By on June 30, 2017

2017 Audi RS3 sedan red - Image: AudiWhether A3 and Q5 and Allroad drivers in 2017 know it or not, much of Audi’s modern reputation is built upon a foundation cemented by the Audi Quattro rally car in the 1980s.

In the capable hands of drivers such as Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, and Walter Röhrl, Audi brought dominant traction to the World Rally Championship and eventually found traction in the marketplace as well.

Fast forward to 2017 and Audi consistently reports meaningful growth in the North American market. Audi sales in the United States have grown in seven consecutive years, more than doubling since 2010. And while U.S. auto sales are dipping in the first half of 2017 — including declines at the only three premium brands that outsell Audi — the Audi brand is up 7 percent, year-over-year.

Audi’s methodology has been well and truly copied by many of its rivals. Quattro isn’t the only all-wheel-drive brand in town. Badges for 4Matic and xDrive are common on the trunklids of many a Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

How then can Audi stand out from the pack? With its high-performance models, the RS variants, Audi may well drop Quattro all-wheel drive on some models in a bid for rear-wheel-drive performance supremacy.

No wonder the division that produces Audi’s RS models changed its name from Quattro GmbH to Audi Sport GmbH.Audi RS 7 Sportback performance - Image: AudiIn an interview with Auto Express at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier this week, Audi Sport CEO Stephan Winkelmann said, “I can imagine we can also have cars with rear-wheel drive or two-wheel drive in the future.”

Not only have competitors moved in on Audi’s AWD territory in a mainstream luxury sense, high-performance derivatives are also increasingly propelled by all four wheels. In Mercedes-Benz USA’s AMG lineup, the CLA45, C43, CLS63, E43, E63, and S63 — not to mention all the AMG utility vehicles — are 4Matic vehicles. At BMW, the new G30-generation BMW 5 Series’ M5 variant becomes an all-wheel-drive monster sedan.

Quattro has, at least to some degree, lost a measure of its distinctive character.

Incidentally, you’ll recall that Stephen Winkelmann was previously the boss at Lamborghini, a supercar builder famous for sending V10 and V12 power to all four wheels. But Winkelmann nevertheless carved out space for rear-wheel-drive Gallardos and Huracans.

At the sub-brand now known as Audi Sport, Winkelmann said the Quattro name, “could be misleading.”

“Quattro is the four-wheel-drive system and is one of the things that made Audi great,” Winkelmann told Auto Express, “but in our opinion was not the right name for the company.”

Utilizing the Quattro name for both a performance sub-brand and an AWD system was potentially confusing. “We wanted this to be clarified,” Winkelmann says.

To be fair, Winkelmann only said that Audi Sport can “imagine” having rear-wheel-drive models. By no means did he confirm a forthcoming (and virtually impossible) rear-wheel-drive Audi RS3.

But at the top of the luxury performance heap, Winkelmann’s intention to further investigate possibilities for the Audi Sport brand speaks to Audi’s desire to take the fight to Mercedes-Benz and BMW in all corners. Audi is certainly riding a wave of global auto sales success. But on the RS front, Audi Sport is nowhere near as well-known as, for example, Mercedes-AMG.

Maybe rear-wheel-drive Audi RS models won’t entirely change that. But a pair of RS models set to make their debut this coming September could further bolster the brand’s credibility.

[Images: Audi AG]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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11 Comments on “Maybe Quattro Isn’t Everything After All – Audi Considers Rear-Wheel-Drive RS Models...”

  • avatar

    As long as Audi hangs the motor in front of the front axle and has 55%+ forward weight bias it won’t help them at all to offer rear-drive versions. Optimizing for rear drive would require a new rear-drive platform which the VW group does not have, and I can’t imagine VW has the money to develop one when bleeding all the cash from diesel-gate.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Yeah, the MLB platform to which you are referring would be ill-suited to RWD duty, even if the engine is longitude-mounted and it could technically work.

      But VW Group does have at least two front-engined RWD platforms. It has the PL7x series, which underpins all of the larger SUVs, like the Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga. Of course, those vehicles are AWD-only, but PL7x is arranged just like a normal RWD platform and could ostensibly lose the front-axle running gear. And then there’s the MSB platform, which is traditionally-RWD and longitude-engined. Currently, the new Porsche Panamera rides on it, and the upcoming Bentley Continental GT and Flying Spur redesigns will abandon their MLB-equivalent architectures for MSB. So although MSB is mostly for Porsche and Bentley, Audi could use it…

    • 0 avatar

      Hear hear…I remember how the B5 S4 had a worse F/R weight ratio than a rear-engined Porsche 996.

  • avatar

    A step in the right direction. Next, normally aspirated straight sixes and mechanical limited slip.

  • avatar

    Not to be an anal-retentive jerk or anything–although it is kind of fitting given we are talking about “precision” German engineering–but I think the author meant to say BMW and not Audi at the end of the following sentence, “Badges for 4Matic and xDrive are common on the trunklids of many a Mercedes-Benz and Audi.” Just thought you might appreciate a heads up.

  • avatar

    Porsches going FWD, and Audis going RWD? What is the world coming to?


  • avatar

    At some point, two wheels no longer have enough traction to make full use of available power. Rear wheel drive is better than front wheel, especially if there is a rear weight bias like the 911. But all wheel drive gets you all the traction there is.

    I wish my Infiniti G37S were all wheel drive instead of rear wheel. I had to choose between a manual transmission and all wheel drive and the transmission meant more to me. However, I am well aware how easy it is to overpower the rear wheels in first and second gears. That isn’t an issue with the all wheel drive loaners from the dealer’s service department. When I put my foot down, they just leave.

  • avatar

    A RWD Audi? I like the sound of that for some reason…I must admit.

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