The saying goes that three is a magic quantity – but for Audi, it’s 5 that holds a particular place. This 12 months marks 45 years of the German model’s iconic five-cylinder engine configuration – and as a celebration to spherical off the 12 months, we’ve gathered collectively a few of the most well-known fashions to be powered by the legendary five-pot motor.

But 2022 additionally sees one other milestone, as a result of earlier this 12 months the corporate’s newest and best RS 3 landed within the UK. It grew to become the ultimate mannequin within the model’s historical past to characteristic five-cylinder energy, however the story began with the Audi 100 C2. The second technology of the model’s household saloon was the primary to get a five-pot motor, producing a grand complete of 134bhp from its 2.1-litre fuel-injected engine. 

However, it wasn’t till a number of years later, in 1980, when Audi’s five-cylinder story grew to become actually attention-grabbing, with a larger give attention to performance.

The begin of a brand new decade that introduced with it shoulder pads, synth music and the ‘greed is nice’ angle was mirrored within the automotive world, and nothing screams ‘eighties’ greater than the unique Audi Quattro. Often known as the 10-valve – or 10v – that is the place turbocharging took off, force-feeding the automobile’s 5 cylinders with contemporary air to unleash further energy. 

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A bit of over 40 years in the past, this extra muscle amounted to 197bhp; by immediately’s requirements, a sporty supermini pumps out this stage of oomph, however in 1980 this sat very a lot within the high-performance class.

In the Quattro, the facility was accompanied by 285Nm of torque, produced comparatively excessive up at 3,500rpm – for those who’re judging it in contrast with lag-free, trendy, refined turbochargers anyway. 

With the Quattro absolutely wound up, a 0-62mph dash took 7.1 seconds. No doubt the performance was helped by a comparatively skinny 1,300kg kerbweight, with the automobile additionally free from the Twenty first-century security aids and driver-assistance tech that make the 10v’s current-day successors that bit heavier.

Climb aboard and you’re reminded what an eighties automobile looks like, and how issues have moved on in 4 a long time. It’s not solely the shortage of methods that makes the Quattro mild, but in addition the comparatively slight construction. The automobile’s windscreen pillars are spindly by trendy requirements, but they offer a terrific view out in consequence.

Pull the delightfully trimmed door to, and you might be ensconced in a world of laborious plastic and patterned velour trim. There’s nothing digital in sight, with all of the devices absolutely analogue. It’s pleasant.

The contrasts proceed once you insert the skinny blade of a key into the ignition barrel and flip it to awaken the engine. The 5 cylinders catch and settle to a surprisingly muted idle, reminding you it’s solely not too long ago that performance cars have moved in direction of the peacocking flaring of engine revs with a crescendo of pops on start-up. Contrary to the factors outlined above, in some methods issues have been extra delicate within the eighties.

It’s very clearly a classic-car expertise. Although the seats have been in all probability the peak of consolation and assist round 40 years in the past, they don’t supply a lot in the way in which of physique frame-restraining sculpting. They additionally really feel as if the seat frames themselves won’t be fairly as inflexible because the day the Quattro left the manufacturing unit; as you drop down into the admittedly low-set driving place, the backrest strikes. There’s a good stage of adjustment, nevertheless, and regardless of the chance of skinning your knuckles or nicking a finger when reaching for a few of the seat-adjustment levers, you may manipulate the Quattro’s seat to discover a comfy place that places you within the prime place to actually drive the Audi.

Maybe considerably surprisingly for a automobile of this age, the gearchange continues this air of confidence. The shift motion shouldn’t be as dishevelled as you may count on, and whereas a bit finesse is required to be sure you discover the suitable ratio, given the size of the throw, the mechanical interplay is pure, as is the meaty, hydraulically assisted steering that offers you a strong reference to the Quattro’s entrance finish. Once you get used to the controls and their charge of response, you rapidly study to work with the automobile.

