What is Audi Quattro?

Rowan Harris 5 minutes Published: 25/08/2021

Audi may be a German car manufacturer, but that doesn’t stop them from using Italian words to give their cars some flair. The word quattro simply means ‘four’ in Italian. 

Before we start, we’d like to point out that ‘quattro’ is not the same as ‘Quattro’ - which is of course the iconic Audi rally car from the 1980s, famous for devastating its rivals at the World Rally Championships. 

The word quattro is appended to the names of Audi vehicles which have an all-wheel-drive system. 

If you’re not a big car geek, that’s ok - here are a few simple definitions to keep you on top of things:

  • Torque - How much rotational force the engine produces. Most petrol and diesel cars will reach maximum torque in a certain rev range. With electric cars, maximum torque is delivered almost instantaneously, and throughout the whole rev range. 
  • Horsepower - How quickly power is delivered.
  • Differential - The gear train that allows the outer and inner wheels to rotate at different speeds when cornering.
  • Axle - The central shaft on which wheels are mounted.
  • Drivetrain - The group of components that deliver power to the wheels. Unlike the word ‘powertrain’, this excludes the engine. 

Why is it called Audi quattro?

Why can’t they just say ‘four wheel drive’, you ask? 

Firstly, it’s actually not that uncommon for manufacturers to trademark their own four wheel drive systems: Volkswagen call theirs ‘4motion’, BMW have 'xDrive' and SEAT use ‘4Drive’. 

Secondly, Audi quattro isn’t just four-wheel-drive. Many people will use the terms ‘four-wheel-drive’ (4WD)  and ‘all-wheel-drive’ (AWD) interchangeably, but in fact they are very different things. 

Four-wheel-drive refers to a vehicle with a two-axle drivetrain capable of providing torque to all four of its wheels simultaneously, with a fixed amount of engine power provided to each axle. An all-wheel-drive system differs in its ability to send a variable amount of torque to each axle. Audi’s quattro system is an example of the latter.

While four-wheel-drive systems are great for off-road usage, they’re often less useful on the road. If you attempt to take a corner, for instance, each of the wheels will naturally spin at different speeds. If 4WD is enabled, the drivetrain will attempt to make the front and rear wheels spin at the same speed, which makes cornering more difficult. This is why many four wheel drive cars will come with a two wheel drive mode for either rear wheel or front wheel drive on the road. 

All wheel drive systems on the other hand, like Audi’s quattro technology, can send power where it is needed most using a differential case, which makes turning a lot easier. 

How does Audi quattro work?

Still with us? 

Good - because this is where Audi’s quattro system gets a little more complicated. 

You see, there are actually four different types of Audi quattro system currently on the market. 

The first, and most common type of Audi quattro technology, is the self-locking centre differential: this is available on the A4, A5, A6, A7 Sportback, A8, Q5, and Q7. The self-locking centre differential will usually have a 50:50 power bias, which divides the torque equally between front and rear wheels, though it is constantly analysing road conditions and can send up to 100% of the power to the front or rear. In sportier cars like the RS models, a rear-wheel bias provides a sportier driving experience. 

The second most common quattro technology is the Hydraulic multi-plate clutch. This is designed specifically for cars with longitudinal engines and has a front wheel bias in normal conditions but can send up to 100% of the power to the rear wheels when required. This is available on smaller cars where it would be difficult to incorporate Audi’s usual Torsen differential, namely the A1, A3, Q3 and TT model ranges.

Audi’s quattro on-demand can switch between all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive in a fraction of a second, allowing you to reduce your fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The system analyses driving dynamics itself, so you don’t have to worry about a thing and you’ll still get all of the benefits of a quattro car. This system is available on the A4 allroad quattro and the Q5

The Audi R8 has a slightly different quattro configuration to the rest of the Audi range as a result of its longitudinally arranged mid-mounted engine in front of the rear axle. A viscous coupling distributes power between the front and rear axles, with 85% of this going to the back wheels. If the rear wheels slip or you’ve thrown the car into a tight chicane, additional power is almost immediately provided to the front wheels - which is handy because, if you’re the lucky owner of a sports car like the Audi R8, there’s probably not much else you’d rather be doing… 

What is Audi quattro with torque vectoring and sport differential?

Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive system is also complemented by two other technologies which can be added as an option or are available on top of the range models. 

The first of these is torque vectoring, which works by braking the inside wheels while torque is transferred to the outside wheels, resulting in improved handling in corners and improved safety. 

The second is Audi’s Sport differential, which uses an active rear differential to achieve maximum cornering performance. This can be found in S and RS models. 

Why buy Audi quattro?

When it comes to all-wheel-drive, Audi quattro really is in a league of its own. It offers unparalleled power distribution for greater acceleration and higher cornering speeds as well as greatly improved safety and driver confidence.

Don’t believe us? Over 50% of the cars produced by Audi are fitted with quattro drive technology - that’s how highly people rate it!

Best of all, quattro is available on all Audi models on the market today, from the mammoth Q7 SUV to the pint-sized A1 Sportback, and the petrol-powered RS5 Coupe to the all-electric E-tron Sportback

Go on, you know you want to...

For more information about Audi's range of features, check out our Audi Engine Codes, Audi Virtual Cockpit, what is Audi S Line, what is Audi connect, Audi Tech Pack, Audi S Tronic, and Audi MMI posts - phew, that's a long list!

Or if you've been researching BMW xDrive too, you may want to check out our BMW or Audi post for heated battle of the two German giants.