AUDI MAY be a household name known for cars packed with technology and innovations, but back in the 1970s it was the poor relation of the German car companies.
It needed to grab drivers’ attention. And, boy, did it do the job when it launched the Audi quattro, in 1980. The sporty coupé brought four-wheel drive to the mass market although it was conceived to win the world rally championship. By the end of 1984 Audi had delivered two of them.
For car enthusiasts the quattro was a high point of the 1980s, one reason perhaps that it was chosen to star in Ashes to Ashes, the BBC1 crime drama set in that testosterone-fuelled era. The car that appeared in the series is being auctioned for Children in Need, with the eBay sale ending at 9pm this Sunday.
The benefits of secure roadholding in all weather weren’t lost on British drivers – or Audi’s sales and marketing departments. It didn’t take long for the quattro four-wheel-drive system to become a unique selling point for Audi, and today drivers can order it on almost every model in the company’s exhaustive range.
Here, Driving rounds up its favourite used Audi models featuring the quattro four-wheel-drive system – from as little as £1,000.
1 Audi quattro
- On sale: 1980-91
- Best for: the classic car collector
- Budget: £10,000-£30,000
- Best buy: Post-’89, 2.2-litre 20-valve quattro
It started off as a left-hand-drive model, but by 1982 demand was such that right-hand-drive quattros rolled off the boats into British dealerships.
What was all the fuss about? Well, I’ve driven a couple, and the combination of the characterful, five-cylinder engine, poised handling and unusually (for an Audi) communicative steering made it a joy to thread along a winding road. That it offered four proper seats and a large boot added further appeal for some drivers.
The combination of the characterful engine, poised handling and unusually communicative steering made it a joy to thread along a winding road
The engine began as a 2.1-litre, turbocharged five-cylinder, evolved to a 2.2-litre in 1987 and ended with a 20-valve cylinder head, from 1989. Over that time, engine power increased from 197bhp to 220bhp.
Today the quattro has attained classic car status, and good examples are appreciating in value. The supply is limited – just over 2,700 were sold in the UK – so values are hard to predict accurately, but values range from £10,000 to £30,000.
Problems in cars this old include rust, leaking water seals, tired fuel pumps and worn suspension components. Quattros in general can suffer from worn turbochargers, cracked exhaust manifolds, perished hoses in the engine bay, worn valve guides and valve seals clogged with carbon deposits.
Be mindful that replacement parts are often unavailable, so owning a quattro means getting on first-name terms with members of owners clubs and specialist quattro mechanics.
2 Audi A6 allroad
- On sale: 2006-11
- Best for: the anti-SUV family car driver
- Budget: £8,000-£25,000
- Best buy: Post-2008 3.0 TDI A6 allroad
The Audi A6 allroad is the go-anywhere family car you buy if you can’t bring yourself to be seen in an SUV the size of a house.
It’s terrific to drive … and it’s not half bad as an estate car, either
As its name suggests, this version of the A6 estate has been beefed up to tackle snow-covered roads and muddy, rutted tracks – anything that resembles a road, essentially. It features permanent four-wheel drive, sits higher from the ground (up to 185mm of clearance) and has subtle styling enhancements to make it look more cowboy than City boy.
This second-generation A6 allroad is a great improvement on the original model. It’s terrific to drive, for the most part because the standard air-suspension system allows the A6 allroad to glide along like Aladdin’s carpet.
Pick the post-2008 3.0 TDI version, which has more power and torque than earlier 3-litre models, and you’ll have all the performance you could need plus the potential for nearly 38mpg.
Oh, and before we forget, it’s not half bad as an estate car, either. There’s seating and space for five, the boot offers 565 litres of space, or 1,660 litres with the back seats folded flat – more than enough for a spot of antiques-hunting.
3 Audi RS4 Avant (B7)
- On sale: 2006-8
- Best for: drivers who have grown out of their sports car
- Budget: £15,000-£27,000
- Best buy: RS4 Avant
So, you’ve outgrown your Porsche 911 and need to replace it with something that will be family-friendly but won’t be as dull to drive as watching paint dry. Start looking for an RS4 Avant.
