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First Look: Audi Quattro Concept

Back in 2008 Audi began work on project Anniversario, a supercoupe that was meant to highlight the firm's centenary in 2009 with a debut at the Pebble Beach Concours weekend. But then the stock markets collapsed, overt celebrations were no longer en vogue, and at the rather subdued 100 years of Audi party we witnessed the debut of the socially and environmentally more compatible zero-emissions R8 e-tron. A mere twelve months later, however, the global economy has recovered (somewhat), Audi is almost three quarters through yet another record year, and the brand motto Vorsprung durch Technik (Advantage through Engineering) can again be advertised by much harder-core products. As it happens, 2010 marks the 30th birthday of the Quattro 4WD system pioneered by the ingenious Ferdinand Piech, who fathered the iconic Ur-Quattro, which was unveiled at the 1980 Geneva auto show. The most extreme variant of the chunky four-seat coupe was the limited edition, short-wheelbase, plastic-bodied Sport Quattro that triggered all those famous world championship-winning rally cars. What could be a better source of inspiration for the new Quattro?

Although the concept car unwrapped at the Paris Show is now simply labeled Quattro, what you see on the stand is actually a clever and careful evolution of last year's stillborn birthday present.

"The differences are not dramatic," acknowledges the chief designer Wolfgang Egger, who heads Audi's Advanced Design studio based in Munich's hip Schwabing district. "But we did make quite a few detail modifications to clean up the shape and to achieve an even more pure stance. This started with a color change from Suzuka grey to Col de Turrini white, extended to more graphic wheels finished in machined titanium silver, and led to even crisper lines, especially along the flanks and the C-pillar area. The result is a very sporty coupe that shouts, "Quattro revisited!" from almost all angles. The most obvious links to the original Sport Quattro are the relatively upright A-pillars, the characteristic greenhouse, the flared wheel arches, and of course the overall proportions. Although we consciously avoided going retro, not a single significant styling element was signed off without looking at how they did it way back when. The outcome is, I believe, an amazingly modern car that is light, powerful, and very desirable. This car proves that Quattro is very much alive-not only as state-of-the-art four-wheel drive system, but also as a brand within the brand."

Loosely based on the RS5, the new Quattro sits on a wheelbase that has been cut by 5.9 inches. The rear overhang was shortened by 7.9 inches, and the roofline was lowered by 1.6 inches. Together, these reductions add up to a much tighter package and more muscular proportions. To bring the weight down to 2900 pounds (roughly the same level as the 1984 Sport Quattro), Audi replaced the steel body of the production RS5 with a custom aluminum spaceframe architecture clad with carbon fiber panels. A further cut in calories was achieved by substituting the V-8 and the dual-clutch transmission with a turbocharged five-cylinder and a manual six-speed gearbox.

Dubbed PQ3010 (Project Quattro, 30th anniversary, out in 2010), the distant RS5 relative is 168.5 inches long, 73.2 inches wide, and 52.4 inches tall. The wheelbase measures 102.4 inches. Unlike the Sport Quattro, which was a token 2+2-seater, the revival can accommodate only two adults. Between the seats and the rear crossbrace-cum-firewall to which the safety belt assembly is attached, there is space for helmets, a roll cage, or a couple of fire extinguishers. The actual cargo deck extends further backwards where Audi opted for a classic trunk lid in place of a hatch. The undersides of the carbon body panels are left unpainted, to display the maker's weight-consciousness.

With the exception of wheels and tailpipes, the exterior is strictly a black and white affair. As a world first, the LED headlights boast dynamic components that vary from horizontal to vertical and from slit-eyed to wide open. Instead of conventional turn signals, the new light units incorporate amber streaks (front) and moving yellow brackets (rear).

Although this new Quattro stays true to the turbo five-cylinder heritage, its output is considerably greater than the original. The new engine (the same base unit as in the Jetta) features four valves per cylinder and displaces 2.5 liters rather than 2.1; the peak power output is 408 hp (from 5400 to 6500 rpm) rather than 306 hp; and the torque peak (which stretches from 1600 to 5300 rpm) is 354 pound feet instead of 258. To keep vibrations at bay, the engineers fitted a large damper to the front end of the crankshaft. The firing order and the ignition interval were also tweaked for improved smoothness.

Naturally, the Quattro features the latest AWD hardware, which includes a rear-biased, 40:60 torque split and the recently introduced sport differential that distributes the power between the rear wheels at a variable rate for optimum handling. While the suspension is closely related to the RS5, the extra-large carbon-ceramic discs are straddled by six-piston calipers anodized red. The handmade 14-spoke wheels are shod with 275/30R20 Dunlop Sportmaxx tires.

"The exterior design is bold and expressive," states Egger. "It stirs emotions, brings back memories, blends the rawness of a competition car with the smoothness of a GT. The interior design takes us a relatively big step into the future. It is an object lesson of less is more. Less, as in no separate sat nav monitor, no redundant switches, no multi-functional overkill ergonomics. Simple and easy, sporty and sexy, friendly to the eye and pleasant to the touch-that's the mix we aimed to create instead. Of course, concept Quattro also forges the occasional link to its great heritage. For example, the thumb switches on both sides of the IP shout Quattro. Or the large digital speedometer flanked by the dogleg semi-analogue rev counter, which is so very mid-80s. And of course back-to-basics stuff like a round steering wheel, a real gearlever and an absolutely perfect driving position."

The bucket seats, by Sparco, weigh a mere 40 pounds each. Trimmed in soft beige leather, they offer electrically adjustable backrests, a carbon fiber frame, integrated four- or five-point belts and side air bags. Other materials used inside the cabin are brushed aluminum, more carbon fiber, and satin black leather. Via the MMI, the driver can access a large center display that provides a variety of functions from classic round instruments to rally-style pace notes coordinated by the navigation system.

In terms of the power to weight ratio, the concept Quattro just about matches the 525-hp R8 5.2 FSI. The performance and consumption figures are equally impressive. Audi reckons that the car can accelerate in 3.9 sec from 0-62 mph, top an electronically restricted 156 mph and average 33 mpg. And as far as ride and handling are concerned, the concept Quattro is bound to drive circles around the relatively twitchy Sport Quattro. Building this vehicle is a no brainer, right? Wrong.

"I am not so sure," confesses Egger, one of the project's most fervent supporters. "First of all, we would have to make sure it does fit into our portfolio. Next, we would have to focus on the cost situation. And last but not least we would have to triple-check the homologation potential. After all, this is not simply a chopped RS5. What we have here is a new structure fitted with a new engine, so we would be facing more crash tests and additional emission exercises. But the most critical question is perhaps how many cars we would want to produce, and at what price?"

Michael Dick, Audi board member in charge of r&d, is both enthusiastic and skeptical. "I love the design, I like the concept, and I can imagine this to be a hoot to drive. But I hate to think of what it takes to make this car jump all the logistical, financial and legal hurdles. My biggest worry is the longitudinally mounted engine, which is notably longer and taller than the V-8, thereby failing to comply with the latest pedestrian protection regulations-by a long shot. Then there is the one-off ASF matrix that is far too complex and expensive for a limited production run. Finally, we would have to swallow the costs for a one-off interior..."

If Audi were to assemble only 220 pieces like it did back in 1984, the Quattro would in all likelihood cost more than an R8 GT. Even if the number were closer to 1000 units, the price would probably still be above the R8 V10. According to one insider, there are only two options: economize by bringing the car's content closer to the RS5, or give it permanent concept status and apply the funds, the brainpower and the design prowess to conceive a lightweight version of the next A5 that fits the bill and makes a profit.