30 Days Of Audi Allroad: The Past, Present, And Future Of Quattro AWD

June 5, 2013
To a certain kind of automotive enthusiast, Audi Quattro is one thing first and foremost: a rally-bred, high-performance four-wheel-drive performance car from the 1980s—and a performance icon to this day.

But to the rest of us—and especially here in the U.S.—quattro [note the lower case] is what has helped Audi really hit its stride in the market in recent years. And that holds true both to those who need all-weather traction, and to those who appreciate great handling and dynamic resilience, whether in a sedan, coupe, wagon, hatchback, coupe, or sports car. Audi offers it in all of those body styles.

With today’s latest longitudinal version of quattro, which we have on the 2013 Audi Allroad that we’re zooming in on and zooming around in for 30 Days Of The Audi Allroad, you essentially get a system that’s great for curvy canyon roads yet has enough smarts to churn through deep snow, or even up a loose gravel slope.

Current Allroad quattro system has finesse

The 2013 Allroad's system, with its planetary-gear (‘self-locking’) center differential, sends 40 percent to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear during ‘normal’ driving, yet it can send up to 65 percent to the front or up to 85 percent to the back.

On the road, this version is a subtle, proactive companion in restoring balance and control—not just a system that scrambles for traction or relies on blips and nudges from the anti-lock braking system to keep things in line. You don’t need to be ‘gunning’ the gas to get the power to the wheels that can use it, either.

But it hasn’t always been like this; and even today, the quattro system you get on some Audi models can be completely different.

The past: effective but not refined

Going back to the beginning, quattro was novel and surprisingly tenacious, but lacking the kind of finesse to make it tremendously useful in everyday driving the way that it is today. First-generation quattro systems were rather crude, incorporating permanent four-wheel drive with manually lockable center and rear differentials. Don't think about today's level of refinement; you had quite a lot of gear whine and driveline rumble.

This 2013 A6 Allroad is Audi’s five millionth vehicle with quattro all-wheel drive

This 2013 A6 Allroad is Audi’s five millionth vehicle with quattro all-wheel drive

With the second generation that was introduced in the late 1980s, Audi gave its system a Torsen center differential with a worm-gear transmission that could variably distribute torque. The system by default split torque 50/50 between the front and rear wheels but could send up to 75 percent to either the front or rear wheels. One common complaint with this system was that even though it brought a lot of all-weather confidence, it couldn’t quite send power to the rear wheels quickly enough when needed on a curvy road.

Not all quattro is the same

Today, some of the top performance models (RS5, RS6, RS7) have a separate ‘crown gear’ setup, while Audi models with transverse engines (the TT and A3) have a Haldex all-wheel drive system with an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch, and an electronic differential system for the front wheels.

Meanwhile, our Allroad, and all of the A4 family on which it’s based (and much of the Audi lineup, actually), with their longitudinal engines, have an innovative planetary-type center differential that helps speed up reaction time and provide that ‘seamless’ torque-split.

It’s also worth noting that at some points in its evolution, quattro has been related to Volkswagen’s all-wheel drive system, which has by the way evolved its badge from Syncro to 4Motion.

The future is...electrified?

As for the future? Look to some of the automaker’s edgiest ideas, such as the Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 race car and now-dormant R8 e-tron supercar project, for where it’s probably headed. Audi hasn’t shied away from noting that we’ll see some future version of quattro—perhaps the next one—go electric, with a powerful electric motor system taking the reins as sole propulsion for the rear wheels—and removing the efficiency-robbing mechanical link altogether.

Check back for a lot more, with our 30 Days With the 2013 Audi Allroad. And follow The Car Connection on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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