Welcome to a CAR exclusive: the only drive of the Audi Sport Quattro Concept. And not just that: we're comparing it with the classic Sport Quattro original. Read on for a very special CAR review...
Innsbruck, Austria. High above the town, on a remarkable road featuring steep gradients, tight corners and long straights, the brand new Audi Sport Quattro steps out in the footsteps of its illustrious ancestor, the Ur Quattro, the car that started it all. I feel both excited and privileged to be at the wheel. Not only is this a CAR exclusive, but it feels as if I’m experiencing evolution at first hand. The effect is heightened by the presence of a mint version of the 1984 Sport Quattro, which we’ve brought along to make the comparison real.
Although the 2013 car is a one-off concept for now, it doesn’t disappoint. The intake rumble, the part-throttle splutter, the lift-off blat-blat and the exhaust note – which varies from a restrained rasp to a rich roar – fuses into a riveting soundtrack which makes my eyes water every time I stab the loud pedal. Although the car normally takes off in second gear, the transmission will kick down as soon as accelerator travel and speed instruct it to do so. Back off, and the black box will instantly whip in a higher ratio. Since the shift paddles aren’t yet working, I quickly learn to change gears by throttle order.
Even though I only scratch the surface of this impressive petrol-hybrid power pack, the claimed combined output of 690bhp and 590lb ft from the twin-turbo V8 and electric motor mated to the gearbox feels perfectly credible. I’m confident that the new Quattro will be more than fit to wear the badge. Which is just as well because, after four stillborn concepts in a row, this is the one they’re actually going to build…
In the history of the motor car, 30 years are an eternity. The rate of progress is particularly evident when you compare what is high-tech today with what was high-tech three decades ago. Although the short-wheelbase Sport Quattro was a very special piece of kit when a certain Ferdinand Piëch kicked off the project in 1981, it put its emphasis almost exclusively on performance. The body clad with kevlar panels weighs a wiry 1300kg, the single-turbo 2.1-litre five-cylinder engine develops an ambitious 306bhp, four-wheel-drive trickeries include a switchable ABS (for gravel stages) and two manually activated sequential diff locks.
This total traction approach is complemented by faster-than-lightning handling owed to the chopped 2204mm wheelbase. Add to this super-quick steering, a fixed 50:50 torque split and a set of sticky 15in Pirelli P Zero Assimetrico tyres, and you can probably imagine why each and every one of the 220 Sport Quattros built felt as if it could turn on a dime. Unlike a modern RS5, which is so easy to drive fast, the Ur Quattro could be a bitch at the limit: twitchy, capricious and gyratory. But it was a small car, and the new one is not. At 4602mm the 2013 Sport Quattro is almost half a metre longer than the original. The two wheelbases are a similar distance apart, although interestingly the first Quattro is fractionally lower than the new one. The most striking difference is weight. Old car: 1300kg. New: 1850kg.
The 2013 concept is based on a shortened RS7 platform, and is much further down the road to production than the PRs would have us believe. Our sources tell us that a cautious evolution of the car – codenamed F13 – will indeed go into low-volume production in late 2016. Although the bean counters have yet to sign off the business case, there is talk of 2000 to 3000 units being assembled over two years.
The car I’m driving is the Frankfurt show car, which they told me was meant to be limited to 20mph, but the only governor today is the splendid Kai from R&D, who doesn’t seem to mind us putting his baby to a proper test. Since the instrument display is a virtual reality video show only, I can’t actually verify the claimed 3.7sec 0-62mph time, and the actual speed is only ever recorded by the hard disc inside my head. Let’s just say we successfully went proper quick.
Most concepts are cramped compromises, but F13 is different. Even though the rear passenger compartment is no roomier than that of the A5, driver and passenger enjoy the spaciousness of an A7. Despite the wide C-posts which look like a curious blend of generic Quattro and Camaro cues from certain angles, the all-round visibility is good. The relatively wide transmission tunnel accommodates the larger of two battery packs. The other one is installed transversely below the rear seats. Next to the transmission lever, there is an inductive charging slot for mobile phones and an array of six pre-select buttons where one can store favourite destinations, phone numbers, radio stations and vehicle settings.
