The Audi e-tron brought quattro into the electric age.

Automotive game changer

Audi and quattro have long been synonymous, and all-electric drive has further refined the brand’s revolutionary all-wheel drive.

From a simple handling test on icy Scandinavian roads, to an all-electric all-wheel drive system – quattro has been a ‘gripping’ story from the outset.

21 February, 2022

Audi has built more than 12,500,000 quattro vehicles since it first developed the revolutionary technology

It seems like a very long time ago that Walter Treser and 12 engineers first developed an Audi with permanent quattro drive – something that was unheard of for a passenger car at the time. That was 1977 and the meteoric success of quattro that followed its introduction in the 1980s and its extraordinary impact on motorsport has become a part of automotive and motorsport history.

Amazingly, following its introduction at the 1980 Geneva Motorshow, only 400 Audi quttro were planned for production – yet such was the demand, that between 1980 and 1981, 11,452 of the original quattro cars were produced.

The performance and safety attributes of quattro continue to drive the popularity of the system to this day – both in road going vehicles and in motorsport, but quattro is a very different animal now to the system that started the legend.

At the end of 2020, nearly half of all Audis sold worldwide that year had quattro drive – some 750,000 of them. Audi offers quattro drive in each of its different model ranges, and since the all-wheel drive models were first produced, Audi has built more than 12,500,000 to date.

Of course there are different types of quattro for different applications these days. The S, RS and R models all feature quattro drive as standard, tailored to their high-performance needs, working with the likes of a sports differential and torque vectoring to best distribute torque between the wheels for maximum grip and performance.

Audi debuted its first quattro car in 1980 at the Geneva International Motor Show.
Walter Treser (right) worked with 12 engineers on the original quattro concept.
It was in rally that the true benefits of the all-wheel drive system really struck home.

Indeed four different all-wheel drive clutches and four different centre diffs are used across the Audi model range, and then there is the latest, e-quattro – which uses no clutches or differentials at all.

With this, the electric version of quattro, the same extraordinary grip characteristics and resulting performance and safety attributes are all present, but in refined, electric form.

Audi's e-quattro ensures the continuous and fully variable distribution of drive torque between the two axles, taking just 30 milliseconds or so from the system detecting the driving situation and the torque from the electric motors kicking in. This is much faster than with conventional quattro technology. Even with sudden changes in road surface or conditions and of course in extreme driving situations, the full quattro performance is guaranteed at lightning speed.

In most cases, the Audi e-tron for example tends to use its rear electric motor to achieve the highest efficiency, but if the driver demands more power than the rear electric motor can supply, the electric all-wheel drive redistributes torque as required to the front axle. This also happens predictively even before slip occurs in wet conditions or when cornering fast, or if the car understeers or oversteers.

It’s a far cry from the original system that first captured the imagination on the snow-covered roads of Scandinavia in the winter of 1976/77. No one could have foreseen the quantum shift quattro would cause in the automotive world almost immediately, or that over 40 years later, the all-electric version would be spearheading another new era in motoring.

Audi's e-quattro ensures the continuous and fully variable distribution of torque between the two axles in the blink of an eye

With the RS Q e-tron, e-quattro made its motorsport debut at this year's Dakar Rally.