So long, and thanks for all the fish
- Mar 6, 2005
- Motor City, Michigan
- 13 Ford Mustang GT, 17 Ford Fiesta ST
When the Audi S5 hit the market in December of 2007, the car was a revelation. The voluptuous coupe was the first two-door grand-tourer from Audi to be sold in America since 1991, and the ?91 Coupe quattro wasn?t terribly high-performance. With striking design, a burly, 354-hp FSI V8 and an excellent new chassis, the S5 has more going for it than likely any Audi coupe prior ? a fitting rival to serious competitors like the BMW 3 Series Coupe or Mercedes-Benz CLK.
The S5 may represent the best hand Audi has yet to play in this segment, but it?s hard to compete with an icon and that?s just what originated this space for Audi. The coupe?s spiritual successor must assuredly be the original quattro (a.k.a. Ur-quattro) ? the boxy ?80s fastback that set the rallying world on its glutes when it roared onto the scene at the beginning of the Reagan era to the soundtrack of a warbling five-cylinder turbocharged engine and, we must assume, AC/DC?s Back in Black over the state-of-the-art cassette player with Dolby noise reduction.
So does the S5 compare to the icon ? the car that started it all by pairing all-wheel drive with performance and putting Audi back on the map after decades of post-World War II brand re-invention? We decided to take a closer look at both cars recently, pairing the latest S5 with one very pristine 1985 example owned by Marc Nguyen, a major force behind the Audi Club?s Potomac Chapter and a DC local who now shares his home town with Audi of America.
What Made the Original Original
Every automotive era has its staples, and the 1980s certainly had its distinctive specimens. While not as glamorous as, say, the swooping sportscars of the 1960s, the blocky shapes that threw aerodynamics to the wind dominated car design during the time. Much of this is attributable to Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro who left his mark at Audi, along with many other brands. The Italian master penned the lines for the original B2 Audi 80 sedan on which the Ur-quattro was based. However, adapting the three-box into something more fitting for the world?s first mass-produced all-wheel drive performance car fell to a well-known Brit.
The notchback profile was tossed in favor of a fastback wedge with period performance signatures like boxed blister fenders, and the credit for this fell to none other than Martin Smith. Today, Smith is Ford?s Executive Design Director for Europe and the father of the Blue Oval?s current "Kinetic" Euro design language, but his twenty-year stint at Audi left a library of work highlighted by the exterior styling of the Ur-quattro.
Smith may have penned the box-flared coupe, but the car would have never gotten the okay were it not for Audi executive Jorg Bensinger ? a man so enamored of his experience winter testing the four-wheel drive DKW Munga that he suggested the drivetrain be paired to a passenger car. Bensinger pitched it to Ferdinand Piech, who came around to the idea, seeing early on that the technology could be pivotal in re-establishing Audi as a technological leader and doing so by pairing all-wheel drive with a high-performance model could be just what the brand needed. That model, quite obviously, debuted as simply the ?quattro? at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980. It would be produced at the rate of about 10 hand-built cars a day with few major changes for the next eleven years ? a number unheard of nowadays. Over that time, 11,452 were produced.
Audi introduced the Ur-quattro to America in January of 1982 as a 1983 model at the lofty price of $35,000. Considering a Porsche 911 coupe of the same era was $29,950, this premium price assured the car sold in very small numbers. US sales peaked at 285 during 1982, slipped to 240 in 1983 and then fell off rapidly ? into double digits through the remainder of American production ? 65 in 1984, 73 in 1985 and just one single leftover were sold in America in 1986.
Aside from a high price, North American cars had other shortcomings over European market cars. To meet emissions requirements and be to able to run on unleaded fuel, the ten-valve, 2.1-liter, turbocharged five-cylinder (code WR) received changes including a different cam, less boost (now code WX) and a catalytic converter. Shackles added, the US-spec WX lost 40 hp over the Euro WR and was rated at 160 hp at 5500 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm.
