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Here's How Audi And Subaru's AWD Compare In The Snow

Subaru is the byword for all-weather performance cars these days, but back in the ‘80s Audi got the trend going with its legendary (and legendarily crude) Quattro. We battled two of them to see how they compare now.


We found ourselves up at Team O’Neil Rally School in the depths of snowy winter not that long ago and couldn’t miss the opportunity to run one of the school’s Audi 4000 S Quattros.

This car has Audi’s classic 2.2-liter, iron-block inline five-cylinder engine mounted completely ahead of the front axle, so long that the radiator only covers the passenger side of the car. It might only make a hundred-odd horsepower, but its early Quattro all-wheel drive system has locking center and rear mechanical differentials. Manually locking diffs are crazy to have in a car.


This Audi is built like a truck. Also, it kind of feels like one. The front diff is open, if you’re curious.

The Subaru is not so different in its layout. The engine sits front to back like in the Audi with its transmission mounted right off the back of it, but it’s a 2.5-liter flat four with something nearer to 170 horsepower. Its all-wheel-drive system sends power to open differentials front and rear through a viscous center differential. That means there’s fluid that distributes power, rather than a direct physical, mechanical connection like you get in the Audi.

Here’s a brochure graphic for the 1989 Subaru Legacy, but it shows the same mechanical AWD layout as the Impreza we had.

Graphic Credit: Subaru via Brochures Auto on Flickr
Graphic Credit: Subaru via Brochures Auto on Flickr

And while I’m digging up brochures, here’s a brochure for the Audi UrQuattro that shows the cutaway of how our Audi 4000 S Quattro’s mechanical system is laid out:

Graphic Credit: Audi via KV
Graphic Credit: Audi via KV

It’s clear why there’s still such a huge following for these brutally competent Audis, and it’s also clear why nobody builds a car as thuggish as this anymore.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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Land of the Rising SAAB

Great comparison for those two cars, but Audi and Subaru have multiple awd configurations on their modern cars. I’m less familiars with Audi, but i know Subaru uses various combinations of viscous couplers, eDiffs, and mechanical LSDs that they offer for the Impreza alone depending on the trim and transmission you’re buying.

I look forward to next week’s article comparing the VTEC system on a third gen prelude to the VANOS system on the E36 M3. Surely neither company has updated the technology since then. Should be really helpful in 1999.