audi’s legendary four-wheel-drive quattro system is forty years old this year. While it now seems pretty standard to think of an Audi as having all four wheels powered, back in 1980 is was a revelatory concept. Since then there have been some true greats (and the odd stinker) with a quattro badge. Here are our favourites.


Audi Quattro

Where else can we start but with the original? The car that started it all, the OG quattro. The Quattro arrived in 1980 at the Geneva Motor Show, ostensibly just an Audi Coupe with a four-wheel-drive system. But there was much more to it than that. The World Rally Championship, still really in its infancy, had legalised four-wheel-drive transmissions, and Audi saw their chance for motorsport glory.

The rally car soon followed that concept, in prototype-only form for 1980, but in full-blown competition in 1981, a part-season entry that included just four rallies – the quattro won three – before a full works entry in 1981 blew the competition away. Audi won seven of 12 rounds in 1982, winning the manufacturers’ title without entering two rallies, whilst Walter Röhrl would win the driver’s title in his Opel Ascona simply because he finished on the podium in the rounds that Audi skipped. It repeated the success in 1984 and was not outside of the top two in the championship until 1986.

On the road the Quattro was also a bit of a revelation. Audi had no real reputation for such excitement, but the Quattro’s road-holding was absolutely legendary. The four-wheel-drive system, while adding weight, also added a new dimension of mid-coner grip. In a straight line the Quattro’s c200PS (197bhp) wasn’t massive, but show it some corners and nothing could match it. Even if you drive the car today it still feels special, with traction drawn from powering through the corner, rather than trying to balance. The first Quattro sold until 1991 in various guises, but such was its legend that the name stuck even after the car’s life finished, to festoon every following four-wheel-drive Audi.



Audis such as the RS2. The car which may not have entirely invented the fast estate, but it certainly helped popularise the genre. The RS2 was a joint venture between Audi and future VAG bedfellows Porsche. Based on the rather studious Audi 80 it was given a 2.2-litre turbocharged inline-five engine. Producing a, for the time, mind-blowing 315PS (311bhp). In 1994 no one had really seen a stock estate with that amount of power, surely such a thing was not needed. Indeed there had been outcry in Britain when Lotus got hold of the Vauxhall Carlton and made it do 177mph in 1990, so surely this was unnecessary.

But then people saw the RS2, and more importantly drove it. Fitted with the latest version of the quattro system that had shocked the WRC the previous decade, Autocar tested exactly what this estate could do in 1995. It found that, up to 30mph, the RS2 was faster than both the McLaren F1 (the fastest road car ever) and a Formula 1 car. To 60mph the RS2’s acceleration stats were on a par with the contemporary Corvette and the 996 911, and yet it could carry four people in comfort and stick a bunch of IKEA flat-packs in the back.

The RS2 was just a limited edition, but it was the car that really showed the world that all-wheel-drive systems may well be the future. And it launched the ‘RS’ line of fast Audi’s that we still see today. The Quattro showcased what could be done, but the RS2 transformed the world’s view of Audi, who, as far as anyone had been concerned, just made decent luxury saloons.



Has there been a cooler-looking four-ringed car than the 90 with which Audi competed in the IMSA sportscar championship in 1989? If the Quattro was radically different to the coupe it was based on and the RS2 a radical departure from the Audi 80 avant, the 90 Quattro GTO was on a different planet. Even to those of us who have a love for all things Ingolstadt the 90 is a particularly boring executive saloon. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it’s not exactly exciting. The GTO is.

To become a GTO-spec racer, basically everything that held the road car together was thrown away. The GTO was tube-frame chassis with lightweight plastic skin hung from it. The only bit that made it from road car to racer was the roof, and that’s just because the regulations demanded it. The most powerful road 90 had a 2.3-litre five-cylinder engine, producing around 170PS (168bhp), the racing car had a smaller 2.2-litre engine, but turbocharged to a bonkers 720PS (710bhp) and weighing just 1,200kg. The 90 GTO meant business.

