CAR Most Wanted of 2014: Audi Sport Quattro

Published: 06 January 2014

Like a moth to a flame, Audi remains bewitched by the prospect of reviving the Sport Quattro. Thirty years on from the Frankfurt show reveal of the Sport Quattro, the homologation model that spawned Audi’s dominant World Rally cars, VW’s premium brand is unveiling the Sport Quattro concept, take three.

Three years ago, Audi showed the Quattro concept (take two), a beautiful, modernist update of the 1980s icon. Like the original Sport Quattro, the concept weighed just 1300kg, thanks to its aluminium spaceframe and carbon construction. Like the Sport Quattro, it was a shortened version of an existing car – in this case the RS5 coupe. And like the original Quattro, the 2010 concept ran a five-pot turbo, sending 402bhp and 354lb ft to all four wheels. Sadly, that concept never got green-lighted.

Now the Sport Quattro is back, but this yellow coupe is a very different beast, the longest, heaviest yet. Measuring 4602mm, it’s 322mm longer than 2010’s concept, and 550kg heavier at 1850kg too. The reason? It’s based on an RS7, whose rigidity and strength were deemed more suitable than an RS5’s.

The powertrain is another stark break from the five-cylinder past: this Sport Quattro is a plug-in hybrid. The concept takes the RS7’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8, complete with cylinder shutdown and the stock 552bhp and 516lb ft, but integrates an electric motor. It develops 148bhp and 295lb ft and sits between engine and eight-speed automatic. Together, the two powerplants generate a healthy 690bhp and a whopping 590lb ft of torque.

Fed by a compact lithium-ion battery that stores 14.1kWh, the e-motor is good for up to 30 emission-free miles, driving all four wheels at all times. Charging the plug-in hybrid through a bespoke wallbox is said to take less than two hours.

There are three driving modes to choose from: Electric, Hybrid and Sport. In Electric mode, the performance is modest, but as soon as you depress the accelerator past a deterrent, the V8 fires up. The Hybrid programme taps the GPS for real-time data like traffic, topography and route selection, and it’s possible to drive certain pre-selected sections in zero-emissions mode, and to charge the batteries on the move to save enough electric range to silently glide the final stretch home.

All well and good, but as the name says, surely this car is all about sport? Well, you’ll be glad to hear that Sport mode does unlock maximum performance, with the V8 and the batteries teaming up to devastating effect. With the energy pack fully charged and the throttle nailed to the firewall, the reincarnated Quattro nukes the 0-62mph sprint in 3.7sec. Top speed is an equally impressive 189mph. Fuel economy is a highly theoretical 112.9mpg, with 59g/km of CO2, though these calculations do not include the energy consumed in home-charging the batteries. In truth, you’ll do well to see a quarter of that stratospheric mpg figure.

Although the Sport Quattro concept is loosely based on the RS7’s architecture, the passenger cell is made of a bespoke, cast-alloy structure reinforced with high-strength steel panels. The doors, wings and roof are aluminium, the bonnet and tailgate are baked from thinwall carbonfibre. It’s a proper four-seater too, rather than a cramped 2+2 like the original. Don’t bank on packing for four, though: the boot holds only 300 litres, since it also houses the battery pack.

The chassis is pure RS7: MacPherson strut front axle, multi-link rear, Dynamic Steering, Sport differential, carbon-ceramic brakes, rear-biased four-wheel drive. Ensuring maximum traction, the magnesium wheels are shod with 285/30 ZR21 tyres all-round. 

Once more designed by the team under Wolfgang Egger, this Sport Quattro is not as crisp and minimalistic as the 2010 concept. But it has more muscle than Pumping Iron: low roof, 2784mm wheelbase, 1964mm width, very short overhangs… The nose is dominated by the single-frame grille and two sizeable vents – the future face of Audi sports cars – bookended by large headlamp clusters peppered with LEDs. Capable of casting a 500 metre-long light cone, the fully adaptive lights automatically adjust to traffic, weather, type of road, speed and driving environment. The rear pillar is trademark Quattro, slanting almost all the way to the rear lamps, as is the retro black panel between the taillights.

Advanced aerodynamics have shaped the design. There’s a prominent composite front splitter, a DTM racer-style rear apron, and a motorised spoiler that rises from the tailgate above 50mph. Louvres in the bonnet speed up the engine cooling, air breathers in the wings ventilate the wheel arches.

The dash is said to mimic a glider’s wing. Above it runs a contrasting wraparound band that picks up the window switches and door latches. The cabin consists of a carbonfibre cradle that extends like a double-tub from the transmission tunnel to the sills. The front seats are wildly contoured race buckets with folding backrests and integrated head restraints. Behind the fixed rear seats, there’s a reinforcing crossbrace.

The button-festooned steering wheel is said to set the pattern for future Audi sports cars. Another innovative element is the digital instrument panel complemented by a large head-up display. At the push of a button, the driver can choose between different 3D graphics. Race mode shows a large rev counter, a stopwatch and, if required, a variety of track-related real-time data. The air-conditioning controls are integrated directly in the vents where you can individually adjust temperature, intensity and distribution.

Now for the €200,000 question – will Audi build the Sport Quattro? That’s the price ceiling for the car, if it goes into low-volume production. There’s talk of 2000 to 3000 cars being assembled over a couple of years, starting in late 2016. With the USA, China and Germany being the key markets, don’t expect right-hand drive. Audi is yet to start on the business case, but if it does get the nod, the halo coupe would almost certainly be built at the Böllinger Höfe facility of Quattro GmbH, home of the DTM racers and the Le Mans cars. Other ways to make the numbers add up would be to add 1500 or 2000 Sport Quattro roadster versions, and perhaps a pricier GT model which would double the electric motor’s output to 300bhp.

So, that’s Sport Quattro take three. Or should that be, take four. As late as summer 2013, the Sport Quattro was a different beast. Faster overall, quicker off the mark, almost 300kg lighter, in short a simpler, go-faster RS7. But when Ulrich Hackenberg took over as Audi R&D chief, he feared it could look a dinosaur, facing down the BMW i8 and Porsche 918 Spyder in the Frankfurt show halls. So the plug-in hybrid element was added.

Does that make Audi’s flagship concept a genuine Sport Quattro, or a legitimate rival to the i8 or 918 – both, or neither? One thing’s for sure, this isn’t the end of the Sport Quattro story. It becomes a question of who’s writing the next chapter, and to what script…

>> Click here to check out the previous Most Wanted car of 2014