Oettinger A4 Quattro:
Enhancing the Heritage of All-Wheel Drive

By: Dan Barnes
Photos by: Les Bidrawn

This article appeared in the March 1998 issue of european car magazine. Reprinted with permission.

To speak of the all-conquering Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the '30's would be irrelevant, and never mind flaying "60 Minutes." To most readers of this magazine, what is important about Audi is the heritage of al-wheel-drive performance built up in the last two decades.

In the first years of this decade, it seemed the fires had gone out, as most Audis became unremarkable, overweight, overpriced cars for people who wanted a BMW but were wary of the flashy image. Sales, as could be expected, cooled off until they were a mere glow in a pile of ashes. But the faithful did not forget the time of lames that lit up the forest and night sky-and, fortunately, some of them were left in charge of building Audis.

So we have the all-aluminum flagship A8, the posh A6 and the "entry-level" A4-which is like saying the 3 Series is the entry-level BMW. The A4 is the smallest and least expensive of the line, but to many it's the most desirable. Its light weight and modest proportions give it the advantage on a twisting mountain road, and it's most in line with the historic symbolism of its maker, at least as far back as a 20- or 30-somehting would remember.

As one would expect, the new generation of Audis is the best ever, with rock-solid handling and an innovative suspension design that seems to have cured the torque-steer ills caused by powered front wheels. The A4 was introduced in the U.S. with a four-banger reminds one of the line, "How about you give me half your money, we go out back and I kick you in the head and we call it even?"

The luxury tuners have done their job admirably, we might add, as the dominant characteristic of the 2.8 is its turbine-like smoothness and near silence all the way to redline-even if it is slightly down on grunt compared to some rivals. The exciting engine option, though, is a 1.8L turbo-charged four, introduced to the U.S. in the 1997 models after several years in Europe-and after the V6 A4 had established its reputation as a luxury player rather than as a bargain-shoppers car with a big engine.

Though it gives up 22 hp to the V6, hardware junkies and horsepower freaks alike love the 1.8 for its technical specifications. Most significant is its five-valve cylinder head; a technology previously reserved for ultra-high-performance applications. It first appeared in production in the Yamaha FZR 1000 repli-racer motorcycle, and has since been sold in a variable-valve-timing, Japan-only version of Toyota's 4-AGE four cylinder, known in the U.S. as the sweet-singing 16-valver in the original MR2. This won't surprise anyone who knows that Yamaha has been building neat toys for Toyota since the 2000GT. Five-valve combustion chambers have been seen elsewhere in F1 cars and in production in the Ferrari F355.

Five valves are an expensive technology that gets used when engineers get serious about making horsepower. In addition, the Audi's long-stroke architecture provides the four with an efficient combustion chamber shape while maintaining a modern compression ratio. Anyone who doubts this is invited to examine the bore/stroke specifications of any recent four built by Honda, a world leader in engine technology. Mechanical design and extremely clever tuning allowed Audi to achieve something both remarkable and unprecedented with the 1.8 in stock trim: It's torque peak of 155 lb-ft is maintained from 1750 to 4600 rpm, making horsepower directly proportional to rpm and providing constant acceleration. It is difficult to imagine this being possible with any normally aspirated power plant.

For tuners, the inline four has many attractions versus the V6, most of which are related to complexity and packaging. The four cylinder leaves more space in the engine bay making it easier to work on-plus there is only one of each part. The six is not 50-percent more complex as one would at first think; it is twice as complex. There are two heads, four cams, two exhaust manifolds, and a "bundle o' snakes" intake manifold that might confound Houdini. Add in that getting to it all is more difficult, and it's not surprising that the V6 is widely labeled "not broke" by those who would be called upon to fix it.

A further advantage of the four cylinder is its turbocharger. While tuning the first one is not trivial, electronic controls make it nearly child's play to turn up the wick once the engineering is done properly. All these factors contributed to the rumors circulating at the U.S. introduction that the 1.8L was the new, hot engine for all the tuners in Germany, and tales of 250-hp Quattros were tossed around like mortarboards at graduation-everybody had one.

