Audi Sport Quattro | Hero PH

I donโ€™t mean to sound ungrateful, but I wasnโ€™t completely giddy about testing the Audi Sport Quattro for our new PH Heroes video series โ€“ the now semi-regular tribute to our automotive icons. I was not without enthusiasm, or even apathetic, I hasten to add. But I had no kittens on the imminent arrival of the Sport Quattro. Head of Marketing, Ben Lowden was. Crikey, when Ben heard the Group B short wheelbase homologation special was being dropped off at my house in North London, he said he was happy to come down from Kent at the weekend just to see it In the flesh. And when I told him I was driving her to Wales the next day, he said he would make the trip there too. Itโ€™s a commitment for you. Unfortunately, he was picked up on the Friday after filming, so he never had the chance to meet his hero up close and personal.

Why wasnโ€™t I as excited as Ben and the other team members? Well, Iโ€™ve never been so bothered by old Audis. As a kid in the 80s, I thought the original Quattro was a fantastic car, but the engineering behind it โ€“ that engine, placed in front of the front axle โ€“ just seemed wrong. It is wrong. More false than the flat-six of the Porsche 911 stuck in the back. Iโ€™ve always loved 911s, and I can justify my hypocrisy by saying that Porscheโ€™s refusal to mount the heaviest component in the wheelbase brings at least one benefit: traction. Audiโ€™s nose-heavy cars just create unwanted understeer. But you know what? Turns out I was wrong to be disappointed with the Sport Quattro. It turns out that the Sport Quattro is, indeed, a brilliant car.

This is Audiโ€™s British heritage car. Audi has owned the car since 1985, when it was purchased new from Audi AG. Despite my initial apathy, the rarity and value of the car had not escaped me. And neither is Audiโ€™s very relaxed attitude towards me behind the wheel. It wasnโ€™t a loan hour with a chaperone. The Sport Quattro arrived at the beginning of the week when we had to film it in the back of a truck. The driver took it off, pointed to the strange mark here and there, handed me the keys and said, โ€œSee you Friday.โ€ That was it. I was now responsible for a car that would be one of only five original imports to the UK, one of only 164 road cars ever made, and worth approaching half a million pounds.

There was also no talk of mileage limits. We were frank about our intentions. We told Audi that I was going to drive it from London to Wales and spend a day there driving it around the Brecon Beacons in hopes of making a nice (and hopefully interesting) video. In total, I think I must have added more than 320 km to the 69,000 he had already accumulated. Audiโ€™s attitude, however, was โ€œwhatโ€™s the point of having a heritage fleet if itโ€™s not being used?โ€ I think we can all help with that attitude, canโ€™t we? Other OEMs, take note.

It gave me a lot of time to get to know and understand the Sport Quattro. The first point being that he is so easy going. On the trip from London to Wales, the ride was comfortable on the motorway, and while the Sport Quatrro doesnโ€™t cruise as quietly as a Rolls-Royce, itโ€™s far from noisy. I hear the road-going versions of the Ford RS200 are just the opposite: clumsy, recalcitrant. And while the Ford is fast, with its 250bhp translating to 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds and 142mph, itโ€™s all beaten by the Sport Quattro.

Still, the Sport Quattro feels like a very everyday road car. Besides being civilized to drive, it really is an Audi on the inside. The dashboard looks a lot like any other Audi of the era, only finished in leather with a few extra dials. It has heated seats and a radio โ€“ well, there was one at one point because thereโ€™s an aerial in the back. The seats are bolstered Recaros, but theyโ€™re upholstered in leather and velor and very comfortable for every mile of the three-hour drive west. It even has normal seat belts and thick mats.

The only problem was the heating. There is no air conditioning, of course. Thatโ€™s fine, weโ€™re taking a trip down memory lane to the 1980s, and most things werenโ€™t air-conditioned back then. If you watch the video you will see that I am sweating gradually and it is not the stress of driving such a precious car. Itโ€™s just that it was a hot humid day and I couldnโ€™t turn off the heater which was backfiring. Even with the temperature slider set to cold and the fans turned off, it still pushed heat into the cabin, and, thanks to the way PH is funded, I had to open the windows while recording.

