The Audi Quattro concept is based on a shortened and lowered version of the magnificent RS5 but with the chassis made of aluminium instead of steel. Photo Gallery
Mark Hinchliffe road tests and reviews the Audi Quattro Concept in the US.
IT'S back to the future for Audi, judging by its "quattro concept" car. The stripped-down and shortened RS5 is a tribute to the legendary 1980s Quattro Sport rally car that dominated the World Rally Championship until it was banned in 1986 for being too fast.
But don't visit your bank manager just yet. Audi Australia corporate communications manager Nadine Giusti says there has been no decision made about production of a road-going version of the car unveiled at this year's Paris Motor Show.
"The show car does however provide many technological impulses for the development of future Audi production vehicles, and not just for the sports car segment," she says.
Audi group communications, product and technology manager Josef Schlossmacher says the car will need "a business case" before the board decides to go into production. "We will also see what the press has to say," he says.
Schlossmacher has chosen the hills behind Malibu in California to give the world motoring press a tantalising taste of the concept car, which is a strong hint about how serious the company is about its future.
Carsguide was the only Australian media invited to drive the one-only concept car.
It stands with its feet apart in a plain white muscle t-shirt and tight-fit jeans revealing muscular flanks beneath. Well, it would if it was a fit, 30-year-old stud. Instead, it's a replica of a fit, 30-year-old rally stud.
Audi strategic designer Claus Potthoff says the concept reflects elements of the original Quattro Sport such as the horizontal black grille louvres, thick trapezoidal C pillar and recessed rear hatch and integrated spoiler, but with a modern interpretation. For example, the spoiler now automatically deploys at 120km/h and lowers under 80km/h rather than being fixe like the original.
"We didn't want to do a retro model," he says."We wanted it to be modern but with the same elements that remind us of the Quattro. It was important to get a feeling but not copy history."
So, instead of the boxy Quattro Sport with its jutting Kirk Douglas chin, we have wheels in each corner and svelte aerodynamic contours. Inside, there is a Bauhaus feeling with form following function. For a start the rear seats have been stripped out because the shortened wheelbase doesn't provide any room, but also for weight saving.
Although there were rear seats in the Quattro, they were superfluous as there was simply no space for passengers' legs. The front seats are 18kg Sparco carbonfibre motorsport seats while the originals were Recaro.
Yet, for all its motorsport pretensions, with its minimalist floating dash and huge LCD instrument pod, the interior abounds in soft leather, bespoke aluminium and carbonfibre everywhere, including the rearview mirror. Project engineer Peter Seizinger says: "If it looks like carbonfibre it is carbonfibre."
Is the quattro concept a taste of Audi's design future? Potthoff says yes. He believes the sharp lines around the headlights and grille will have a presence in future models and the simplicity of the interior will become more prevalent.
He also believes the LED headlights that swivel from horizontal to vertical for varying lighting functions will also feature in future Audis.
The concept is based on a shortened and lowered version of the magnificent RS5 but with the chassis made of aluminium instead of steel. In tribute to the original Quattro, it has the same number of cylinders (but a 2.5-litre engine from the TTRS, not like the original 2.2) and even the same weight of 1300kg.
Project engineer Peter Seizinger says those details were deliberate matched to pay homage to the rally legend. While the concept is constructed from modern lightweight materials such as aluminium (body panels) and carbonfibre (boot and bonnet) and the inside door handle is replaced by a leather pull strap reminiscent of the original rally car, the extra lard that brings it back to the Quattro's original weight is in the modern electronics and the required wiring looms.
But don't expect it to weigh that much if it goes into production as the concept car may have electric seats, windows, handbrake, etc, but it doesn't have electric wing mirrors, airconditioning or even an audio system.
Yet there is an electronic flush-mounted door handle that automatically comes out when it detects a hand nearby. Seizinger says this is just for show.
It took less than four months and "millions" to develop, says Seizinger. He won't comment on cost if it goes into production, but says numbers should be limited to under 1000.
"It makes no sense to make more than that," he says. He expects it to become an instant collector's classic with many stored and never driven. The concept car comes with two-time world rally champion Walter Rohrl's signature on the door sills, making this particular car even more valuable.
It feels raw. Strapped into the Sparco seats there is a purposeful mood to this experience. Despite being surrounded by some soft leather and quality trim, the minimalism of the dash serves to diminish any distractions to the aim of the game - driving fast.
In front of you is a large LCD instrument pod with an "everyday" mode and a "race" mode that mirrors the original's instruments and can also show GPS renderings of race circuits.
Fire it up with the ominous red starter button and you immediately feel the engine vibes come up through the thin seat. You are also aurally assaulted by the disharmonious five-potter as most of the sound deadening material is stripped out for weight saving.
But despite the purposeful motorsport character of the cockpit, we are restricted to slow speeds on the test drive. After all, says Schlossmacher: "There is only one of these in existence and we have to bring it back alive."
Yet it feels special even at the relatively low speeds we are allowed on the test drive on the snaky Decker Canyon Rd winding through the hills behind Charlie Sheen's Malibu mansion in Two and a Half Men. Highway patrol cars provide an escort and have blocked the top and bottom of the road because the car is unregistered.
The lithe handling feels exciting and the steering is sensual - no numb hands here like in so many Audis. It feels connected to the road. The dynamic exhaust rasp and the hissing and "pigeon cooing" from the turbo's wastegate is also a delight.
Unfortunately, there is no scope for testing its performance potential in the five minutes we spend driving the closed public road. It gets the slick S5 six-speed manual gearbox which is an absolute joy to use plus the firm but fair suspension from the RS5. The roads here are billiard-table-smooth, so it glides along with a stress-free ride.
Okay, there are plenty of rattles and squeaks in the body and trim, but after all this is a priceless one-off concept car that has not had the usual rigorous pre-production testing to iron out the bugs. However, there is a certain inevitable feel about the car that says Audi is itching to get this into production, even in limited numbers.
A board decision on the car's future will be made in the next three years. Bring it on.
AUDI QUATTRO CONCEPT
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged FSI 5-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Suspension: 5-link (front), track-controlled trapezoidal link (rear)
Kerb weight: 1300kg
Wheels: 9J x 20
Tyres: 275/30 R20
Audi Quattro Sport*
Engine: 2144cc turbocharged in-line 5-cylinder
Transmission: 5-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Suspension: independent MacPherson struts, staliser (front); coil springs (rear)
Kerb weight: 1300kg
Wheels: 8J x 15
Tyres: 225/50 ZR15 (* 1984 road car)