Few automotive technologies have had quite the impact of Audi’s revolutionary quattro all-wheel drive – 40 years young and still going strong.

6 March, 2020


Since the original quattro made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980, Audi has produced around 10.5 million cars featuring quattro

Think of Audi and it’s a fair bet you’ll also think of quattro. The brand’s revolutionary all-wheel drive system changed the way cars handles forever when it first appeared, completely rewriting motorsport along the way as it became a part of the automotive lexicon.

Since the original quattro made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980, Audi has produced around 10.5 million cars featuring quattro drive systems, and that system continues to evolve as progressive models and other technologies emerge – most recently with electric torque vectoring in the Audi e-tron S and Audi e-tron S Sportback prototypes.

By the end of 2019, Audi had produced 10,448,406 cars with all-wheel drive, including 804,224 in 2019 alone – almost 45 percent of all Audi models built in 2019 featuring quattro drive systems.

The 147kW original quattro remained part of the product range as a standard model until 1991 and underwent several technical revisions. In 1984, Audi added the exclusive Sport quattro with 225kW. In 1986, the manually locking centre differential that had been fitted to the original quattro since its launch was replaced by the Torsen differential, which was able to distribute drive torque variably.

The brand continued to refine its quattro technology, with the first Audi TDI with permanent all-wheel drive appearing in 1995. Then in 1999, the technology was applied to the A3 and TT model series. The next big step came in 2005 with the centre differential with asymmetric, dynamic power distribution. In 2007, a viscous coupling appeared on the front axle on the Audi R8, followed a year later by the sport differential – then quattro with ultra technology was added to the range in 2016.

Audi first entered the World Rally Championship in 1981 and dominated the event just one season later. The Audi team won the manufacturers’ championship in 1982, and Finnish driver Hannu Mikkola secured the drivers’ trophy in 1983. Audi took both titles in 1984, with Stig Blomqvist of Sweden becoming world champion. That year, Audi fielded its Sport quattro with a shorter wheelbase, followed in 1985 by the Sport quattro S1 producing 350kW. In 1987, Walter Röhrl drove a specially modified S1 to victory at the Pikes Peak hill climb in the USA – the perfect finishing touch to the exhilarating years of rallying.

Audi first entered the World Rally Championship in 1981 and dominated the event just one season later

In 1990/91, Audi entered its mighty V8 quattro in the DTM, winning two drivers’ championships

Audi subsequently shifted to racing touring cars and in 1988 won both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships in the US Trans-Am at its first attempt with the Audi 200, before competing with considerable success in the IMSA GTO series the following year. 

In 1990/91, Audi entered its mighty V8 quattro in the DTM, winning two drivers’ championships. The A4 quattro Supertouring entered seven national championships in 1996 – and won them all. Two years later, the European ruling bodies banned all-wheel drive almost completely from touring car races.

An Audi all-wheel drive race car – the Audi R18 e-tron quattro with a hybrid drive – once again took to the track in 2012. A V6‑TDI drove the rear wheels, while a flywheel accumulator supplied recuperated energy to two electric motors on the front axle. The car used a temporary quattro drive system during acceleration. It boasted a formidable track record, with three overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles in the World Endurance Championship (WEC).

The success of quattro models on the road and in racing has cemented this status, as has a series of legendary TV commercials and advertising campaigns. In 1986, professional rally driver Harald Demuth drove an Audi 100 CS quattro up the Kaipola ski jump in Finland. Circuit and rallycross champion Mattias Ekström performed a similar feat just last year, using an Audi e-tron quattro with three electric motors to scale the steepest section of the Streif ski course at Kitzbuhel in Austria.

Now with the unveiling of the Audi e-tron and the e-tron S models, quattro is poised to enter an exciting new phase of all-wheel drive, building on a tremendous history. It’s been quite a ride and the future looks set to be even wilder. Happy birthday quattro.

Now with the unveiling of the Audi e-tron and the e-tron S models, quattro is poised to enter an exciting new phase of all-wheel drive