By on February 9, 2009

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.

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22 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1984 Audi 4000 S quattro...”

  • avatar

    My first car (at least the one I want to remember as my first car). Died in a flood as the windshield was being replaced.

    I wouldn’t call the plastics inside cheap. Of course I had a 87 so they may have made some improvements. I remember it being very heavy for the time — memory says 2500 pounds — which sounds incredibly light these days. Was never really that fast. With four people in it I had a hard time maintaining 65 on the highway…

  • avatar

    What is great about the 4k is that it will accept a 20v turbo engine.

    It does stuff like this…

  • avatar

    Also… if you’ve got wads of money to blow on making a 4k look the part. IMO the B2 sedan looks the business after it has had some urq box flares grafted into place.

    Plenty of pics over there…

  • avatar

    Ah memories… My parents had an 88 4000 S, which had the slightly more updated cosmetics. It was my favourite childhood car. I still think that clean cinder-block design and classic Teutonic interiors are the pinnacle of elegantly simple beauty. And the interior was a nice place to be – the fabric was lovely, it had room, and it was classy in a late-80s early-90s way. Unfortunately I never drove it – we sold it long before I reached driving age. But I still remember it well, and how it dragged us through our half kilometer long unpaved “driveway” every blistering winter (I grew up on a farm). The only photo I have of it shows it up to the bumpers in slushy mud. Never a more appropriate shot. Dad always laments the passing of simple engines like the 5 cyl, which had mechanical fuel injection that you could fix with a screwdriver, not a computer.

  • avatar

    Dad always laments the passing of simple engines like the 5 cyl, which had mechanical fuel injection that you could fix with a screwdriver, not a computer.

    My dad felt the same way about carbuerators. The problem is that you had to fix them, sometimes quite often.

  • avatar

    I owned an 85 4000Q with the flush Euro lights. It was a neat car, but for the time it was heavy at 2800 pounds. The base 4000S put out the same power but weighed a lot less.

    Anyway, the car was easy to work on. The same can’t be said of today’s Audis.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I love the simplistic design of this model 4000 and the prev. gen 5000 (before the aero era). Nice, simple lines.

    My 5000’s reliability was atrocious of course ($210 in 1987 for the door handle trigger), but dang it was a solid car when running.

    BTW, was I the only (idiot) wearing the B+B badge Saturday in Houston?

  • avatar

    In 1980, Audi introduced the first permanently engaged all-wheel drive system in the Audi Quattro.

    Didn’t the Range Rover have a permanently engaged all-wheel drive system in 1970 ?

  • avatar

    In re: all-wheel drive: don’t forget the late-sixties Jensen FF (Formula Ferguson), which had British bodywork, a Chrysler 383 and TorqueFlite, permanently engaged four-wheel drive, and even anti-lock brakes (the primitive Dunlop Maxaret system). The FF’s AWD system was not nearly as sophisticated as Quattro, but it was earlier.

  • avatar

    I bought one of these as a temporary beater, with many cosmetic faults, gremlins, and a faulty differential (it couldn’t shift into low mode), but what an awesome car. The most joyous, fun to drive car I have ever owned (and there have been dozens). It started my perverse fascination with inline 5s. If Audi still made cars like this I would consider buying one new… high praise from me.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    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.

    At the risk of seeming pedantic (but then again, isn’t TTAC all about pedantry?) Range Rover, AMC Jeep, GM, and Chrysler all introduced full-time 4wd systems to their trucks and SUVs in the early to mid-70’s. Jeep’s system incorporated a limited-slip center diff and was called “Quadra-trac”, the system used by GM, Chrysler and Ford was just called Full Time 4wd and used an open center diff.