Audi UK’s instance is sorted by NGM Services, and as with each heritage automobile in our line-up, the 10v is in unbelievable situation. It is surprisingly fast, too – when you study that the engine wants revs to ship its finest.

It’s swift under round 3,500rpm, however no extra so than a downsized, turbocharged household hatchback. Maybe that’s doing the Quattro a disservice – or possibly it feels that approach solely as a result of the relative climb in energy and torque because the turbocharger begins to feed cool, compressed air to every of the 5 cylinders is so marked. Either approach, as soon as the Audi’s engine is on enhance, it romps ahead with a deep growl that has only a trace of underlying off-beat character to remind you this can be a very particular unit.

It pulls laborious, and within the early eighties (Audi’s UK instance is produced to unique launch spec, however it’s a 1981 automobile acquired earlier than RHD growth had begun) that 7.1-second 0-62mph time will need to have appeared as if it was approaching supercar ranges of tempo. Yet though round £26,000 was on the pricier facet, the Quattro didn’t command a supercar tag. Also, with four- wheel drive permitting you to make use of all the motor’s energy on twisty roads, the Audi would have stored up with the perfect that Ferrari or Lamborghini was producing on the time.

There’s no denying it does really feel very nose-led – and that’s placing it kindly. This sensation is defined when you carry the Quattro’s expansive, sq. bonnet, as a result of it’s instantly apparent simply how far the longitudinally mounted engine protrudes past the front-axle line.

It means you at all times must be conscious of the load distribution, and it feels key to nearly over-slowing the automobile right into a nook, letting the entrance wheels discover their line, and then getting on the facility early to construct by way of the turbo lag and deploy that driving force as successfully as doable.

Of course, this Audi is a cherished icon, so these sensations are delicate, and we’re driving with mechanical sympathy and the automobile’s age in thoughts. Yet you simply know that, in its day, the Quattro would have stood as much as punishment given the form of reliability and mechanical solidity the model grew to become recognized for within the forests, on the asphalt and alongside the car-killing gravel roads of the World Rally Championship’s aggressive phases.

Although the Audi was given a spherical of updates in 1983, transferring to sleeker, one-piece headlight clusters and boasting some plusher trim inside, it wasn’t till the top of the last decade that its 2.1-litre powerplant obtained any form of significant mechanical enhancements. They have been important, with Audi equipping the motor with 4 valves per cylinder in contrast with the unique’s two-valve design – and so the 20-valve Quattro was born.

The engine’s displacement had additionally beforehand been elevated from 2,144cc to 2,226cc – albeit initially nonetheless as a 10-valve set-up. Combined with the additional cubic centimetres of the bigger 2.2-litre unit, the improved respiratory from the additional valves per cylinder and crossflow-design cylinder head helped push energy to 217bhp and upped torque considerably, to 309Nm. This new-found muscle was additionally out there earlier within the rev vary, dramatically boosting flexibility.

These enhancements dropped the 0-62mph time by a substantial margin, to six.3 seconds – a time we’d think about comparatively speedy in a compact scorching hatch even immediately, so it might have been significantly spectacular in a late-eighties performance coupé.

Inside, the trim updates have been evolutionary, however they actually modernised the Audi’s cabin. The velour trim remained, as did the controls for the lights mounted on the edges of the instrument binnacle, but sitting between them was a way more trendy sprint structure, that includes digital readouts behind a sportier, three-spoke steering wheel carrying the Audi Sport badge. Even the important readouts on the backside of the centre console modified to digital bar graphs, whereas the heating and air flow controls grew to become extra refined in contrast with the unique automobile’s horizontal sliders.

However, it was the mechanical tweaks that have been key, and alongside the engine adjustments, Audi fitted a brand new Torsen centre differential. Whereas the unique 10v featured a set 50:50 front-rear torque cut up, this 20v mannequin benefitted from a extra clever transmission. It may nonetheless be rudimentary in contrast with the requirements set by ultra-variable all-wheel drive methods immediately, however permitting for as little as 25 per cent of the engine’s drive to be despatched to the entrance wheels – or as a lot as 75 per cent – means you get a way of the 20v Quattro providing simply that little bit extra adjustability on the transfer. 

