The greatest Audi Quattros ever: CAR Magazine’s guide

Published: 16 April 2010

The new May 2010 issue of CAR Magazine's cover story celebrates 30 years of Audi Quattros – a feature we shot at the Brands Hatch rally stage. Here's a sneak preview of what happened on the day. And don't forget to vote in our poll below, to name your favourite Audi Quattro from our shortlist.

I arrive at 9.00am and all the cars are being inched into position for the opening static shot. It’s quite a collection but one stands out – the short, ugly one with crazy air intakes, cut-and-shut wheelbase and an irresistible magnetism that makes photographer Paul Barshon’s job a nightmare (he wants all the cars positioned just so, but everyone keeps huddling around the Sport Quattro with a glazed look in their eyes). The Group B homologation special, the Sport Quattro, might not be the original, but it’s the one that captures what Quattro is all about the most spectacularly: ruthlessly functional, tough-as-nails and with a simmering intent that makes you want to run away from it and jump into the driver’s seat all at the same time.

That isn’t to say the others disappear completely. The Audi RS2 is magnificently preserved and it’s the Audi that probably first tweaked my interest when it burst onto magazine covers with stories of crazy performance and a sprinkling of Porsche’s magic dust. The ur-Quattro is shockingly dainty but somehow perfect in concept and execution, the new twin-turbo V10 RS6 just looks scary. But there’s pretty much a car for everyone amongst this collection – from the fetishistic rally fan's Sport Quattro to the cutting-edge R8 V10 Spyder. Seeing them all lined up together you get a real sense of Audi’s consistency and determination to deliver maximum performance with the minimum of fuss.

On track too

The rally stage is a great photography location but not much use to actually drive the cars. Fortunately there’s a trackday running on the Brands Indy circuit and I get a chance to try TT RS, S4 and the R8 Spyder on the circuit. It’s always intimidating when you first roll into the pitlane of any trackday – everyone looks serious, lots of the cars seem to be wearing slick tyres and rollcages – but all three cars cope very well indeed. The TT RS is quick but a bit underwhelming, the S4 super-efficient and agile thanks to its torque vectoring Sport Differential, and the R8 just outrageously fast.

It really is the main event, the R8 Spyder. It’s lost little except its roof in the conversion to convertible and on the track it’s massively fast and hugely entertaining. It’s funny arriving at a trackday in something like an R8. There’s a natural expectation that you’ll pootle around, hold up all the proper drivers in their Clios and M3s and 911s and go home deflated and mildly humiliated. But I reckon most people would be very fast indeed in the R8. Like other quattros it has mild understeer at the limit – but unlike the rest of the range that can be eliminated and replaced with lovely hints of oversteer, the rear of the car just hanging in a wider arc than the front, almost like suspended animation. It’s so effortless but so satisfying.

An Audi Quattro sideways... surely not?

Then CAR Magazine art director Andy Franklin asks if I fancy doing some sideways stuff on the rally stage. Just for photographic purposes, you understand. The narrow, dirty rally stage with tyres and trees about 3ft from its outside edge. The £110k R8 Spyder, sideways, just here please. Hmmm… I shrug nonchalantly and agree whilst quietly wondering how my next conversation with the Audi press office might go. But the R8 is trustworthy and lairy in equal measure and survives several ever-more-silly runs. And my pride is intact. And then Franklin uses the shot about the size of a postage stamp in the magazine. Bastard.