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Vorsprung Durch Technik:
Audi’s Greatest Hits

November 22, 2011 by Matt

Audi quattro System Diagram Cutaway Line Art Schematic

No, not cars—engineering innovations. Granted, they weren’t first with all of these, but more than any other company, Audi put them on the map.

  • Full-time passenger car AWD (1980). Undoubtedly the advance they’re best known for, Audi’s quattro AWD system has been their cars’ key point of distinction since the introduction of the original Audi Quattro. The Jensen FF may have been the first “mainstream” car to use AWD, but Audi pioneered a compact, durable, efficient layout and extended it throughout their model range. In so doing, they established themselves as an innovative automaker.
  • Aerodynamic styling (1982). The first-generation Ford Taurus gets all the credit for introducing wind-cheating, rounded styling to family sedans, but the C3 Audi 5000 preceded it by several years. In a time when most bread and butter cars were chromed-up boxes, the 5000 was a bolt from the blue.
  • Reintroduction of twin-turbo technology (1997). Previously reserved for gadget-laden, high-end Japanese sports cars, Audi’s B5 S4 bought dual turbochargers to sports sedans with its 2.7l, 261 hp “biturbo” V6. At the time, twin turbos were seen as a bit of a fad on the wane, but Audi ignored the trends and made a practical decision in order to compete with the BMW M3. In so doing, they created a wonderfully compelling rocket sled. BMW would introduce its own twin-turbo N54 engine a few years later.
  • Direct injection (2000). Mitsubishi, Toyota and Renault preceded the Ingolstadt automaker by a few years, but Audi was the first to introduce direct injection on our shores with their FSI 2.0l turbo engine. Additionally, with their Volkswagen connections, Audi was able to popularize the efficiency-enhancing technology very rapidly, fitting several of its sister marque’s cars with the engine. Today, a large percentage of performance (and non-performance) engines use direct injection.
  • Dual-clutch transmissions (2003). Developed by Porsche and Audi together in the ’80s for their race cars, the DSG dual-clutch gearbox was rolled out simultaneously in two passenger cars: The Audi TT and VW Golf R32, both using the VR6 engine. The transmission revolutionized “flappy paddle gearboxes” and has even began to replace automatics in many cases.
  • LED driving lights and headlights (2008). First seen on the 2008 Audi A6 refresh, distinctively-shaped LED driving lights are now a must-have for any luxury nameplate to be taken seriously. They exemplify Audi’s leadership in terms of style as well as engineering, and represent a wonderful convergence of the two. With their new R8 models, Audi has began to use LEDs for primary headlights as well, improving longevity and power consumption over traditional bulbs. Of course, as with everything else on this list, it’s only a matter of time before other automakers imitate another of the automaker’s breakthroughs.

Full disclosure: I am an Audi fan. The list featured in this post substantiates my fandom, though; it’s not a blind allegiance. I’m a nut for creative, forward-thinking technology, but I’m even more impressed when that technology sticks, and compels other automakers to follow. From my vantage point, in the past 30 years, when it comes to innovation, Audi has a win/loss record that’s second to none.

Filed under: Audi, Technical

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