There can be the tangible feeling that Audi developed the breed, retaining the automobile’s strengths whereas making an attempt to tune out its weaknesses with the know-how out there on the time. The common dynamics and sensations are comparable between the primary and second iterations of the well-known mannequin line, however though you may sense the adjustments even immediately, they’re not night time and day in contrast with the particular machine that separated the 10v and 20v fashions by way of the Quattro’s chronology.

That second got here in 1984, with the short- wheelbase Sport Quattro. A real homologation particular, the newcomer was constructed to ensure that Audi to maintain tempo with rivals within the Group B class of the World Rally Championship. FIA guidelines said that simply 200 examples of those particular machines needed to be produced by every producer to qualify it for competitors (Audi really constructed 214 Sport Quattros). Despite the low-volume manufacturing, the German model went to city on the adjustments, chopping 320mm from the usual automobile’s wheelbase to enhance agility and optimise weight distribution – even when the vast majority of the two.1-litre motor was nonetheless slung out entrance forward of the axle line. 

In a bid to additional alleviate the weight-distribution points, the engine block and 20-valve cylinder head (really the primary four-valve, five-cylinder configuration for the model) have been constructed from aluminium, and together with intensive use of Kevlar, carbon fibre and fibreglass for the super-swollen bodywork that offers the Sport Quattro its attribute square-set, wide-shouldered look, the automobile tipped the scales in road-going trim at a comparatively light-weight 1,270kg.

The Audi was tuned considerably, with the engine receiving a bigger turbo and a rally-spec intercooler to additional chill the air compressed by the larger blower. Power stood at a claimed 301bhp, whereas torque was stated to be 350Nm at 4,500rpm – which meant a 0-62mph dash time of a mere 4.8 seconds and a high pace of 155mph. 

The Sport Quattro feels each bit good for these figures immediately. Off enhance, the engine remains to be extra pressing and keen than its easier ‘civilian’ stablemates, however as soon as the revs rise and the automobile climbs on enhance, it’s explosively quick. Really, genuinely, trendy form of fast. 

The traditional five-cylinder warble is extra obvious, too, whereas the then-new five-speed handbook gearbox’s shift serves up a a lot shorter, extra correct throw in contrast with that of the 10v. It’s a pleasure to make use of, and you may rifle by way of the adjustments rapidly to attempt to keep away from the engine revs dropping and any consequent turbo lag. That remains to be very a lot current for those who get caught off enhance, so you end up starting to chase nook pace within the Sport Quattro – particularly given the reassuringly strong brakes – pumping the throttle in bends in an effort to maintain the turbo spinning and entry the performance as rapidly as you presumably can.

Sometimes it’s in useless, typically it really works – however in doing so, the adjustments Audi Sport made to the automobile’s chassis are additionally distinctly obvious. In its historic bumpf, the model says that the Sport Quattro’s suspension set-up was so near the rally automobile’s specification that it required exhaustive tuning for it for use on the street.

Even immediately the system feels very totally different. It is taut and reluctant to yield, till the automobile is carrying important momentum and the vitality being compelled into the suspension is past a sure stage. Of course, by 2022’s requirements it may nonetheless be classed as being on the delicate facet, with noticeable roll coming by way of as you push the tempo. Yet by the yardstick of the time, the Sport Quattro was an uncompromising and targeted automobile.

However, it was nothing in contrast with the Group B monster it spawned. The S1 E2 is the last word expression of the Quattro, and simply being in its presence is sufficient to elevate your pulse and excite your adrenal glands. Automotive aerodynamics have come a great distance within the intervening years, even in rallying, however the S1 E2’s deep chin spoiler, large field arches and easy, stubby rear wing (which additionally doubles as an air consumption for the relocated radiators mounted within the boot) imply its form couldn’t be mistaken for anything.

