The Audi Gecko and Audi quattro: What is the link?

On January 25th, 2022 / By

The Audi Gecko and Audi quattro - What is the link

The gecko and Audi quattro: What do they have in common?

If you’ve visited Prestige Imports in Denver, own an Audi, or just happen to be an Audi enthusiast, then you most likely have seen the silhouette of a lizard adorning the German manufacturers’ recently released vehicles. Likewise, you may have also noticed Audi lizard merchandise (e.g. air fresheners and key chains) in our Parts Boutique.

The Audi Gecko Logo

Well, that’s not just any Audi lizard; it is, in fact, an Audi gecko. Since the gecko, over the course of the past decade, has become synonymous in popular American culture with GEICO’s advertising campaigns, one can easily be forgiven for mistaking this little reptile as a tie-in with the automotive insurance company.

In all reality, the Audi gecko shares no connection with the GEICO gecko. Rather, the Audi gecko symbolizes Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system; and the company first debuted the reptile as part of their all-wheel-drive system’s twenty-fifth-anniversary campaign in 2005.

But why, you may ask, did the company choose a gecko to symbolize the quattro system? The decision to use the gecko as an emblem stems from one of its many curious traits: the gecko’s uncanny ability for its feet to adhere to nearly any surface.

According to Wikipedia, the gecko’s feet consist of “microscopic hairs, or seta (pl. setae), that increase the Van der Waals forces between [them] and [a] surface.” For those of us who are not scientists, Van Der Waals force is the “attraction and repulsion between atoms, molecules, and surfaces.” As such, the gecko can “stick” to darn near anything, allowing it to climb walls and trees. Heck, geckos can even walk inverted on ceilings!

Audi’s quattro All-Wheel Drive System

Audi bills it’s quattro system as “all-wheel-drive…with legendary grip and available torque-vectoring technology” that “significantly enhances handling and cornering performance.” The “legendary grip,” then, finds its adhesive equivalent in the natural world with the gecko’s setae-covered feet.

As previously mentioned, Audi rolled out the first gecko emblem for the twenty-fifth anniversary of their quattro system in 2005 (picture below).
25th Anniversary Audi Gecko
But five years later and in conjunction with the German marketing agency thjnk, Audi revamped the gecko image in order for it to look, well, more “bionic” or futuristic (click on image for a more detailed view):
30th Anniversary Audi Gecko
The accompanying text in the lower left-hand corner boasts that the “NEW HIGH-TECH GECKO,” which was created “entirely in 3D graphics,” acts as the “ new symbol for perfect electromechanics” that can be found in the quattro system.

Additional print ads from the campaign, as seen below, state that, in fact, the “electromechanics” of the new quattro system are actually two subsystems that work in concert with one another in order to provide superior functionality: a “mechanical crown-gear center differential” and “selective electronic torque vectoring.” (Again, click images for larger views.)

30th Anniversary Audi Gecko

30th Anniversary Audi Gecko

30th Anniversary Audi Gecko

Not only did Audi promote the quattro-gecko connection in print ads, but they developed “Perfect Grip” television spots and even commissioned the creation of an interactive video game for PlayStation that allowed users to guide an Audi gecko through a tunnel while accruing points:

Of course, the multimedia, gecko-based campaign looks slick, but it glosses over some relatively basic questions, such as: What’s a mechanical crown-gear center differential? What’s selective electronic torque vectoring? And how, exactly, is Audi quattro different from any other four- or all-wheel drive system?

All of these are fair questions and, indeed, should be answered. As someone who was also unfamiliar with these terms, I was able to find out that a crown-gear center differential is, in brief, a series of gears mounted underneath the front half of the vehicle. These gears turn in opposite directions, manually correcting one another when one spins at an incompatible rate. In other words, it immediately redistributes drive force from one axle to the other when one axle spins at too fast a rate or with too much power.

Electronic torque vectoring is a component of the quattro system that electronically registers the amount of torque distributed to each wheel while cornering, then immediately redistributes that torque as necessary. To do this, it monitors the driver’s acceleration and steering patterns and adjusts torque levels with no lag time.

So what makes Audi quattro different from other four- and all-wheel drive systems? Alex Ingram, in his carwow article “Audi’s quattro System Explained,” writes the following:

For quattro, Audi’s engineers aimed to build an all-wheel-drive sports car without the need for a traditional transfer box, as used in many traditional off-roaders. They’re bulky and add significant weight—hardly ideal in a motorsport application. Audi’s system makes use of a center differential.

A differential is a component that allows the engine’s torque to be divided between driven wheels even if they are rotating at different speeds. Ordinarily, one will be mounted on each driven axle, but quattro makes use of one to separate torque between the front and rear wheels too. Mounted within the gearbox, it connects the two axles when slip is detected, allowing an infinitely variable split of torque depending on road conditions. Compared to a traditional transfer box, this system is much lighter and more efficient.

Ingram, then, continues his article with an explanation of how engineers at Audi tweaked the quattro system to account for their mid-mounted (i.e. the R8) and transverse-engined (e.g A3 and TT) vehicles.

Most of Ingram’s article, though, focuses on the technical aspects of the quattro system, shying away from the historical aspects of Audi’s innovation. Luckily, /DRIVE produced some wonderfully informative “/Inside quattro” videos featuring the Quattro (Audi’s all-wheel-drive model) and quattro system.

The first video provides a truncated, but interesting overview of the quattro system with some vintage footage of an original Quattro speeding around a motocross circuit:

The second, much longer video offers more vintage footage of the original Audi Quattro in rally races. More importantly, though, the clip contains an extended interview with Audi Historian Thomas Erdmann. At the 3:28 mark (and concluding around the 6:35 mark), Erdmann discusses the history of the Quattro, the quattro system, and its relationship to the Audi brand. Check it out below:

Erdmann mentions that Audi first developed the quattro system when engineers were “test driving a four-wheel drive, off-road car for the German army.” He goes on to say that:

One of the test engineers drove [the] car in Finland in the deepest winter. Lots of snow. And managed to be much faster than all the other Audis that were also test-driven at the same time. Then he thought: “Well, why not put a four-wheel drive into our cars?”

And, with that, Audi’s quattro system was born.

Here at Prestige Imports, we were lucky enough to own a 1984 Audi Quattro Coupe, that we would show off at dealership events. It often made an appearance at our Winter Ice Driving Events. Check out a couple of the pictures below:

5th Annual Winter Driving Event: 02 and 03 January 2016

5th Annual Winter Driving Event: 02 and 03 January 2016

5th Annual Winter Driving Event: 02 and 03 January 2016

If you’re interested in test driving one of our Audi vehicles equipped with a “gecko-approved,” quattro system, visit Prestige Imports, located at 9201 West Colfax Avenue between Wadsworth and Kipling. You can also schedule an appointment with an Audi Brand Specialist by calling (833) 825-5423.

Prestige Imports 39.740848, -105.100754.