Of fifteen races in the 1989 IMSA GT championship, the 90 GTO won seven, and it didn’t enter the two big endurance races at Daytona and Sebring. Audi would finish second in the championship only due to the non-appearance at the endurance rounds. Drivers Hans-Joachim Stuck and Hurley Hayward finished third and fourth in the driver’s championship. Audi were set for sportscar supremacy. But no, they left for the DTM. The 90 GTO was a flash-in-the-pan and Audi would not return to American Sportscar racing until the R8.



The 1995 BTCC season was won by 43 points, ’93 by 13 and 1992 by 17. In 1996 Audi won the championship by nearly 100. That is how dominant the pairing of Frank Biela and the Audi A4 were. To say that the Quattro-equipped A4 was a dominant force when it arrived in the BTCC would probably be an understatement. The A4 was powered by a state-of-the-art 2.0-litre engine, which produced around 305PS (300bhp), an amazing number for 1996, and routed the power through the quattro system it existed to showcase.

After Biela won four of the first five races at a relative canter the organisers were so worried that they imposed some punitive weight penalties on all four-wheel-drive cars in the championship – in other words just the A4. After Biela’s fifth win of the season, at Silverstone, he would only take three more victories of the eighteen on offer. But he still secured the title with four races to go, and finished on the podium in 12 of those races. It was an incredible show of dominance in a series that had normally been quite close. But that was not all the A4 did in 1996. It was also entered in the Belgian, Spanish, Australian and South African championships – it won them all.

For the following seasons, especially in the BTCC, the A4 was severely throttled back, with extreme weight penalties and the eventual banning of its quattro system. But Biela still finished second in the 1997 championship, his hampered A4 unable to match the heavily-backed, Williams-run Renault Laguna of Alain Menu. Menu would win 12 races in ’97, the championship at a canter, and get away with it. Perhaps showing that the treatment of the A4 was unfair – but it allowed Audi to leave and concentrate on its next big challenge...


R18 e-tron Quattro

After the BTCC adventures, Audi decided it was time for another challenge, this time a more glamourous one than the world of national saloon racing. Audi wanted the Le Mans crown. In 1999 they entered a pair of cars, one a coupe and one a roadster, into the world’s greatest motor race, to analyse which way their development would go. If no one really paid attention to Audi’s third placed finish – with Biela again at the wheel – five laps down on the leader and with no signs of challenging for honours, they should have. The following year the R8C and R8R were replaced with the R8, and Audi were away. It won eight of the next nine races, including two seasons in privateer hands while Audi concentrated on the R8s replacement. That was the R10, which became the first diesel to win Le Mans. When Peugeot arrived to compete, and won in 2009, Audi brought in the R15, which won, and set a new distance record, in 2010. In 2011 it was replaced by the R18, built to a new set of LMP1 regulations, and that also won first time out.

But all these cars had been rear-wheel-drive only. So none were a quattro. In 2012 the rules changed, bringing hybrid tech in for the first time. Rather than adding batteries and more power to the rear wheels, Audi chose an innovative flywheel-based system and strapped it to the front axle. Thus the R18 e-tron quattro was born. And what did the R18 e-tron quattro do straight away? Well it won Le Mans, and the new World Endurance Championship. And then it won again. And then it was refettled for another new set of rules and... won again. The later car shouldn’t really have been called an R18, but Audi decided to keep the name for all future LMP1 cars, so it stuck. But the original is the car that should hold the legend. Audi actually raced a non-hybrid rear-driven car against the e-tron quattro in 2012, and it was trounced. The ability to route power through the front wheels under acceleration allowed the R18 to blast out of corners and dispatch traffic that had held it up in a way the conventional car couldn’t. Marcel Fässler, Benoit Trélyer and Andé Lotterer won all three of their Le Mans in R18s, two in quattros, and Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish both took their final victories in one. While the opposition would eventually catch up, they had to bring in four-wheel-drive systems of their own to do so. Audi left sportscar racing in 2017, but not before declaring that Le Mans was now ‘the home of quattro’. Indeed a rear-drive car has not won Le Mans since 2011.


