Capsule Review: 1984 Audi 4000 S Quattro

Mike Solowiow
by Mike Solowiow
capsule review 1984 audi 4000 s quattro

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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  • Wmba Wmba on Feb 10, 2009

    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.

  • Jncodan Jncodan on Dec 01, 2010

    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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