Retro Road Test - 1982 Audi quattro

Cher. Sting. Pele. So well-known they have no need of the surnames that mere mortals are burdened with. For them one name is enough to ensure instant brand recognition (must make signing your autograph quicker, too...).

It also works for cars; I have long hypothesized that a car can only be cool if you can refer to its name in the singularity: 911; Evo; E-Type. And, of course, the quattro.

Here is a car I have lusted after for thirty years since watching Group B Sports screaming through Kielder Forest, back in the day. At the age of seventeen the quattro seemed so sophisticated, so powerful, and so expensive that I never dreamed Id ever get to drive one, much less own one. So when classic car hire experts Great Escape offered to lend me one, I jumped at the chance.

Exterior

Audi Quattro rear angle

Blistered wheel arches are the very definition of nonchalance. Dial in a discreet rear spoiler and glossy red paintwork and youve got an unpretentious performance car that only the cognoscenti will recognise.

Actually, scratch that; everyone recognised it. I cant remember when I last drove a car that engendered so much positive interest: small boys, old men, middle-aged dads, and school-run mums all appreciated the iconic quattros 80s stance. Everyone had a tale to tell, a dream to share, or a quip to make.

Life on Mars surely helped ignite a whole new demographic and if youre going to drive a classic, it might as well be one that people love.

Interior

Audi Quattro interior

The interior of this 1982 example is very, er, 1980s. For those who missed it, shoulder pads, big hair, leg warmers, and dodgy car interiors marked Thatchers decade and while the years might have been kind to the quattros bodywork it has damned its interior; multi-coloured velours time has yet to return (if, indeed, it was ever truly here) and the ergonomics are atrocious.

The drivers seat is set too tall, meaning you sit on a Quattro, not in it. So the steering wheel rubs my 90th percentile legs and the roof flattens my (fast receding) hair. The front seats also look far more supportive than they actually are, but the trim is all in fine fettle, which is just as well as getting hold of replacements must be all but impossible these days.

Its sparse in there too with none of the luxurious bits weve come to expect from top-of-the-line Audis. It all works though, including the period stereo complete with cassette player, which prompted many do you remember? conversations. (Spooling them with a pencil, rewinding rental shop videos, and reams of cassette tape fluttering on the verge, if youre interested.)

Driving

Audi Quattro side

The brakes are generally the first things you criticise when you drive an old car. Often feeble and spongy, they demonstrate just how far we have progressed in thirty years; spare a thought for those of us who drove powerful cars with no brakes back in the 80s (MkI Golf GTI, anyone?). Which is my way of saying that the quattros brakes are anything but a match for its engine and chassis. A new set of discs and pads might help but I suspect that theyd still be frightening.

The chassis betrays its age, too. Its softer than you expect, allowing far more body roll than youd get in an equivalent modern car. Once you tune into its idiosyncrasies you can hustle the old girl along at quite a clip despite strong understeer caused by the weight of the turbo-charged five-cylinder engine hanging well over the centre line of front axle. So the trick is to ease the quattro into the bends more slowly than you would with a more modern car and then floor it earlier than you think is possible. If youve grown up with front-wheel-drive cars youll be delighted with the lack of torque steer and the ability to power out of bends earlier than you think would be wise.

I didnt thrash the quattro out of deference to its owners and its age but I drove it quickly enough to realise that this is a chassis that comes alive with speed. By the time I returned it I was turning in a performance that was 75 percent of that of my early 90s Evo I which shows how far engineering came in that crucial decade

Engine

Audi Quattro diff lock

The five-cylinder engine has the most distinctive engine note this side of a Subaru Impreza. This is a Good Thing, as it transports you back to those heady days of the mid-80s when the world still offered limitless possibilities (and you could get through the night without having to get up to go to the toilet).

These days, 200bhp barely qualifies you for entry into the High Performance Club but at the time it was an intoxicating number; the double century was more than twice what the average family saloon was producing: no wonder the big Audi needed four-wheel-drive to keep it on the road!

Of course, 200bhp isnt all that much, not really; I drove a SEAT Leon estate in the same week that boasted almost as much power from its four-cylinder diesel engine and the chassis coped with significantly more torque being channelled through its front wheels just fine. (Audi wasnt alone in thinking this way. Saab said at the time that 200bhp was the limit of what was possible with a FWD car, and we know what happened to them)

So its a noisy, not-very-fast engine that offers about 25mpg in everyday driving. Fuel efficiency of that order isnt amazing but it is significantly better than most performance cars of the era, especially those that could seat four in comfort.

Value for Money

Audi Quattro front seats

Values for the Quattro are strong and getting stronger. Ten grand will get you into one but youll need fifteen to buy a goodone and twenty to get a great one. Dont worry, though; with interest rates this low its as good as money in the bank and depreciation is highly unlikely.

Audi Quattro grille

Verdict

9/10

They say you should never meet your heroes. Ive met, and interviewed, a few celebs and they have been, with very few exceptions, dull and disappointing. So I approached the quattro with trepidation.

The interior is soft and squishy and small. The chassis is dated and the brakes are awful. So, was I disillusioned?

No, not a bit. The quattro is still an absolute delight. Of course it feels old, but hell, it was built thirty-two years ago - and engineered long before that. It feels Period. It feels Iconic. It feels Right. It shows, in the clearest possible way, just how sound the whole four-wheel-drive, high-performance concept was and is. If I had a spare fifteen thousand pounds there would be a Quattro sitting in my garage right now.

If you are lucky enough to be able to afford one then you should buy one while you still can for sensible (-ish) money. And for the rest of us, there is always the option of renting one from Great Escape for a weekend

Thanks to Great Escape for the loan of the Audi quattro. If you want to drive one you can contact them on 01527 893733 or via their website: www.greatescapecars.co.uk

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