Audi were amongst the first companies to use turbocharging as a way of gaining a lot of power from a small engine capacity; they were the first company to combine constant four-wheel drive with turbos in high performance road cars.
The original Quattro started a revolution that continues today, and with the short wheelbase evolution Sport Quattro of 1985 (built to allow Audi to take on the Lancia Rallye in world rallying), they set loose a car that changed the traction action equations forever.
With Porsche 917 brakes, 225kW, a Kevlar body and constant four-wheel drive, it was a monstrous car, one that unfortunately Australia never saw. However, cars equipped with direct descendants of its engine did arrive here, only to be largely ignored!
But before we get to two of those cars (the S4 and S2), mention needs to be made of the one earlier Australian-delivered Audi turbo - the 200T. This car was released here in mid-1982 and was the turbo version of the Audi 100.
Its 2.1 litre five-cylinder engine developed 125kW - good enough in European testing to give a 0-100 time of 8.7 seconds. Unfortunately, Australia had an automatic version which was very substantially slower at 10.7 seconds. A four-door, grand-touring type of car, it sold in very limited numbers, although it was priced quite favourably when compared with its opposition.
In addition to its turbo driveline, another point about the 100/200 body was significant - it was an extraordinarily aerodynamic sedan for its time. In fact, its high bootlid (critical to low drag in a three box shape) was adopted by numerous other manufacturers in the years that followed.
The 1993 S4
"A wolf in sheep's clothing if ever there was one...." (Motor, August 1993)
In Australia the Audi marque never had the profile - or the retained values - of Mercedes Benz or BMW. Over the years, various importers tried to prepare the ground for another high-priced German, but time and time again the conservative market rejected the cars. In a sphere where retained values are critical for leasing finance, the Audi simply looked too great a risk.
As a result, the 1993 Audi S4 became in Australia a rapidly depreciating orphan - unloved and misunderstood. In a field of rear-wheel-drive luxury cars, the fact that it had constant four-wheel-drive was a bit odd; the use of a turbo a bit lairish; and the presence of the in-line five cylinder under the long nose simply a frightening oddity.
Despite an enormous on-road competence, the big Audi sold only in tiny numbers in this market.
Based on the 100 quattro (later re-badged the A6), the S4 replaced that car's V6 with the venerable five-cylinder, iron-block engine. Equipped with a 20-valve alloy head, KKK K24 turbo, external wastegate and air/air intercooler, the 2.2 litre engine boasted immense low-down torque - no less than 350Nm was available at just 1950 rpm. And, if the driver was prepared to put his or her foot right down to the floor, an over-boost function kicked in, with intake pressure rocketing to 16 psi and torque rising still further to 380Nm at 2100 rpm. With 169kW available, the 1650kg leather-and-carbon-fibre trimmed cabin would then be propelled to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds.
The driveline consisted of a close-ratio six-speed gearbox linked to a constant four-wheel drive system. The centre differential was a torque-sensing Torsen unit, while at low speed, the rear diff could be locked by a switch in the cabin. In addition to the leather upholstery, luxury came in the shape of a sunroof, CD stacker and an extensive array of white-faced instruments. Sixteen by eight inch (on some cars, 16 x 7.5) alloy wheels wore 225/50 ZR tyres - behind them could be found four ABS'd ventilated disc brakes with twin-pot front calipers.
Selling for $129,990, the Audi was regarded as a bargain by journalists who tested the car, but not by those actually in the market for such a machine.
The 1994 S2
"A high speed luxury train, quiet, composed, comfortable and almost brutally quick..." (Wheels, March 1994)
Despite the slow sales of the S4, about six months later the Audi S2 was introduced. Based on the much smaller Audi 80 coupe, the S2 used exactly the same driveline as the 200kg-heavier S4. With identically monstrous torque, the lighter car had extremely strong performance. Unfortunately, only one Australian magazine tested the S2, and in that test they recorded extraordinarily slow times - slower, in fact, than they had measured for the S4.
However, the factory claim - and overseas testing - showed that the S2 could sprint to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds!
Priced at $115,000, the S2 came up hard against the BMW M3, which cost $124,650. With BMW's performance and marketing credibility - and no doubt, the very slow performance times of that road test - the S2 sank with barely a trace. For a car that was a veritable road burner, capable of setting blistering point to point times with the security of four-wheel-drive and the nimbleness of a small car, it was an undeserving end.
Had the S2 prospered here, we would have seen its ultimate development - the Audi RS2. Based on the wagon version of the S2, the combined talents of Porsche and Audi gave the 2.2-litre five-cylinder no less than 235kW at 6500 rpm and 410Nm at 3000 rpm. The Porsche 968 Clubsport brakes that were fitted were certainly needed - the RS2 could accelerate to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds... There was some talk of bringing a small batch of these cars to Australia; wisely (for the financial health of the importer, anyway) someone changed their mind.