#ULTRA Compared: 2011 Audi TT RS vs. 1985 Audi Sport quattro
By by: George Achorn, photos by author
Apr 27, 2011, 16:46
If we want to start a conversation about lightweight automotive production at Audi then there is no better beginning point than the venerable Sport quattro. Perhaps better known for its more visibly noticeable short wheelbase, the Sport quattro went so much further by utilizing nearly every exotic material and inventive design available to Reagan-era Audi engineers. To take a closer look, Audi of America granted us rare access to one of these very rare cars kept in its historic collection. And, to measure both how ahead of their time those engineers were while also pinpointing how far mass-produced Audis have come, we’ve brought along a German-spec Audi TT RS, also borrowed from Audi of America, as a comparison.
The Audi Sport quattro
Like a lot in the 1980s and most like high-efficiency cars of today, the Audi Sport quattro wasn’t exactly built in an era of conservatism on against the backdrop of a fuel crisis. In fact it was anything but. By the mid 80s, disco years gas lines had given way to an all out oil glut and per barrel prices were falling rapidly. Instead, the challenge heard by Audi was the call of Group B rallying and the competitive gauntlets thrown by competitors – specifically Lancia and (surprise, surprise) Peugeot.
On rally courses from Monte Carlo to Africa, once dominant Audi was meeting more stringent competition from shorter, lighter and even mid-engine competition. Factory drivers like Hannu Mikkola told Audi Sport bosses they wanted something more agile and preferably with more of a windshield rake to better deal with the reflections of camera flashes.
Back then FISA (Federation International du Sport Automobile) homologation rules were a very clear and real challenge. In order to compete with such a car, Audi would have to build 200 examples with key components such as engine plumbing and exhaust required to carry over unmodified. As a manufacturer, it would seem you could go hog wild as you wished so long as you were willing to take it on the chin and produce a few hundred. Fortunately for enthusiasts, it was this specific set of rules that forced Audi to manufacture the road-going Sport quattro – a car for the well-healed common man that would mix super exotic materials with off-the-shelf motorsport components, cost double that of a 911 of its era and, even still, lose Audi money upon every sale.
So how did they do it? Removing 12.6 inches from the wheelbase was most notable, but it was only the start. In addition to the glare, we suspect the more upright Audi 80 windshield was adopted because it would allow use of the shorter doors from the Audi 80 with little modification. These units were steel, but much of the rest of the bodywork including the roof and bumpers were Kevlar composites, with some areas reinforced by aluminum. Components such as the hood and the trunk lid were manufactured of fiberglass reinforced by resin. Much of this may not seem so exotic in an age when a carbon fiber cover for your iPhone may impede your signal but is hardly a monetary extravagance. Not so in the mid-80s. The tech was otherworldly and the costs reflected that.
Under that blistered and vented lightweight hood the weight savings continued. The Sport quattro’s I-5 engine boasted an aluminum block - the first of its kind to feature a 20-valve head and the only of its kind to feature a lightweight aluminum alloy block. The radiator was carbon fiber and the air intakes were carbon-reinforced fiberglass. Kevlar was again used in many of the hoses since homologation rules forced manufacturers to use “production” units.
All told the Sport quattro weighed in some 661 lbs. (300 kg) lighter than its long-wheelbase production sibling. And with that lightweight motor, the car boasted an improved front-to-rear weight ratio of 55:45.
Had the story of the Sport quattro been one solely of efficiency things would have taken a decidedly different turn on the way to drivetrain development, but the Sport quattro was, after all, a roadgoing racecar and it was with that lightweight alloy engine that Ingolstadt wanted to move the bar further.
The Sport quattro marked the leading edge of a wave of double overhead cam 4-valve I5 engines from Audi. Displacement was just 2133cc, but to that engine they fit a large KKK K27 turbocharger positioned close to the cylinder head to minimize lag. The setup was capable of 17.4 PSI above atmospheric pressure… roughly double what most turbocharged production cars were pushing at the time.
As was typical of Audi I-5 configurations, the radiator was offset and beside the block on the driver’s side. Pop the hood and what looks like a radiator behind the car’s slightly extended nose is instead a radiator sized intercooler produced by Langerer and Reich and built to the same spec as those used by Audi Sport in its 1983-spec rally cars.
In stock form the Sport quattro’s engine was tuned to 306 bhp at 6500 rpm and 258 lb-ft at 3700 rpm. Rally versions pushed out an even more impressive 450 hp and the Pikes Peak hill climbers sported over 600. Even over a quarter century between them, the TT RS and its state-of-the-art 2.5-liter TFSI I-5 boasts only about 40 more horsepower. The devil’s in the details but these numbers stand as truly impressive for the era, bettering the all-important mark of 100 bhp per liter by an expansive margin.