  • avatar

    I bought a 4000S after three years of Audi 5000 ownership. What a mistake. It was the worst car I’ve ever owned. It was delivered with a bent rear axle that caused all the tires to wear out within 6000 miles. It took the dealer months to diagnose and correct the problem, taking my complaint seriously only after one of their mechanics had written on the work order after a test drive that the car was unsafe to drive! The thing went into the shop at least once a week for some niggling problem that would simply recur a week or two later. Each time i got a VW Rabbit as a courtesy car and i spent more time in those than in the Audi, it seemed. The seat heaters failed; the sunroof failed; the power windows constantly failed; lights burned out; the starter wouldn’t start; and on and on. It was as if Lucas had moved to Germany to equip my car with faulty electrics. When it worked it was a nice car for its time but it never worked right. After 9 months of this nightmare I couldn’t take it any more so I drove straight from the most recent appointment at my Audi dealer over to a Nissan dealer on my way home and picked up my first Nissan Maxima (straight 6, rear wheel drive, 240Z engine). It maybe didn’t ride or handle as well as the Audi but it was dead reliable, had better seats, more room, better sound system, better air conditioning, better sound insulation, better heater, and far better resale value. I swore I’d never buy another Audi and never have. In fact, for the next 20 years I drove only Japanese and Korean cars and rarely had a problem, especially not with the various Nissan Maximas that I drove. The Audi may have been a good design but the execution was appalling and i’ll never give them my money again.

  • avatar

    These cars fell apart faster than you could bolt the stuff back on. They drove wonderfully when something was broken, leaking or both but that was practically never. Most of the interior was straight out of the Eurospec Passat (Dasher here) and equally as bad.

    At the time, you could sort of understand a cheap Citation blowing up and leaking all over your drive way. But an expensive Audi? This and the equally awful 5000 ruined Audi’s reputation in the USA for a generation.

  • avatar

    I will always have fond memories of Audis. My Mom went from an ’81 LeBaron to a new 5000S in ’85 so it was like a whole new world of motoring to 9 year old me. The Audi Automatic transmissions were horrible so my parents got a 5 speed and my Mom hasn’t gone back to slushbox since.

    By the time I was old enough to drive Mom had an ’89 80 Quattro which was the successor to this. It was a much nicer car than the old 4000. It still had the silly body lean, and the diff lock was still vacuum but it had a button instead of the old knob. And it weighed even more, 3000# IIRC. The engine was a little larger, 2.3 with 130hp which was pretty sad back then, the 3-series had 178 and the new Maxima had 160. But Mom didn’t like the Maxima, and the Audi dealer was hurting, I recall the ‘rents paid something like 21k when the car stickered for almost 28k which sounds like an awful lot for 1989.

    Despite all that what a machine it was. Winter was never so much fun…everything that could possibly freeze was heated. The defogger could melt solid ice in minutes, the engine was warm enough to blow heat into the interior within the first half mile of driving. Speaking of that, the cloth interior looked and smelled like new ’til the day she traded it in 6 years later. The steering was perfect for high speed higway driving, the seats so well shaped, and the little 5 cyl got about 24mpg and the fuel tank was 18.5 gal, so you didn’t have to stop for fuel very often. It was quirky alright: The engine was leaned over almost on it’s side, and the radiator was beside the engine. It had a rear foglight long before Americans had any idea what those were for(they still have no clue). The bottom two wires in the rear defroster spelled out “Quattro”. There were separate resevoirs for the windshield and headlight washers, it took about 3 gallons to fill them both. Like a Volkswagen the radio worked without having to turn the car on.

    There were some problems, the headlights and foglights (supplied by Hella) were glass and seemed prone to getting cracked by a flying stone or two. And a new headlight was something like $500. The window switches would go out from time to time and we lost a window regulator or two. There was a front bushing problem so those had to be replaced around 90k mi. The synchros in the trans were prone to problems, in the later years, Mom’s would grind going into 3rd gear unless you shifted nice and slow, but we just put up with it. Dealer labor was expensive. But Audi had the “3 year test drive” so it didn’t cost a dime to service for the first 3 years. Compared to Japanese and American cars of the day the Audi chassis was built to last decades, with thick “self healing” paint, complete undercoating on the chassis, unlimited mileage rust warranty. I don’t think it is rust that kill these cars, it is likely the parts availability and prices, it is easy for these old Audis to get out of hand with the amout and cost of maintenance that needs to be done if they are neglected. By the time Mom traded hers in(for a 100CS) the diff lock was iffy, 3rd gear synchro was pretty much gone, and it probably needed shocks and a full brake job. One of the mechanics at the dealership bought the car. They were playing some games with the numbers at the time…if I had known what they were really giving her for it I would have bought it in a second.

