Both Audi and Subaru are famous for their all-wheel drive systems. However, it was Audi that really made it popular, back in the ’80s on rally stages and both systems are very different. The Audi 4000 S Quattro’s system had two locking differentials, one at the center and one at the rear, both of which could be manually locked like a truck. This helps tremendously with low-traction driving, such as in heavy snow. The Subaru’s system uses a viscous-coupling center locking diff that sends power to both the front and rear differentials, both of which are open diffs.
Despite their differences, both cars are very good in the snow, with both cars having pros and cons. So the folks at Jalopnik decided to have some fun in both at the Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire. This snow course, covered in heavy, fresh powder, is a treacherous one for anyone unexperienced in that sort of driving. However, Raphael Orlove gets a crash course from Wyatt Knox, a former 2WD rally champion.
They drive both cars back to back, with each of them taking turns in each car to get affiliated with it, then both taking timed laps. They start out in the Subaru, learning how to drive it in the snow. With the Subbie, it takes lift-off throttle and a touch of braking mid-corner to get the back end to rotate. It’s sort of odd but it actually works pretty well and looks like fun.
Then it was the turn of the Audi 4000 S Quattro, which was an entirely different ballgame. With its 2.2 liter iron-block five-cylinder engine slung way far ahead of the front axle, the Audi doesn’t like to turn very much. It pushes hard and understeers like crazy, require some real manhandling. Its traction is superb, though, better than the Subaru’s and that makes it faster in the straights. However, to get it to turn, you really have to wrestle it around and slide it hard. While this is a lot of fun, once learned, it isn’t very fast. So the Subaru’s timed laps end up being faster.
After that, though, they drag race both cars uphill on a very icy, slippery surface. Orlove drives the Audi while Knox drives the Subaru and they do one race it from each side of the hill each, to insure traction is fair. During both drag races, the Audi wins pretty easily, as its locking differentials are far superior for straight line traction.
This looks like a lot of fun and the Audi 4000 S Quattro seems like a cool car to mess with in heavy snow. It just goes to show that Audi knows what it’s doing with Quattro all-wheel drive.