Oettinger is one of the premier German tuners of Audis and Volkswagens. Its 60-year history includes building the first water cooled Beetle engine and putting a four-valve cylinder head on the ubiquitous waterpumper before the factory did. Such notables as the Russian equivalent of our Secret Service and magician David Copperfield have cars tuned by Oettinger (That must be why Claudia fell for him!). Recently, Oettinger has achieved VDAT tuner certification in Germany, backing up its status as the first Audi/VW tuner to achieve ISO certification, and, of course, it sells nothing that is not TUV approved. All parts are warrantied for 100,000 miles.

American enthusiasts are now able to partake of this excellence. european car recently had the opportunity to sample an Oettinger Audi A4, and we must say the results are impressive. The Audi has been made over completely, and it is refreshing to see the simple thoroughness of a car that showcases one manufacturer's products, designed to work as a package.

The 150 hp in an A4 1.8 is hardly capable of spinning all four, let alone the fronts if you were cheap and didn't buy the Quattro package. But consider that a chip and exhaust upgrade could make you A4 into a 205-hp all-weather, kids-and-groceries, point-to-point animal. That is the result promised by Oettinger. The chip increases boost with appropriate remapping of spark and fuel and prevents the rev limiter from kicking in for an additional 1400 rpm. The stainless-steel exhaust replaces everything aft of the pre-muffler and provides a maximum sound level of 88 dB. Unlike the inhabitants of Los Angeles, where a coffee can full of angry hornets is strapped under seemingly every economy car, Germans take pride in running fast and silent.

The fine tuning and calibration of these parts were performed by Oettinger in Germany with a fifth-wheel timing device, which combines the precision of a chassis dynamometer with the reality check of actually moving through the air and over the road. In case 205 hp is not enough, you may consider the addition of a high-flow catalyst and larger turbocharger, made for Oettinger by KKK, which will bring the horsepower total to 260. This is the package featured. We, unfortunately, could not measure acceleration, and prose will do little to enhance the reader's imagination. The power speaks for itself.

Though the A4 is a superbly balanced car in stock form, such performance increases lead to the necessity for suspension modifications. The chassis was stiffened with BBR front and rear strut braces, which also fit when the engine bay holds a V6. Springing and damping is provided by a BBR coil-over setup, which allows adjustment of ride height between 1.0 and 4.5 in. below stock. The upper spring crowns and adjustable perches of the cadmium-plated shocks are carved from billet, and JT tells us they are the only coil-over conversion that come with a rubber boot to protect the damper shaft, ensuring long life for the seals. The three-piece Oettinger wheels, 17x8 in. front and 17x9 in. rear, feature a locking center cap that prevents theft of the wheels even if the face plate is pried off. They fit all Audi and VW VR6 cars.

Body modifications are, except for small details, exclusively Oettinger, and their styling calls to mind a toned-down version of a German touring car. The body kit features a grilled, side skirts and rear valance. In addition, the rear wing features a clipless mounting in which a stainless-steel bracket bolts to the underside of the trunklid. The advantages of this are that there is no marking of the vehicle, and it is theft-proof. Similarly, the front spoiler is attached with two bolts on each side and clips on or off without marking the vehicle. It can be easily removed when driving in snow or other conditions likely to cause damage. Also added were sidemarker lights as well as clear corner lights and European H4 headlights, both from Bosch.

The interior enhancements are like-wise tasteful, consisting of billet/leather shift knob, velour floor mats and a three-spoke sport steering wheel, all bearing the Oettinger name. Other touches include billet door-lock pins, a VDO mounting kit for extra gauges, and a trim package for the doors and center console. The trim is available in red, blue, or yellow leather, and carbon fiber. Overall the package is pleasing, completing the driving experience by reminding the driver and warning anyone who would think to challenge its supremacy that this Audi is to be taken seriously. This car's presence signifies that Audi has now officially come full circle. No longer, and hopefully never again, merely that "other " German car company, it will serve you four-ringed excellence in two flavors. You can be coddled in silken, smug superiority with the V6, or you can be a barbarian dancing around the fire in the forest, singing the ancient battle chants. The "shire reeves" and unsuspecting natives will surely mistake you for an ordinary businessperson and see you on your way while they go off to challenge the knights who advertise their intentions by the glint of their spinning propellers. The legend of all-wheel-drive performance has returned, stronger than ever.

Copyright (c) 1999 AudiWorld