The other thing I didnโ€™t really like was the Sport Quattroโ€™s five-speed gearbox. It is capricious and unsatisfactory, and besides, it feels like the bushes are worn out. Even if installing new ones solved this, it still wouldnโ€™t solve the long throw. No, sorry, the gearbox is just not a strong point of the car. Itโ€™s one of the few things that isnโ€™t, because otherwise the Sport Quattro is a gem. A really nice car to drive on mountain roads. It felt like it was made for them โ€“ which I guess it was.

It has power steering, of course, and itโ€™s a little vague at first. After less than a quarter turn of lockout, that feeling disappeared. At this point, youโ€™ve used up all the flex in the relatively plump sidewalls and suspension, and whatโ€™s left is a sense of kinship with the front wheels. The steering develops a nice amount of weight, which is true to the forces developing through the front contact patches. There is also plenty of grip. Now, obviously, I wasnโ€™t going to go crazy and drive the wheels of such a precious and almost irreplaceable car, but I wanted to dip a toe into the deep pool of his talents. And among the many advantages it has, grip is definitely one of them: Iโ€™ve never run out of gear, thatโ€™s for sure.

Itโ€™s not a playful car, like something with similar power and only two-wheel drive would be. But it rewards in other ways. The suspension setup is just superb. Unlike a low sports car, this rally homologation special has plenty of wheel travel, but it uses it to soak up the bumps beautifully. That means thereโ€™s roll, pitch and dive, sure, but thatโ€™s just background accompaniment. Stability and flexibility are at the heart of its impressive cross-country credentials. So you can really lean on the spinster. Believe it. And the same goes for the brakes, which I doubt would last long on a track, but in the Welsh desert they were strong, efficient and reliable.

And what about the mighty five-pot? Well, that doesnโ€™t disappoint either. No way. Itโ€™s not a very loud engine โ€“ road cars tended not to be back then, before the advent of trick exhausts and synthesized pops โ€“ but itโ€™s still a five-cylinder. It still has that distinctive jarring tone, but the engine mechanics are smooth. Much smoother and classier than a raspy, buzzy four-pot, and once you get past the lag โ€“ the epic lag thatโ€™s more 80s than Gordon Gekkoโ€™s accolades โ€“ woof! This stuff is fast. Not by the standards of the day, but by the standards of today. If youโ€™re in the wrong gear, it might take a while to get up to 4,000 rpm, but once itโ€™s there, it kicks in and hits you on the road. The power delivery is what you could describe as exciting.

What must that have felt like in 1985? Well, letโ€™s just put it this way: At the time, there were, I believe, only three cars that dipped under five seconds in the zero-to-sixty sprint. One was the Lamborghini Countach, the other was the Porsche 930 Turbo, and the last of this triumvirate was the Sport Quattro. What made this car a legend was Group B and its victories at Pikes Peak โ€“ the competition cars that delivered up to 600 bhp. But as a road car, itโ€™s no less exciting.

This engine was specially developed for the Sport Quattro to make it lighter, more powerful and more competitive with the power of the mid-engined RS200 and Peugeot 205 T16. It was lighter because it was made entirely of alloy instead of the iron block used in the long-wheelbase Quattro. It also had a new cylinder head with 20 valves and a huge KKK turbocharger to force air through them and completely fill its 2.1 liters. And if you had ยฃ50,000 in 1985 you could buy one: a car that even tuned for the road, developed a whopping 306bhp โ€“ enough to do 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds and 100mph in 12 .

To me, however, itโ€™s not just the stunning performance of the Sport Quattro, which still shakes the cobwebs today, that is so compelling. Thatโ€™s his entire package. Thatโ€™s what drove me from liking it to absolutely loving it. The engine positioning engineering premise may be flawed, but the execution of excellent engineering elsewhere is evident. This is evident in the performance, body control, brakes, ride comfort and everyday ease of use. And because itโ€™s a car you can get stuck in during a drive, itโ€™s rewarding. It puts a smile on your face. And I love nothing more than when a car is better than expected and puts a smile on your face. Itโ€™s definitely not just an old Audi, thatโ€™s for sure. Heโ€™s a hero, pure and simple.

Specification | Audi Sport Quattro

Engine: 2133 cc five-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 306 at 6,500 rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258 at 4,500 rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 sec
Top speed: 155mph
lester: 1,270 kg
MPG: N / A
CO2: N / A
On sale: 1985
New price: ยฃ50,000
Price now: ยฃ500,000

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