During a recent interview with Stephan Winkelmann, CEO of Audi Sport, Top Gear was able to coax out some interesting information. When asked about whether or not every Audi Sport model needed to have Quattro all-wheel drive, Winkelmann claimed that Quattro was part of the brand’s heritage but that, “I can imagine we can also have cars with rear-wheel drive or two-wheel drive in the future.” Now, he’s likely talking about the Audi R8, as it’s the only rear-wheel drive-based Audi Sport car and even the e-tron model was rear-wheel drive. However, would a rear-wheel drive Audi Sport model be a proper Audi or would it stray too far from the brand’s heritage?
Complaining about understeering Audis is somewhat of an automotive journalist pastime. We love to bemoan the fact that fast Audis all understeer at the limit and lack the excitement of their rear-wheel drive counterparts. That’s because of the Quattro all-wheel drive system, which is front-wheel drive based and requires difficult packaging, the latter of which forces the engine too far forward. This results in understeer during limit handling. This complaint would be nullified with rear-wheel drive and would allow Audi to compete more closely with BMW M and Mercedes-AMG. But wouldn’t that stray too far from the brand’s values?
Audi made its bones in the woods and on the dirt with the original Audi Quattro. Ever since, Quattro all-wheel drive has been the very foundation upon which the brand has built its motorsport heritage. So deviating from that might make journalists happy but would it make enthusiasts and fans of the brand happy? It would be cool and interesting but it wouldn’t be a proper Audi Sport car.
When BMW first told the public that the next-generation M5 would be all-wheel drive, fans of the brand were furious about BMW M deviating from its heritage. Even though the new M5 will be immensely faster thanks to its all-wheel drive, fans would rather have it be a bit slower if it felt like a proper M car. I think the same might go for any Audi Sport product. The entire purpose of buying a fast Audi is for Quattro. If you want something rear-wheel drive, go with BMW M or Mercedes-AMG. Audi and Quattro should be synonymous, it’s what makes the brand from Ingolstadt stand out from the other Germans.
So would a rear-wheel drive Audi Sport car be a proper Audi, even if it handled with a bit more purity and less understeer than normal?