The origins of quattro technology can be traced back to the winter of 1976‑77, when a group of Audi engineers conducted test drives in the deep snow in Sweden. An Iltis traveled along for comparison purposes – despite its output of a mere 55 kW (75 hp), the leggy military all-terrain vehicle easily outdid the much more powerful Audi prototypes with their front-wheel drive systems.
Audi’s solution, which made quattro technology possible in the first place, was the hollow shaft – a drilled-out, 263 millimeter (10.4 in) secondary shaft in the transmission through which power flowed in two directions. It drove the housing of the center differential from its rearmost end. The differential sent 50 percent of the power along the propshaft to the rear axle, which was equipped with a locking differential. The other half of the drive torque was transferred to the front axle’s differential along an output shaft rotating inside the hollow secondary shaft.
The hollow shaft permitted all-wheel drive that was virtually tension-free, light, compact and efficient, and that operated without the need for a heavy transfer case or second propshaft. The quattro concept was no longer suitable just for slow all-terrain vehicles, but in particular for sporty automobiles and high-volume production.
1980: debut of the Ur‑quattro
The revolutionary technology made a dazzling debut at the 1980 International Geneva Motor Show in the new Audi quattro, a coupe with a boxy shape and 147 kW (200 hp). Originally planned for only low-volume production, high demand led to the Ur‑quattro being produced as a production model; repeatedly upgraded, it remained in the model lineup until 1991. In 1984, Audi added the exclusive Sport quattro with 225 kW (306 hp).
In 1986, Audi replaced the manual-locking center differential of the first generation with the Torsen differential (Torsen = torque sensing). The worm gear transmission was capable of variable distribution of drive torque. The next big step came in 2005 with the planetary drive that offered asymmetrical, dynamic distribution of the power.
In parallel, Audi further expanded its line of quattro models. The decision was made back in the early 1980s to offer the quattro drive system in every model line; the new models were important milestones on Audi’s path to the premium segment in the market. The first TDI with permanent all-wheel drive appeared in 1995; four years later the technology moved into the compact segment.
The equipment and data specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.