Mated to this engine was the typical 5-speed manual gearbox and Audi’s first-generation of quattro with its console-operated center differential lock. Racecars sported 6-speed manuals to better use the power while a few of these even received experimental sequential gearboxes that may loosely be compared to today’s S-tronic wunder box.
Power went to the ground via a set of cast 15 x 9 Ronal-style alloys wearing Pirelli P7s or Michelin MXX 235/45 VR15 tires. As you might imagine, the size was hard to come by then and is virtually nonexistent today. This explains the presence of what could be best described as racing slicks on our red specimen on loan from Audi.
With just 15-inches of wheel diameter to work with, you might expect that the Sport quattro’s brakes weren’t exactly huge. Nevertheless, the car’s setup pulled from the rally cars originally saw use in the legendary Porsche 917 Le Mans racers and were manufactured by AP Lockheed. The configuration featured 4-piston calipers at each wheel with ventilated rotors and separate grippers for the e-brake.
Cutting edge for 1985, the Sport quattro did feature anti-lock brakes from Bosch. A button on the dash allowed the driver to defeat the system because a quick mashing and locking of the brakes was actually preferred in order to set the car’s weight just-so, an optimum move as one might be aggressively setting up a curve.
Setting up a different kind of curve proved more of a challenge. The story goes that Audi Sport wasn’t terribly concerned with how the car looked but then Audi design chief Hartmut Warkuss wasn’t so easily satisfied. The German designer assigned Peter Birtwhistle (now head of design for Mazda Europe) with the task of cleaning up the car’s appearance. Birtwhistle was given just two months to accomplish this and was transferred to Lake Constance Switzerland, home of the firm Seger and Hoffman who were tasked with producing the Sport quattro.
Birtwhistle focused on a few key points, smoothing the boxed arches of the long-wheelbase ur-quattro, cleaning up the bumper designs including improved ventilation and also adding those in-your-face hood vents for which he found inspiration in Ferrari F1 cars at the time.
To this day Birtwhistle maintains that he thought and still believes the car to be ugly though we suspect there’s an army of Audi and rally enthusiasts who would argue the Brit vehemently on that point.
Inside, the Sport quattro received a surprising number of changes considering its miniscule production run. Most notable is the unique dashboard design featuring an integrated central extension that included three auxiliary analog gauges for oil temperature, water temperature and oil pressure. Above the glove box on the right of the dash a ‘Sport quattro’ logo has been molded into the plastic.
Want to spot a faux Sport quattro, essentially a replica built out of a shortened ur-quattro? Check the dash. We’ve seen plenty of replica body panels in fiberglass from the UK and most recently in carbon fiber from firms like 2Bennett. And while we find these cars to be extremely cool, we’ve yet to see anyone replicate that dashboard. It’s not as if you can just ring up Audi Tradition and order one.
The rest of the cabin is basically a 2-seater affair. The rear bench seat is there but rather ungraciously shortened to the point that it is not really a seat at all. The +2 back seats of the TT RS look downright cavernous in comparison.
The Sport quattro’s front seats feature Recaro seats with split vertical bolsters covered mostly in leather with a suede-like cloth insert. In every road going Sport quattro we’ve ever seen, those Recaros have been the same drab puddy brown but they are more than willing to hold you while you play ur Stig should you wish to do so.
Audi of America’s example also features an integrated roll cage. We’ve not seen this before in other Sport quattros owned by Audi Tradition but the integration is so seamless that we believe it was a factory option.
Production for the Sport was given to Seger and Hoffman who’d previously supplied carbon fiber components to Audi Sport in their rallying efforst. Just 214 Sport quattros were built with just 164 sold to customers. The remainder were used by Ingolstadt as experimental cars or transformed by Audi Sport into racecars.
Of the roadcars, most were red (128). Some were white (48). Some were green (21). Some were blue (15). Just two were black and these are believed to have been built for Ferdinand Piech and for Audi rallying champion Walter Rohrl.
The Sport quattro was never officially sold in the USA. Enthusiasts like Frank Beddor of Audi Club North America fame imported several and this red car is believed to be one of Frank’s. The only modifications we note on the car is an 80s vintage Escort hidden radar detector system with its readout mounted stealthily under the ashtray cover as well as some rather tacked-on looking US amber side-markers/reflectors drilled into the front bumpers that were no doubt part of the importation process.