The doorways are extremely light-weight and created from Kevlar. They swing open with out a keep, so it’s important to watch out in even a lightweight breeze. Once you’ve threaded your self by way of the chunky roll cage and unceremoniously plonked your bottom into the one-piece seat, you’re instantly conscious of simply how old-school the automobile is. It has a handbook enhance controller, each dial is analogue and there are banks of fuses and switches, all labelled in German. It’s a comparatively easy beginning process, although.

Flick the primary battery grasp swap on. Turn the second by way of the identical 90-degree arc, and the gasoline pump begins to whirr. We’re advised to not contact the throttle on the threat of flooding the engine, so we merely push a nondescript black button to provoke the starter motor, which churns over slowly earlier than the two.1-litre engine catches into life with a near-deafening bassy rumble contained in the cabin – and that’s with this automobile’s small exhaust silencer.

Everything buzzes and fizzes with menace, even at idle. We dip the significantly weighty clutch, and a few of the percussive rattling stops earlier than we choose first gear. The shift is great – ultra-precise, mechanical and loaded with really feel. But now comes the laborious half…

The paddle clutch shouldn’t be solely heavy, however like a hair set off. It doesn’t respect being slipped, and the S1 E2 doesn’t undergo fools gladly, so we give it a flare of revs and

attempt to cease our thigh from shaking as we carry the left pedal to its biting level. Once there, you will get the automobile rolling (or typically kangarooing) earlier than letting the clutch out absolutely a number of moments later as soon as the machine has constructed up some momentum. From there on in, all it is advisable to do is kick the clutch as quick as you may for each change, up or down.

Variable enhance meant that the Audi Sport works rally workforce may select the facility output for the floor and situations in interval – however we’re advised the automobile is pushing out round 500bhp immediately, which appears lots.

The motor’s traits off enhance are just like these of its road-going stablemates, and not that a lot occurs right here till between 4,500rpm and 5,000rpm. However, as soon as the fragile yellow tacho needle sweeps by way of this level, you’d higher maintain on, as a result of the facility and torque ramp up so rapidly and the automobile pulls with such explosive aggression that you simply’ll be significantly alarmed the primary time it occurs. And the second time, too. In truth, in our brief publicity to this excellent machine, we by no means fairly acquired used to the ballistic supply because the enhance hit.

Dip the clutch, and forcefully – however nonetheless delicately – slice a brand new ratio house with the straight-cut gearbox, and the onslaught begins once more. Only this time, there’s a lot much less ready because the turbo recovers from its temporary pause.

The sensations are unimaginable: the noise, the vibrations, the physicality of the steering and how it’s important to work the brakes to get the automobile to shed pace – plus the S1 E2’s suspension hopping round on the bumpy floor because the rear pitches down beneath load and the nostril seemingly factors in direction of the sky. It all means you actually must drive the automobile, and reinforces to us that the women and gents who drove these cars professionally in interval have been nothing lower than super-human.

It’s a visceral, animalistic expertise that’s an actual privilege to pattern, and as soon as we’ve settled into it with a number of laps beneath our belt, we begin to discover a number of extra of the S1 E2’s delicate, nuanced qualities. The automobile responds properly to being turned in on the brakes – and though the load distribution is what a contemporary engineer may name ‘sub-optimal’, as soon as you may tuck the entrance finish in with some further weight on the nostril the automobile begins to behave with a extra impartial stability. Charge in too quick and the outdated fast-Audi understeer cliché will very a lot be obvious.

However, it’s the much less delicate, extra brutal character traits that go away a long-lasting impression on us – primarily the pace, and how laborious the enhance hits, and the noise. Standing on the strong brake pedal and heel-and-toeing downshifts, you may hear the exhaust popping and cracking from beneath the ground. Our colleagues inform us the automobile was spitting sheets of evocative yellowy-red flames.

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