MY FIRST MEMORY OF A FOURwheel- drive performance car is of a Hannu Mikkola- driven Audi Quattro breaking up the monotony of Grandstand’s horseracing coverage. The seven-yearold me didn’t really understand how this bulky coupe could get the better of the wild Ford Escort RS1800 and the ace looking Opel Ascona 400.
But by the end of the Swedish round of the 1981 World Rally Championship season Mikkola had claimed the Quattro’s first WRC victory, and the rest, as they say, is history (and a day lost ‘researching’ this topic on Youtube).
When it came to performance road cars and four-wheel drive, Porsche was an early adopter, with the 959 in 1987, the 964-generation 911 Carrera 4 in ’89, and the 993-gen 911 Turbo in ’95. Both Ford and Renault offered four-wheel- drive powertrains, too, on their Sapphire Cosworth and 21 Turbo respectively.
By the time Lamborghini added another pair of driveshafts to the Diablo a little over a decade after Mikkola’s success, four-wheel drive was no longer a niche, although two-wheel drive was still considered the purer choice. An argument that still stands today – but only just.
The widespread adoption of turbocharged engines and the torque they deliver is necessitating that more and more performance cars are equipped with four-wheel- drive transmissions. Of the six cars featured in this month’s 4WD megatest, we can think of only one that would work better as a two-wheel- drive car (the mid- engined, naturally aspirated Aventador S).
Because, while the idea of a rear-wheel- drive, 600bhp AMG saloon car sounds appealing, you try deploying 627lb ft of torque through rear wheels alone while still making forward progress.
The question now is how long before two-wheel- drive performance cars become the niche?
Not for a long time, I hope.