How The Audi Quattro Became The Most Iconic Rally Car Of All Time

In early 2019, Audi pushed the limits again by sending an e-tron full speed up an icy, snow-covered 85% gradient ski slope in the Alps. None other than rallycross world champion Mattias Ekström stepped on the gas pedal of the new electrified Audi SUV to prove that the brand's EV was ready to play (via Audi). The spectacular stunt was a tribute to the world-famous 1986 Audi Quattro commercial. Back then, the Audi 100 Quattro climbed a similar ski slope to the top. Just like in 1986, as in 2019, the tech that made the incredible possible was Audi's innovative quattro technology.

By 2022 — after 35 years of quattro innovation — all Audi models can be ordered with quattro drive in different versions. Audi reveals that more than eight million orders with the all-wheel-drive feature have been placed. But in 1980, when the first Audi Quattro was revealed at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, it was the first lightweight, high-speed four-wheel-drive vehicle in the world. The car went on to claim world rally titles from 1981 to 1987 and became a legend.

The Audi Quattro Golden Years: 1981-1987

The Audi Quattro was the first four-wheel-drive rally car and had an undisputed advantage over other rally teams for years, per Snap Lab. In 1981, its year of debut, Audi won the rallies of Sweden and the U.K. with Hannu Mikkola behind the wheel. The car had a 2,144 cc inline 5-cylinder engine fitted with a turbocharger and an intercooler. With 200 horsepower, it could hit 0 to 62 mph in 7.1 seconds and had top speeds of more than 136 mph.

That same year Audi took the podium in Finland, but the Quattro was only getting started. A year later, in 1982, it won seven rallies and became the world champion with improvements that raised horsepower to 350. In 1983, the new A2 version joined the tracks, and with the A1 version, the brand took five WRC races. Hannu Mikkola became the world champion that year. 1984 followed and turned out to be the most successful year for Audi. Stig Blomqvist was crowned as the new world champion, and Audi also took second place. Its cars — the Audi Quattro A2 and the Audi Sport Quattro S1 — were the two best in the world. The second version of the Audi Sport Quattro followed with an intimidating 500 bhp.

The Quattro S2 also had an aggressive aerodynamic look with wings and spoilers in the front and rear of the car. It hit 0 to 62 mph in just 3.1 seconds. In 1987, Group B rally cars were banned and replaced by Group A cars, but no one could shake off the heritage of the Quattro: 23 WRC victories, two manufacturers, and two driver titles.

Behind the Quattro wheel in 1984 and 2022

Stig Blomqvist, 1984 World Champion and original Quattro pilot, shared his experience behind the wheel with Audi for a 2020 special lookback and interview on quattro technology across two generations. The memory that Blomqvist keeps close to his heart is that of the Monte Carlo race in 1984. Blomqvist describes how other cars at the time skipped and were thrown out in the curves. "No one could beat the Quattro in those kinds of conditions," Blomqvist said. "It had snowed, and the racetrack was slick and slippery. And my team colleagues Walter Röhrl and Hannu Mikkola and I were in the original Quattro, the only car at the time with an all-wheel drive. The other drivers were really struggling."

Audi explains that its quattro tech is not only for the track but offers "perfect road grip and safe drive" for any driver facing harsh conditions. The brand offers quattro in two variants, with a self-locking center differential or with a cutting-edge technology feature that only engages the all-wheel-drive feature when required. The Audi R8 sports car uses its own drivetrain with a hydraulic multi-plate clutch. Additionally, the all-electric four-wheel drive innovates on its own path using electric motors on each axle, as featured in the e-tron S and the e-tron S Sportback.