Below the electric parking brake there is the latest version of MMI touch, but the main ergonomic innovation is the redesigned multi-functional steering-wheel, which houses new features such as hydraulic front axle lift, additional surround-view perspectives and a stopwatch/lap timer. Not a day too soon, Drive Select has been moved from the MMI level to within easy reach of the driver’s left thumb. Next to it, a Sport button automatically sharpens the car’s six senses. Adjacent to the red start/stop button, a smaller knob labelled EV turns the Sport Quattro into a zero-emission vehicle.
Sadly, since this is a pre-prototype, the hybrid system isn’t actually working. Although F13 is equipped with a full stack of energy cells, the sorry state of charge permits no more than crawling pace. In theory the lithium-ion batteries can store up to 14.1kWh and the electric motor, which is an integral element of the eight-speed automatic gearbox, develops 148bhp and 295lb ft of instant torque. That’s instant as in ‘Smokey-and-the-Bandit burnout with ESP and ASR deactivated’ instant. The driving range in zero-emission mode is 30 miles, and since the e-motor is part of the gearbox, it propels all four wheels at all times.
At this point in time, however, the only available source of propulsion is the melodious twin-turbo V8. Taken straight out of the RS7, the 4.0-litre unit dishes up 552bhp between 5700 and 6600rpm. The maximum torque of 516lb ft is available all the way from 1750 to 5500rpm. The two twinscroll chargers are supported by two intercoolers and by a switchable thinwall free-flow exhaust which voices its state of mind through two large tailpipes.
Charging the plug-in hybrid through a bespoke wallbox is said to take less than two hours. In the real thing, there will be three driving modes to choose from: Electric, Hybrid and Sport. In Electric, the performance is relatively modest, but as soon as you depress the accelerator past a deterrent, the V8 automatically cuts in. The Hybrid programme taps the GPS for real-time data such as traffic, topography and route selection.
It is possible to complete certain sections of the route in EV mode or to charge the batteries on the move to save enough emission-free miles for the silent approach to home. In Sport, the car delivers maximum performance, which includes an electric boost function. With the energy pack fully charged and the throttle nailed to the firewall, the reincarnation of the Ur Quattro can zoom to an impressive top speed of 191mph. Fuel economy? When put through the unrealistic NEF cycle, F13 averages a highly theoretical 113.6mpg, which equals 59g CO2/km. The real-life consumption is said to be closer to the 55mpg mark.
Stepping out of the rebodied and re-engineered RS7 into the 1984 Sport Quattro makes for a very special type of time travel. Our journey through the cabin begins with the forgotten world of the dual-purpose steering wheel, which can sound the horn and change direction but not play music, answer the phone, scroll through sub-menus or deploy an airbag. The instruments, too, are of the minimalistic kind. Speedometer and rev counter, both of course analogue with white-on-black dials, frame a set of 16 tell-tales.
In the other car the display is digital and 3D, fully animated in many colours, and able to summon special information such as race track layouts, section times to beat and driving ranges in Hybrid or Electric mode. Air is conditioned by fingertip controls, light is dispatched via matrix beam technology, gears are changed by an electronic brain. Not so in the vintage Audi, which works your left foot and your right hand, employs halogen candles to see through the night and adjusts the cockpit temperature via old-fashioned window winders. There are only five instead of eight forward ratios to choose from, the handbrake is of the vintage pull-then-release kind, and the radio still incorporates a tape deck.
While the concept car uses an RS7 chassis cut to size, the production model will be based on the new C8 architecture currently under development for the next-generation A6 and A7. Although C8 won’t come on stream in bulk before 2017, the full-size steel-intensive version of the matrix (also known as MLB evo) will likely be previewed by the Sport Quattro in late 2016. Although it’s still early days, rumour has it that the power output of the twin-turbo V8 will go up to 580bhp. The Quattro division is also toying with a stronger e-motor and with a set of highly effective supercapacitors which would be used exclusively to further boost the in-gear acceleration.
Apparently Audi intends to market this car as a ‘brand-shaping performance hybrid’ which focuses on maximum forward thrust, optimum cornering speeds and further improved braking thanks to staggered multi-stage recuperation. It is not yet clear whether and to what extent the driver will be able to influence the energy regeneration process, whether coasting can be actively induced, how the charge-on-the-move strategy works in detail, and in which way performance programmes and drive modes interlink. In addition to the plug-in hybrid shown here, we may see a version modified for more convenient cordless in-garage induction charging.
Around midday, both sports cars meet at the local filling station. The new car has a 90-litre tank which is big enough to provide a 400-mile range, despite the hefty average fuel consumption of 20mpg. On a good day, the surprisingly softly voiced classic coupe can accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.5sec and on to a top speed of 154mph. Below 3000rpm, the high-boost-pressure version of the longitudinally mounted 20-valver is a sleeper.