Given market value on these cars is six figures nowadays and the aforementioned slick tires, we were not quick to push the Sport quattro to the edges of its performance capabilities and in that regard we’ll defer to numbers of the day… most notably from Autocar Magazine.
Performance numbers from that time suggest the Sport quattro was capable of a maximum speed of 154 mph. It could do 0-60 in a surprisingly fast 4.8 seconds and AutoCar manhandled one through the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds.
Around town the car is docile and almost boring, feeling pretty much like a 80 sedan (4000 for Americans) of its day until about 3000 rpm when the boost starts to come on. By 4000 rpm you’re really into it and the trick for real performance would be to keep it above 4000. Audis works drivers managed to keep the car on boost while approaching corners by braking with the left foot and keeping the throttle up with the right.
Autocar noted back then that shifting at the 7000 rpm redline would keep it in the 4000+ rpm rev band. Do that and you’d shift at 36, 60, 91 and 130 mph, which would leave you at 4200, 4600, 4900 and 6000 rpm and well within the power band.
quattro all-wheel drive was a key to the car’s performance brutality. Autocar noted that it managed a 0-30 mph run of just 1.8 seconds that was notably faster than anything it had tested before including the next-fastest Lamborghini Countach quattrovalvole which had done it in 2.1 seconds. While other cars like the Lambo and the 911 Turbo were able to keep pace at higher speeds, the Sport quattro was untouchable off the line.
At speed the Sport quattro is stable but on the winding mountain roads we used to access our Forest Stage photo shoot the Sport seemed skittish. When designing the suspension, engineers installed tubular design control arms and Boge dampers just like those used by Audi Sport. As such, the ride is firmer. And, the mating of this design with the wider track of the Sport emphasizes the car’s quick turn-in as compared to the more clumsy Ur quattro. However, what I call skittish Walter Rohrl might call agile.
Those who pushed it harder in its day suggested the car was much more willing to oversteer if you let off in a turn. It would switch to understeer if you mashed the throttle. We’ll have to take their word for it though as slicks aren’t exactly optimum for a Forest Stage and explaining rock chips or oak-shaped dents in Kevlar panels to Audi of America wouldn’t be terribly enjoyable anyway.
Today’s I-5 WunderKind: The 2011 TT RS
Though Audi’s mulling the idea of creating a modern day Sport quattro based on its quattro Concept shown in Paris last fall, we believe the closest car Ingolstadt currently builds in spirit to the Sport quattro is the 5-cylinder TT RS. Ingolstadt’s RS 5 may boast blister fenders inspired by the Sport and what we believe to be the best evolution yet of the quattro system, it is the TT that is closer in size, spec and spirit to the Sport.
Like the Sport quattro, Audi put a major focus on weight savings in the TT RS. Granted, the targets for mass reduction on the TT RS were for a profitable production run of thousands rather than an exotic motorsport write-off, but that doesn’t mean the TT should be counted out. Time, after all, is on the TT RS’ side.
Using years of experience in aluminum construction, the TT benefits from an Audi Space Frame (ASF) made primarily of aluminum and aluminum body panels with a section of steel at the rear to counter-balance weight of the engine in the front.
Like the Sport quattro, the TT RS boasts the best-known production technologies under the hood such as direct injection FSI, a Borg Warner K16 Turbocharger and outlet camshaft timing adjustment. The TT RS’ 2.5 TFSI generates 340 bhp and 331 lb-ft over a much wider torque range albeit with 2480cc displacement versus the smaller 2134cc unit in the Sport quattro.
When it comes to the basic figure of horsepower per liter the quarter century old Sport quattro has the better number but the TT RS is no slouch and still manages to beat the Bugatti Veyron by this measurement. Also, the wider power and torque delivery help the 794 lb. heavier TT RS best the acceleration of the Sport quattro by .3 seconds. Fuel economy is also better by an estimated 8 mpg average, although you can’t deny aerodynamics likely play a factor in the significantly wider margin here. The TT RS is shaped like a drop - the Sport quattro like a brick.
Unlike the Sport quattro, the TT’s engine is mounted transversely. On the upside this means the weight of the engine is positioned more to the center and lower in the chassis, which all pay dividends in the handling department. On the downside this means the TT RS foregoes Audi’s latest quattro system as seen in the RS 5 and most notably skips out on the torque vectoring rear Sport Differential that we’ve found more than willing to induce highly controllable oversteer in cars like the RS 5 and S4 that feature it. The differential is kit that hasn’t yet seen its way into an Audi with a transversely mounted engine and we’re keeping our fingers crossed it will come… perhaps in the next generation.
