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Legacy | 40 years of Audi Sport

The Ur-quattro made its debut at the 1980 Geneva show. It triggered a revolution...

By Dafydd Wood / Tuesday, March 10, 2020

No matter how significant to a specific marque or beloved a certain model is, it isn't often that a manufacturer can claim to have launched something truly game changing. A product which, in an instant, altered the landscape of not just its own segment, but potentially the industry as a whole. Forty years ago this month Audi did just that, when it revealed the original quattro in Geneva.

The concept had been devised four years prior, during winter testing of the VW Iltis - a somewhat cartoonish off-roader which Audi was developing for the German military. The four-wheel drive vehicle's prowess on snow and ice led engineer Jorg Bensinger to contemplate the installation of such a setup in a road-going vehicle and, following tests on a production Audi 80, the Quattro was born.

The notion of fitting such a system to a sports coupe like the 200hp quattro was even more revolutionary, and would go on to shape not just the future of rallying, but what was expected from consumer performance machines too. Most significantly, perhaps, it would also come to define the kind of cars which Audi's own sports divisions would build for years to come. Join us, then, as we peruse quattro GmbH's greatest hits.

  • Quattro

The original and still, some would no doubt argue, the best implementation of Audi's quattro technology came in the car which was so thoroughly characterised by it that it shared its name. The Quattro was available in various guises during its 11-year production run, but there's one which stands head and shoulders above the rest.

In order to take the Quattro rallying, Audi needed to build a minimum of 200 roadworthy homologation cars. These were 12.5 inches shorter than standard to improve handling, with carbon-fibre-reinforced Kevlar, fibre-glass and aluminium bodywork helping to trim almost 180kg from their overall kerb weight. Tremendous fender flares made space for nine-inch wide Ronal alloys, driven at all four corners by a 2.1-litre, all-aluminium inline-five. Thanks to its KKK turbocharger and Bosch fuel injection it produced 307hp and 258lb ft of torque, allowing owners to unleash their inner Walter Rohrl or Michelle Mouton at will (ish).

And now you can too, so long as you have a spare £485k down the back of the sofa, that is. Just 214 Sport Quattros were ever made, with only 164 sold to the public for road use, but wouldn't you know it, there's one in the PH classifieds. Having already had its aluminium block swapped for a steel one (a common switch to prevent failure due to cracking) this car looks to offer a perfect balance of condition, performance and usability.

  • RS2

While a coupe may have been the first Audi to benefit from all-wheel drive, it would soon become synonymous with fast estates. The RS2 was the car which set quattro on that trajectory, but its place in history isn't the only thing that makes it so significant.

The result of a joint-venture with Porsche - which took responsibility for the small matters of the car's engineering and construction - it produced 315hp thanks to a uprated version of Audi's 2.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo engine. A 40mm reduction in ride height, Porsche 'Cup' wheels and the first implementation of what came to be known as Nogaro Blue paint - but was actually dubbed 'RS Blue Pearl Effect' at the time - all came to be hallmarks of the car's sporting intent.

Today, the RS2 is an understandably iconic model, and is priced as such. £58,500 certainly isn't as costly as many might assume it to be, however, and does buy you an exceptional example. This car from the PH classifieds is one of just 180 right-hand drive RS2s ever built; with an extensive (yet subtle) list of recent improvements, it couldn't really be called entirely original, but may well offer the best representation of the RS2's exceptional performance in a modern context.

  • RS4

Like its predecessor, the B5 RS4 arrived at the turn of the Millennium in estate-only form. Again it was a more muscular, better performing version of the standard car on which it was based, although by now the work to make it so was no longer being carried out by Porsche. Audi itself took on a far greater share of the burden, with the engine's development and production outsourced to Cosworth.

Fast forward to 2006 and, after an absence from the B6 A4 platform between 2001-2005, the RS4 returned in B7 guise. Now available in saloon, estate and even cabriolet form, the B7 was arguably the highpoint in RS4 production, being as it was Audi's first fast four-door to go toe to toe with BMW's rival M car dynamically. Its 4.2-litre V8, meanwhile, produced 420hp and 317lb ft at up to 8,250rpm, enabling a 0-62 sprint of 4.8 seconds and a 168mph top speed.

Saloon and cabrio or not, the Avant remains our pick of the bunch. This 51,000-mile Daytona Grey car is available for just £24,000, which not only looks a steal compared to some of the other cars on this list, but represents decent real-world value too. It's also bloody good fun.

  • RS6

RS4 too shy and retiring for you? Then the RS6 has you covered. Though the original C5 generation was reasonably understated when it arrived in 2002, the model has become increasingly synonymous with powerfully-built director types ever since.

The latest C8 generation takes things to another level still, leaving the previous C7 looking suddenly rather subtle - even if those enormous wheels and that £67,490 price tag can't help but grab your attention. That's still a sizeable reduction on what it would have cost new, however, this being 605hp Performance variant. As such it was powered by an ECU-fettled version of the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 found in the standard RS6. Its 45hp increase was joined by 553lb ft of torque for a 190mph top speed and a 3.7-second 0-62 time, just enough to get the kids to school quickly enough to still make the train to the office.

  • R8

Quattro returned to a coupe with the introduction of the R8 in 2006; ostensibly a rival to the all-conquering Porsche 911. Ironically, it's the rear-wheel drive RWS which has proven to be our favourite iteration of Audi's supercar in recent times, but the all-wheel drive variants were the ones to forge the R8's legend. Particularly when they came equipped with three pedals and a manual gearbox, as this 2012 car currently residing in the PH classifieds does.

Outputs of 430hp and 317lb ft from the naturally-aspirated V8 were enough to see it to 62 in 4.6 seconds but, unlike many of the other cars on this list, the R8 is about far more than straight line, point-to-point performance. With a compliant ride, precise steering and bags of grip, the R8 has proven a joy to drive on nearly any road in nearly any conditions. A breadth of ability made all the more enjoyable when powered by the exploitable V8, rather than the all-consuming V10.

  • RS3

Which brings us to the RS3, Audi Sport's attempt to offer the everyman an entry-level into the RS brand. It didn't come along until 2011, a full 15 years after the first A3 arrived on the scene, but when it did its famed inline five - a hat tip to its thirty-year-old predecessor - delivered 340hp and 332lb ft to the (still relatively wealthy) people.

Six years later it was available in saloon form, a mightily tempting prospect for those who missed the tidy styling and compact dimensions of performance four-doors of yore. 400hp and 354lb ft were now the headline figures from the 2.5-litre motor, with the resulting 4.1-second 0-62 time being enough to trouble almost everything else on this list. Best things, small packages, etc.

This 750-mile example is as good as new. With the marque's trademark cabin quality inside and exceptional performance under the bonnet, it represents all that we've come to expect from Audi's all-wheel drive sports cars in the 21st century.

Something we've missed? Share your favourite RS models in the comments below...

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