Around 3500rpm, however, Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll swap saddles. All of a sudden, the five-ender bites like a piranha that has licked blood. The needle-shaped torque curve peaks at 3700rpm where 258lb ft is on tap, but you are welcome to rev the engine to the limiter at 7000rpm. The charger whine becomes louder and louder as the final 3000rpm stack up, turbo lag can now be counted in split rather than full seconds, and every inspired upshift is prompted by a long, high-pitched wastegate whistle. The steering is very quick, dethrottle turn-in can make your blood pressure soar (and the car carousel), and the turning circle is a tight 10.3m. Although handicapped by small 15in wheels, the inner-ventilated steel discs are 295mm in diameter, 28mm thick and straddled by potent four-piston calipers. Helped by the light weight, slamming on the brakes in this 1984 pseudo-racer still smashes the brain against the forehead with the same vigour as in a modern car.
Predictably, the reincarnation completed in 2013 can decelerate with even greater aplomb. Given half a chance, the XXXL carbon-ceramic rotors and the golden Brembo stoppers would effectively scalp those fat low-profile 285/30 ZR21 Pirellis. Having said that, the intense brake action is actually plesantly progressive, and if anything the pedal feel is a touch on the light side. The steering takes only 2.3 turns from lock to lock, and thanks to the shorter wheelbase the coupe needs even less space to manouevre between kerbs than the RS7.
Unlike all existing S and RS Audi models, this one-off head-turner actually transmits loads of driving feel through its helm. The fight for lateral grip, the constantly changing torque feed, the impressive stopping power and the sublime vertical terrain control merge in a seismic, haptic and organic flow which is exceptional for a production car and little short of sensational for a concept vehicle. There is very little lean even through corners taken at adventurous speed, pitch and yaw are well suppressed, and although the dampers are not yet adjustable in this number one specimen, the ride is neither hard-edged nor choppy. The hybrid application helps to generate a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, an unusually low centre of gravity and ground-hugging roadholding.
While the show car has a large provisional single-piece tail section moulded from lightweight fibres, the production model would get a tall and deep tailgate with an integrated motorised air dam which extends above 70mph and recedes below 50mph. The advanced airflow management is executed by louvres in the bonnet which speed up the engine cooling, lateral breathers in the wings to ventilate the wheelhouses, low-drag mirrors, concealed door handles with integrated proximity sensors, a prominent CFK front splitter and a DTM-style rear apron. Like all future Audi sports cars, the honeycomb grille is complemented by two lower apertures with vertical black strakes. The four rings are no longer part of the grille but sit prominently on the bonnet.
The dashboard is structured by a contrasting wraparound band which incorporates the window switches and door latches. The cabin looks like a double-tub four-seater carbonfibre cradle, fitted with minimalistic race buckets featuring folding clamshell backrests and integrated head restraints. Behind the fixed rear seats there’s a lightweight crossbrace. For cost and complexity reasons, the body structure consists of high-strength steel. While the roof will be made of carbonfibre, the doors, the bonnet and the bootlid are to be stamped from sheet aluminium. Unlike its forerunner which boasts double wishbones all-round, the reborn Quattro mates a five-link front axle to a multi-link rear suspension.
In total there have been four Quattro concepts since 2010, and three different R&D bosses have failed to get them into production. But surely this is the final and definitive attempt at recreating Audi’s legendary sports car. If it gets the nod, F13 will almost certainly be built at the Böllinger Höfe facility of Quattro GmbH, home of the DTM racers and the ALMS cars. Since the proposed roadgoing Le Mans car (Scorpio/R20) was sidelined, the go-faster division has again got the space and the manpower to handle a new project. F13 would almost certainly be priced below £150,000, and might only be available in left-hand drive. After all, its main markets are North America, China and Germany. In case demand outstrips supply, Audi might be tempted to add 1500 or 2000 Sport Quattro roadsters. We may eventually also see an even pricier GT model with a twice-as-potent 300bhp electric motor.
Unlike the original Sport Quattro, this is not a limited-edition special conceived for motorsport purposes. Instead, it’s an image-maker, a brand ambassador and evidence that the Vorsprung durch Technik motto is not just a hollow promise. Now the bean counters must prove it. And if they’re in doubt, maybe they should do what I did: drive it.