200 Turbo Quattro

The big Audi 100 was first fitted with a four-wheel-drive system as a prototype in 1976, four years before the Quattro would made its debut. The sister 20 would get all its wheels driven in 1989 and it would be quite a revelation.

Exec saloons were starting to be given big engines by this point, and BMW was really ramping its M division up, the M535i had set the scene for future executive expresses and Audi wanted in. So they stuck not just the quattro system under the floor, but also a 2.2-litre inline five-cylinder engine under the bonnet. This might not have been an RS, but the 200 quattro could hit 60mph in around seven seconds. This was the genesis of ever fast Audi to follow and, like the M535 had led to the M5, the 200 Turbo Quattro would lead to the RS2.

It also kept Audi’s sporting presence going, competing in the Trans-Am series in America (as the precursor to Audi’s GTO entry) and becoming the final Audi to enter the WRC as a works team. The 200 quattro was even the first four-wheel-drive car to with the Safari Rally, seven years after the Quattro had been introduced.



Audi didn’t make road-going sportscars. Sure they turned some saloons into racing cars over the years, but on the road they stuck to much more sedate fair. And then it was 1995 and the Frankfurt Motor Show and there was this curved concept car on Audi’s stand. But there’s no way it would be built. And then it was 1998 and it was being sold. The TT helped to change Audi’s image around the world forever.

The original is now an absolute icon of automotive design. A relatively simple layout, it looked pretty much nothing like what was on sale from its competitors. It was front-engined, producing a relatively modest maximum output at first of 225PS. But it was fitted with the quattro system that had now become Audi’s showpiece and it was able to stand out from the crowd in not just looks, but also ability. A few well publicised teething issues saw a recall and an overhaul to aerodynamics and suspension, but the TT would be a massive success for Audi, not just in terms of sales but in image. The history of quattro is full of cars that changed the way people looked at Audi, and the TT was the latest in that line. Now everyday people people wanted this cool looking sportscar and wanted to be seen in an Audi, rather than just executives wanting to waft to their next meeting. The TT made Audi cool. Today it is still on sale, and in its third generation the TT is now nearly as fast as the current R8 supercar (and faster than the original R8), but if it does leave this world after three generations then it will be the original that is remembered for changing Audi’s world.


B7 RS4

The RS2 set the stage, the first RS4 picked up where it left off and the first RS6 really set a high bar for what a fast executive car could be. But it was the B7 RS4, on sale after a mammoth five-year wait in 2006, that really saw the RS badge come of age. The B7 RS4 had a 420PS (414bhp) 4.2-litre V8 under the bonnet, with 430Nm (317lb ft) of torque being reined in by the latest quattro system. The exterior styling was aggressive, Audi’s now-standard goatee-style grille was a new addition, which made Audis stand out where they had traditionally been conservative. Inside it had a flat-bottomed wheel, figure hugging seats and a big V8 burble from the motor. This was the Audi that would take the fight, at last, to the M3. And take the fight it did, and for many it would win.

Not only was the B7 RS4 powerful, the new version of the quattro system was ultra-advanced, able to route torque to the wheels which really needed it, with up to 80 per cent of load being able to go to one side of the diff. This finally meant that the four-wheel-drive Audi could feel as sturdy and engaging as its rear-driven rivals. And from then on it was the only real long-term development course a fast saloon or estate could follow.

Motorsport images courtesy of Motorsport Images, 90 IMSA GTO and A4 BTCC images by Audi UK.

  • Audi

  • Quattro

  • IMSA

  • WEC

  • Le Mans

  • WRC

  • TT

  • R18

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