    The 100CS was nice, and her 325xi was just ok(before it burned itself up in the driveway!) but neither is as remarkable as the 80 Quattro.

  • avatar

    Our ’78 Jeep Wagoneer had full-time AWD/4WD/Whatever you want to call it. My dad seemed pretty proud of the system.

  • avatar

    The 4000s were supposed to be galvanized, so perhaps it isn’t the rust that is killing them….

  • avatar

    In 1980, Audi introduced the first permanently engaged all-wheel drive system in the Audi Quattro.

    Didn’t the Range Rover have a permanently engaged all-wheel drive system in 1970 ?

    The “first” discussion is pretty useless. Subaru beat Audi to putting 4WD in a car. Jeep beat them to the full time AWD system, and AMC may have barely beat them to putting that in a car. You could say that Audi had the first AWD performance car with the Quattro, but then there was the Jensen FF…

    None of that really changes the significance of Quattro though. It was the packaging, the performance aspect, the rally racing and the Torsen differential that did it for Audi. They probably wouldn’t have survived the unintended-wrong-pedal crisis of the 80’s if not for that once unique, now ubiquitous selling point of AWD.

  • avatar

    I’m told the silhouette of this car was one of the most influential in recent automotive memory, surpassed only recently by Bangle BMWs.

    It might be true–my significant other’s mother often says cars look like her old Audi 4000. She currently drives a Mercedes G500.

  • avatar

    I should note that we were lucky with our 4000S, it lasted 300 000 kms without any major problems aside from some minor rusting on the body panels and exhaust. We sold it for a song, and the damn thing kept going, I remember seeing it on the road five or six years after we got rid of it.

    Simple to work on? Ours developed a problem with the EFI. Dad tinkered with it for a day, and found a loose mechanical linkage. He patched it with a bit of wire, and it worked fine. He took it to a shop for a proper repair, and they lauded him for being so ingenious – they had dealt with the problem many times, but had never thought of something so simple as just lashing it with wire. You wouldn’t be able to do that with any modern cars.

  • avatar

    Thanks Mike for a great write-up of an interesting car. I always enjoy TTAC’s treatment of older vehicles. One can only read about the newest Ferraris for so long.

    I’m curious about the driveshaft within a driveshaft idea. Does anyone have a link to a technical drawing or explanation of this?

  • avatar

    I was foolish enough to buy 4 Audis in a row from 1975 to 1994, when I leased a 90 Quattro for two years.

    I lived for the 3 days after a service when the cars ran beautifully and inspired driving confidence.

    I paid through the nose for the privilege of owning these cars, and was stupid enough to disregard the experiences of people driving other more normal cars.

    The topic today, my 1987 4000Q, purchased new in fall ’88 for a very good price. Yes, a leftover.

    I just went and read the brochure again, as I keep one for every new car I own. Ah, memories.

    The day after Xmas ’88, just a few months into its tenure with me, the engine suddenly began to develop about 23 hp. Top speed was 40 mph downhill. When the dealer re-opened several days later, why it was the O2 sensor gone bad. A year later, the muffler, a mere $1100 accessory, went due to the intricate bends made to house it crosswise behind the rear bumper. Covered by the 3 year warranty. It went regularly every year from then on until I got a custom muffler made.

    The 2226 cc powerplant was much nicer than the old 2122 cc unit in my 81 Audi Coupe: it actually had some grunt. The front suspension suffered from a typical mid ’80s Audi problem: shocks filled with light grade corn syrup. The whole front end bounced like a ’65 Pontiac until I got those Bilsteins on her. (unlike a normal 4000S owned by a friend whose front shocks were just fine) Winter traction was absolutely stupendous, just amazing. No pull-out knob for me, but a 3 way switch on the lower dash for the diff locks. Normal, centre-lock, centre plus rear lock.