Those weren?t the only changes. In order to meet U.S. and Canadian crash requirements, the coupe?s elegant bumpers with inset foglights were replaced with larger and higher-impact units with built-in shock absorbers and no fogs. The additional weight of the equipment brought the final curb weight tally to 3115 pounds, and 58 percent of that rested on the front wheels.
Slightly asthmatic and encumbered it may have been in comparison to some European equivalents, but the car was still competitive for its time. Road & Track was able to pull a 0-60 mph run of 8.2 seconds from the car in a 1983 road test.
In a less politically correct era when coolant temperature indicators played second fiddle to boost gauges, it is perhaps no surprise that there was only one available transmission. Couldn?t drive a stick? Tough. Buy something else. The Ur-quattro came solely with a beefy five-speed manual gearbox that was torque-rated to take the abuse of hooliganistic owners who would most assuredly sidestep the clutch and drop the turbo five?s full compliment of torque to all four corners with little relief to be found from wheel slippage.
The list of standard equipment for America was luxurious at the time, but seems Spartan by today?s standards. The quattro included the aforementioned turbo boost gauge, power door locks and antenna, power windows, intermittent wipers, dual remote heated mirrors, lighted visor mirror, cruise control, power steering and an AM/FM cassette player. A tilt and lift-out steel sunroof and leather seats were also available.
By 1985, all B2-based Audi models received some key upgrades. The addition of aero bumpers made the changes more noticeable on the 4000 (known as 80 in Europe) sedan, but the coupe only changed through the addition of a newer and ever-so-slightly sloped grille and optional 15X8 Ronal alloys with 215/50R15 tires.
Inside, newer cars like the one we drove received an upgraded dashboard with new switchgear, a new differential lock switch that activated the manually-lockable center diff, oil temp and voltmeter gauges, a plush-sided center console and a digital instrument cluster. Our subject car didn?t have the digital readout, either a sign of gradual rollover of new equipment or a retrofit of the more preferable analog VDO gauge setup.
By any measure, Ur-quattros are a rarity in North America. The rally-bred coupe sold in such low numbers here that any decent example is a find and commands money well above four door sedans of the same era. By 1985 sales had dropped off so dramatically that examples from this year like our Tornado Red car are extremely hard to find, especially since this pristine car is basically in original form. High-mileage and heavy modification is commonplace, making Nguyen?s red coupe even more of a collector piece.
A Modern Equivalent?
Today, the Audi S5 claims essentially the same position within the Audi model lineup as the Ur-quattro so long as you don?t factor the original?s stratospheric price well above the rest of the line. A handsome and more exclusive two-door equivalent to the best-selling A4 sedan, its higher power and equipment levels raise it above its more common chassis mates. In the case of the coupe, Audi?s dropped forced induction (for now) in favor of a torque-heavy, 354-hp 4.2-liter V8.
Times and fortunes have changed at Audi and that?s easily evident when you consider the material quality of the S5. Simple boxed fenders have given way to creased tornado lines and just-so proportions. Again, a highly-acclaimed designer, Walter de'Silva, is responsible for the outer beauty. Inside, materials like high-quality leather and aluminum abound, while more exotic d?cor made of carbon fiber or wood are also optional.
If you want a digital speed readout like the ?85 quattro, there?s a setting for that in the MFA, while tech like Dolby noise reduction has given way to our car?s impressive options set: Bang & Olufsen audio, navigation, and full iPod integration via the Audi Music Interface.
Times have changed in the car market to be certain, and the competition has moved to dizzying heights. You start to realize just how much harder it is for a car as capable as the S5 to stand out today, much less come to be known as an icon. In today?s mass-produced car business, a peak year of 180-some cars is simply unfathomable. Even the exotic Audi R8 eclipses those numbers with ease. Fortunately, cards aren?t stacked quite as high against the S5. In today?s North American market, Audi is a much more known quantity. Priced equipped as our Brilliant Red example was at $56,840, that?s nearly $20,000 below the $76,300 it takes to buy a modern Porsche 911.