Referred to by Audi as the B7 generation model, this RS4 was when quattro – the equivalent of BMW M or Mercedes AMG – really came good. Ever since the original quattro, the cars from Audi’s high-performance arm were a bit ordinary to drive. But the RS4 changed all that.
The 4.2-litre V8 engine was an absolute belter, which thrived on revs and sounded like a Le Mans car charging down the Mulsanne straight at full throttle
Why? Two reasons: the engine and the roadholding. The 4.2-litre V8 engine was an absolute belter, which thrived on revs and sounded like a Le Mans car charging down the Mulsanne straight at full throttle. And the chassis had a balance through bends that marked it out from previous, nose-heavy Audi performance cars.
The fact that its quattro system gave it all-weather security – something lacking in Mercedes AMG and BMW M models – was an appreciable advantage for drivers who preferred not to end up a bundle of nerves at the end of a Sunday morning drive.
Unlike the latest generation RS4, it features a manual gearbox, which many drivers will prefer. The engine and Dynamic Ride Control system may have made this RS model a hit with the critics, but owners report reliability issues with both, so buy a car with a complete service history file and extensive evidence of a pampered life, and consider having it independently inspected too.
In the Avant body style, it’s a relatively understated and practical car, too. Little surprise, then, that this versatile car is so sought after on the used market – which helps to keep prices buoyant.
4 Audi S8
- On sale: 1998–2002
- Best for: a bargain
- Budget: £1,000-£5,000
- Best buy: Pre-2001 S8
Here was a car perfectly suited to the world of espionage and daring heists. As understated and subtly sinister as a black trench coat, it looked more like a limousine than a sports car, but had the goods beneath the surface to outrun the French police.
Perfectly suited to the world of espionage and daring heists. As understated and subtly sinister as a black trench coat
Today, it’s a bargain buy – if you can find one. This is a rare car, with just a handful on the market at any one time. Prices are typically under £5,000 for the very best examples, considerably less for average models.
Those who have driven it will testify to the 155mph performance of its 4.2-litre V8 engine and competent handling of its chassis. Yet when drivers want to relax, the automatic gearbox, armchair-style seats and refined atmosphere make this a calming car.
Because the A8 on which it’s based has an aluminium body, the S8 isn’t as heavy as some rivals. It has few specific weaknesses. Worn brakes, suspension, and engine components could be lurking, as with any car this old, but at least rust won’t be an issue. And remember that any models registered before March 2001 will cost only £220 to tax.
5 Audi TT roadster
- On sale: 2007–14
- Best for: road trip to the south of France
- Budget: £10,000-£40,000
- Best buy: 2.0 TFSI Sport quattro roadster
Let’s not pretend that the TT roadster is the most exciting used sports car money can buy. Even with a 2-litre turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive the car is too grown-up ever to put you in the mood to drive as if your trousers were on fire.
However, what it is good at is looking cool and cruising comfortably. The fabric roof lowers at the touch of a button, the interior feels special and stylish and the exhausts even make a pleasing rasp when you do put pedal to the metal.
It won’t set your trousers on fire … what this is good at is looking cool and cruising comfortably
This second-generation TT was considerably better to drive than the first – that model always felt like it was wearing deep-sea divers’ boots – and so is well worth stretching for if you’re on the cusp of the £10,000 starting point.
Choose the Sport trim for the most comfortable ride, as it came with 17in alloy wheels (S line cars have 18in wheels) and don’t bother with the TT S, as it’s really not much more exciting than a standard 2.0 TFSI but considerably more expensive.
There are no big reliability issues with this generation of TT, although it should be noted that cars fitted with a DSG automatic gearbox should be checked for smoothness of operation. Any hesitancy could spell trouble. The good news is service intervals are as long as every two years, and there are plenty of cars available from Audi dealers with a comprehensive manufacturer’s warranty.