And even though Audi’s Haldex-sourced all-wheel drive system for transverse cars like the TT may not yet feature the trick torque vectoring rear differential, it is still programmable for tailored dynamics and is quicker to react than other systems in the line. Also, it powers the front-wheels solely unless there’s slip, which translates into greater fuel efficiency.
When Audi launched the second-generation TT it did so with a design much less iconic than the first-generation car. The second time around seems more evolutionary and less risky though you forget such thoughts when the TT you’re about to take for a drive is a blacked-out RS-spec monster with its gaping cross-hatched grille. Optional 20-inch wheels further the exotic look and feel of the car though leave this newer Audi as useless as the slick-equipped Sport quattro on our Forest Stage trails.
Brakes and suspension may not be off the shelf of Audi Sport in the case of the TT RS but the subsequent 25+ years has been kind to Auid’s shelves of common production parts. An adjustable magnetic ride suspension adds push-button controllability for handling while optional carbon ceramic brakes will keep on ticking likely long after the Sport quattro’s AP’s admirably give up the ghost of Monte Carlo.
Inside, the TT RS is a work of art. TTs have never been slouches once you cross the threshold but the second-gen offers switchgear shared with the exotic R8 as opposed to an 80s 4000 sedan. Optional shell seats, sourced from Recaro as with the Sport quattro, richly feature “TT” logo script dyed perforations on the leather bolsters. Since the days of the Sport quattro Audi has made its mark with interiors and the TT is exemplary in this regard.
The Sport quattro feels Spartan in comparison but the lack of equipment is also to the car’s advantage when measuring curb weight. The TT RS’ added 794 lbs begin to make more sense when you consider modern necessities and luxuries such as navigation and audio system, airbags, ESP, etc., etc.
On the winding hillclimb portion of our test, the TT RS is worlds easier to drive. This is often where the unbelievably good TT RS is panned. Experts don’t like newbs to look quite so good and so long as you can row the standard-for-USA manual gearbox and operate a clutch, the TT RS will likely make you look quite good blasting down a road such as this. Need torque? No problem. It’s seemingly always on tap. Need to avoid that guard rail? No problem. ESP will likely save you and that those 9-inch tires with barely any sidewall offer loads of grip.
And while it may be easy to drive, the TT RS offers a seemingly junior level of exotic feel. Granted, we’re trying to filter our impressions to imagine a car without our tester’s stunning 20-inch alloys or those gripping Recaro shell seats because neither will be available from the factory for US buyers, but we think we’d love it nearly the same… or we’d order up a set of each from someone like OEMplus, EuroPrice or German Ebay.
The TT RS is light on its feet, much like an R8. And the sound, that completely unique 5-cylinder sound, we find to be even more exotic than the song of the R8’s 4.2 or the howl of the V10. The TT RS is not as well balanced as the R8, nor is the all-wheel drive system rear-biased and thus hoonable as the R8. Still, we expect it to price in at less than half of an R8 or a 911 Turbo of our era… and the 911 Turbo was half the price still of the Sport quattro back in the day.
|SPECIFICATIONS: 1985 AUDI SPORT QUATTRO |
Engine: Longitudinally mounted 2134cc I-5 20-valve Turbo
- Power: 306 bhp@6700 rpm
- Torque: 258 lb ft at 3700 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed Manual
- Overall Length: 4160 mm
- Overall Width: 1780 mm
- Overall Height: 1345 mm
- Weight: 2403 lbs.
- Wheels: 15x9
- Tires: 235 45 15
- Brakes: 280 mm ventilated discs, 4 Piston Calipers
- 0-60 mph: 4.8 sec.
- Top Speed: 154 mph
- Fuel Economy: 17 mpg average
|SPECIFICATIONS: 2011 AUDI TT RS COUPE |
Engine: Transversely mounted 2480cc I-5 20-valve Turbo FSI
- Power: 340 bhp@5400 rpm
- Torque: 331 lb ft at 1600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
- Overall Length: 4198 mm
- Overall Width: 1842 mm
- Overall Height: 1342 mm
- Weight: 3197 lbs.
- Wheels: 20X9 (optional)
- Tires: 255 30 20
- Brakes: 370 mm drilled and ventilated discs, 4 Piston Calipers
- 0-60 mph: 4.5 sec.
- Top Speed: 155 mph
- Fuel Economy: 25 mpg est. average
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