Visually, these two cars seem so disparate. The S5?s elegant lines show so much care and production prowess ? a standout even in a great automotive era spawned during financial boom. The boxy and abrupt lines of the Ur-quattro are quite the opposite, with amazing proportions but of an era that?s not quite classic and during a time when Audi was just trying to re-establish itself. One exudes opulent luxury, the other a sense of raw rally inspiration, partially a product of a bygone era of production requirements for racing homologation. They?re a bit of an odd couple.
Then Marc arrives at our photo shoot, his arrival signaled by that familiar, burbling five-cylinder note. Park the S5 and the resemblance begins to show itself, revealing just what a talented eye Walter da'Silva has. The squared-off headlights with their segmented design do hint at the old function-dictates-form quad sealed beam bulbs in a modern and handsome way. The S5?s C-pillar has a hint of a fastback slope to it, though not as much as the Ur-quattro?s profile that many people mistake for a hatchback. The tornado line is still there ? topping rolling fenders rather than boxed blisters, but the family heritage can be seen. Even the sunroofs are functionally the same ? the S5?s expansive glass Open Sky sunroof is tilt-only, much like the standard-sized steel unit on the Ur-quattro (unless you cared to risk scratching it by removing it for trunk stowage.)
On the road, performance is a different ballgame. The bark of the five-cylinder turbo is distinctive and mean, but perhaps without the mainstream cache of the 4.2 FSI V8?s deep throaty howl.
The Ur-quattro?s all-wheel drive was indeed a game changer. On muddy rally stages or en route to snowy alpine ski resorts, the original quattro had no equal. Still, it stopped no better than other cars with similar brakes, and its 58:42 front-to-rear weight ratio meant plenty of understeer if you weren?t well versed in the Scandinavian flick or used a rear-biased and locked center differential as the Audi rally teams did.
Steering is accurate and light, but a bit numb. Drive around with low pressure in one of those high profile tires and the car will pull significantly as if it is in major need of alignment rather than a couple pounds of air.
Power delivery is pure ?80s-era turbo ? plenty of lag until about 2500 rpm, when boost kicks in. Acceleration is nowhere near the S5?s pace, but it's respectable in a historical perspective. Where Road & Track nailed 0-60 mph in 8.2 seconds back in the day, the S5 needs just 4.9 seconds today.
Audi has evolved this chassis considerably over the last six generations (B2 to B8). For starters, Ingolstadt has now positioned the front axle differential forward of the clutch, moving the driveshafts and wheels further forward. This decreases the front overhang of the car for better proportions, but it also changes the weight ratio to a much more optimized 51:49 front-to-rear balance. Combine that with a 40:60 rear-biased torque split through the car?s center differential and the S5 is much more willing to rotate controllably, less prone to understeer than the vintage box-fender Ur.
Steering is also worlds ahead. Audi still drives the front wheels, but improves feel and precision thanks to a multi-link front suspension and a progressively-tuned variable weight and ratio power steering unit.
On the highway, the worlds-apart differences continue. The Ur-quattro may have been refined in its day, but the vault-like solitude of the S5 bestows it with a whole new level of refinement befitting its grand touring stature.
In some ways, this smoothness separates you from the experience more than the 25-year-old quattro, but then you make a quick shift, hit the throttle and the bass-laden growl of the V8 speaks to you in a whole other language? a language that?s understood by a much larger group of buyers. It?s just one reason why Audi continues to grow from a niche manufacturer, as it was back in the 1980s, to the mainstream luxury entity it has become today. Having wrapped that V8 in such a compelling modern form only adds fuel to the fire.
As for the Ur-quattro, it didn?t need the rarity associated with such minimal production numbers to be a classic. In its various evolutions, the car set the rallying and hillclimb worlds on their collective ear, while turbocharging and all-wheel drive are both technologies that have become staples in the luxury segment specifically and the industry as a whole. For that reason, the cars never really hit rock bottom pricing associated with a not-yet-classic car, and they?ve begun to steadily climb.
Nice read. Nice cars.