Living in Breckenridge, Colorado, you need some sort of All-Wheel Drive setup. Snow remains the small town’s primary reason to exist. This explains the multitudes of Subarus, Audis, Volvos, and SUVs all equipped with four wheel motivation. Most drive away blissfully unaware of how recent this feature came to market (as little as 27 years ago). In 1980, Audi introduced the first permanently engaged all-wheel drive system in the Audi Quattro. Prior to this, all vehicles had a part-time system where only two wheels were driven most of the time, requiring driver intervention should the going get slippery. Audi changed all this by putting one driveshaft inside the other, saving space and weight and making it possible for a complex, permanently engaged system to function on a small car. Vorsprung durch Technik, baby!
This system revolutionized rally racing, with Audi winning multitudes of titles and awards. Unfortunately, the Quattro proved too expensive for the North American market. So Audi introduced a much cheaper, non-turbo version in the 1984 Audi 4000 S quattro, a four door sedan already bought in multitudes by aspiring yuppies.
The Audi 4000 never really rivaled the BMW 3-series in driving dynamics for one simple reason: they always came with front wheel-drive. The setup that could provide driving entertainment, but it was nothing to give a potential buyer of the “ultimate driving machine” pause.
With the addition of two rear driven wheels, Audi stepped-up its game. The 4000 S quattro was a stable, neutral handling sedan that was light on its feet and a joy to drive. The steering feedback and feel were top notch, and the build quality rivaled Mercedes-Benz, back when those words really meant something. Some 30 years on, rattles are still nowhere to be found inside the 4000 S quattro demure—OK—dour cabin.
Unfortunately (yes again), Audi failed to address the model’s comical body lean. While the 4000 S looked level in the corners—at least compared to most domestic metal—the BMW 3-Series had it trussed-up like a chicken.
The 1980’s were a curious era of interior design. For one, hard plastics were acceptable, and various manufacturer quirks were still in abundance. To wit: to turn on the Audi’s headlights, you had to push a crunchy rocker switch mounted high on the dashboard. Power windows were standard—in the front. Lock the differentials meant pulling out a knob to activate the vacuum operated system. And the radio came equipped with an antenna gain booster button to complement the TRON inspired array.
In true European fashion, the 4000 S’ horrible plastics were complemented by plush pile carpeting that traveled all the way up the transmission tunnel. The seats were also covered in some of the finest cloth available at the time, upholstery that shows no wear after 25 years.
All these quirks, including the body lean, come together in a small, lightweight, five-cylinder powered joy machine. Let loose the straight 2.2L 5, snick the standard five-speed transmission (the only one available), pitch the car into a corner, and marvel at its grip, driving dynamics and stability. Punch the throttle and watch the back end actually come out controllably, then lift off and watch the car slide right back into line.
The 4000 quattros are becoming harder and harder to find as rust, accidents and teenagers take their toll. If you want a fun-to-drive vehicle that completely revolutionized car design, well, here it is.