    The car saved my life when a certain Mr. Moslemi drove into the back of it while I waited behind a school bus with flashing lights picking up kids. His Renault 18 wagon was demolished, including a cracked engine block, and a hood which left the car permanently. Impact speed estimated by RCMP as 40 mph (60 kph). My driver’s seatback bent so far that when my car stopped, I was lying on my back. Not even a hint of whiplash. Those open headrests were clever. The car even moved under its own power, slightly sideways. Hard to drive sitting up with no seatback, though! Mechanicals OK! Chassis bent. $19, 200 of insurance money and a long K-Car rental later, I got my car back, and for the next 4 years suffered the usual Audi electrical problems such as all the power windows and locks failing, plus the sunroof, and a Bosch fuel injection metering unit that the very morning I was about to set off to the Newport Folk Festival, decided to spray neat gas all over the engine bay, as the copper gaskets within had corroded away. Very nice.

    Seats were great, warm bum, nice interior, first car with rubber windshield mouldings that prevented rain from running over the side windows. In fact, as a car, much better than the ’94 Quattro I replaced it with. Handled very well, always ready for the next corner, almost uncanny on a switchback road, got great mileage. I sorta loved it.

    It was, however, an unmitigated piece of shit from the quality point-of-view in that it had none. After 6 years and 90,000 miles I figured I’d get a new 1994 90 Quattro one March morning when the windshield washer broke and I needed that feature badly, since all the mags said Audi quality had improved fantastically. Hah! The new car rode like a bucking bronco, making my head hit the roof where the 4000 had sailed without disturbance. It was impossible to see out of the side windows in rain. A bad rattle turned out to be a spare screw inside the armrest. The engine would start normally, and stop all by itself. The V6 had no elan, and not much poop, the mileage was lousy, the Torsen centre diff would cause the whole car to shudder as you parked it, because the wheels would be locked front to rear in a tight right angle turn. Where was the advance? The interior was more hard plastic than the old 4000q, and creaky stuff, too.

    I lost my job in a corporate downsizing a year later, finished the 2 year lease up on the Audi, and bought an ’88 Subaru GL Turbo wagon with a rust hole in the floor! And that’s my advice if you think Audis and VWs are nice. Resist the temptation and buy a car with AWD and electricals that actually work.

    Subsequent chats with Audi A4 owners convinced me. 3 new front suspensions? Argh! Best thing I ever did was change to Subaru. The local dealer is Audi/Subaru, and they keep the customers apart. I wonder why? Sat in a new ’09 A4 recently, and checked out my new yardstick for quality — the headliner. Well, folks, my Legacy GT has a far nicer, higher quality headliner, better sunvisors with extenders a la ’85 Taurus, and a lower fascia. The A4’s engine is mounted so high it’s almost through the hood. And like a BMW 3 series, the dash design is just too damn busy. It also feels like sitting in a coal bin with way high window ledges and not much headroom.

    If you like a challenge not unakin to skiing solo to the South Pole from the Ross Ice Shelf, then by all means try to restore a mid 80s Audi 4000q. I found it hard enough to keep up when it was new and I had too much money and hubris.

  • avatar

    I bought a 1984 audi 4000s in Milwaukee WI in 1999. The car had been poorly treated, and had over 600K miles on it. The engine and five speed were original, numbers matching and unrebuilt. The exterior was mostly silver, the interior mostly blue. I proceeded to clock miles on that car and drove it all over the U.S. From Wisconsin to Maryland, California, New York, Indiana, Nevada, Florida, Pensylvania, Texas, West Virginia. Everyone always laughed at my car, and never could understand why I loved it so much. It was super dependable, efficient as hell, and easily repaired. I had the planned to fully rebuild this machine, just needed to order the reiger tuning wide body kit for it. A few weeks before I ordered it, she was stolen and smuggled to Mexico. I will miss that car…. last odometer reading was well over 1,400K miles… Still running strong……….

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