For such a relatively short-lived and obscure model in the U.S. market, the 90 model sure went through a substantial amount of changes. It makes nearly every model year unique in some way, and so few come to market they’re always neat to see regardless of the generation. The 90 replaced the 4000 for the 1988 model year with the upgraded Torsen-based quattro, the new B3 body and interior and the updated 2.3 NG 10V motor for the 88-89 model year, and was sold alongside the technically identical but less upscale 80 model for the same time. 1990 saw the introduction of the short-lived double-overhead cam 7A motor and some other minor changes, but scant numbers were brought over. Technically, there’s no ’92 90, but there are still some floating out there because…well, Audi. Then officially in ’93, the “B4” chassis arrived, with revised rear suspension, body bits and a new 2.8 liter V6. Even then, for the ’93-’95 B4 quattros, each model year was a bit different – surprising, given their very limited numbers. Available only in “CS” upscale trim, the 1993 90CS quattro, 1994 90CS quattro sport and 1995 Sport 90 quattro only combined for 2,855 examples. They’re pretty hard to find, though admittedly there are even fewer ’90-91 20Vs or ’92 80 quattros floating around.
Most of these cars were upscale and featured either the Speedline-made 10-spoke 15″ wheels or the later Ronal-made Votex 5-spoke design. A raised spoiler and limited badging were hallmarks of the later ’94-’95 sport models. Though generally not as desirable as the ’95 Sport model, the ’94 is more rare and just about identical to the ’95 model. So, when they arrive in near perfect condition with under 100,000 miles, the bids start rolling in for the devoted fans who love them:
Audi landmark Quattro has finally moved beyond cult status and into the greater automotive consciousness as a desirable model. That creates many problems, though. The first of these problems is that there just aren’t many Quattros out there. Audi only imported 664 examples of the original, meaning you’re statistically a little better than twice as likely to see an E28 M5 cruising around than you are a Quattro.
But in actuality, you aren’t. The chance is probably more akin to three or four times as likely, if not more. That’s because of the second problem – though the Quattro existed as a cult car since new, the fact is that for a long time they were pretty cheap. Pretty cheap cars generally don’t make collector cars, or at the very least receive collector treatment. You can see that in the M5; cheap for a long time, plenty have high miles and are basket cases though from the start they were touted as collectable. But the Quattro? This was a car intended to live in harsh conditions. Oh, and they didn’t apply any undercoating, or even fender liners. Problem three creeps into every seam on the car.
And then there’s an unpleasant truth: in its original U.S. form, the Quattro wasn’t a stellar performer. Toting around 2,900-odd pounds of early 80s tech, the lag-prone engine developed only 160 horsepower. The result was a car that could be caught off-guard by most economy hatches: 0-60 in 7.9 seconds, the quarter mile in 16.1 at 85. Forget the typical Camry or Accord joke; this is the kind of performance you get today from a Hyundai Accent.
Of course, the Quattro wasn’t about straight-line speed, and cars from the 80s all fall short compared to modern technology. This car, then, is more a time-warp to another dimension. A personal expression of devotion to rock-flinging rally monsters and television stars that liked to do things a bit differently. And those that have survived have been loved by their owners. Often, they’ve been upgraded, too, with later parts that solve the performance gap to their original European form. The result? Wow:
Audi’s interesting sales plan of S-cars in the early 2000s was, for U.S. fans, both good and disappointing at the same time. Mega models like the RS4 continued to be withheld from this side of the Atlantic just as the S2, RS2 and S6 Plus had been. The new generation of V8 powered S cars had yet to arrive, too; movies teased us of the slithering, nitrous oxide-boosted battering ram S8, and though the C5 chassis now sported the V8 in 2000, we had yet to see the S6.
But there were bright points. The B5 S4 was available as a sedan or Avant here, for the first time, in 2001 the flagship S8 arrived and after a wait until 2002, the S6 arrived in Avant form. And, only in Avant form, and only in automatic. You could complain about that for sure, but then the introduction at long last of an RS model – the twin-turbocharged RS6 – assuaged the loss of the regular S6 sedan for nearly everyone.
Once in a while, though, a S6 sedan pops up on this side of the Atlantic:
Update 5/18/18 – After failing to sell last year at nearly $8,000, this sweet and rare 1990 Audi 90 quattro 20V with some fantastic period-correct BBS RS wheels is back on eBay with an opening bid at only $4,000!
Just as they had with the development of the 10V Turbo for their top tier products, Audi’s work on the Group B, Sport and later RR 20V Quattro (along with the creation of the original S-series cars soon after) trickled down into the rest of the range, but only in a very limited fashion. The 7A 2.3 liter 20V motor was the beneficiary of that racing work, and it was at the time a pretty impressive unit. Out of 2.3 liters, Audi squeezed a very reliable 164 horsepower with a screaming 7,200 RPM redline. While it’s true this was down on peak power to racing motors like the M3’s S14, the adding of the second cam and a modern EFI engine management also yielded nearly 160 ft.lb of torque.
So why does everyone claim that this car was under-powered?
Weight. The luxury-oriented B3 was most popular in Coupe form, where at 3,300 lbs in 1991 it was in need of a diet. It was 30 horsepower down on the BMW, and weighed 500 lbs more, with a more frontward weight bias. A performance car this did not make, and the result was that the expensive Audis leisurely gained speed. Despite the near 50% power increase over the outgoing Coupe GT, a stock B3 Coupe Quattro shared near identical 0-60 times and cost $10,000 more.
But if you were a clever buyer, you could get slightly better performance out of the 4-door variant of the naturally aspirated double overhead cam inline-5. That’s because concurrent with Coupe production, the motor and drivetrain was offered in the slightly lighter 90 quattro 20V:
So on to the C4 chassis. Though it was instantly recognizable as an Audi, the all-new C4 bore little resemblance to the boxy C3 it replaced. Fluid lines and curves dominated the design, while new running gear and motors made a splash in performance. The C4 continued to stress Audi’s pioneering aerodynamic tradition, but the result this time was a car which seemed far less top-heavy than the chassis it replaced. It looked more trim even if it was a big bigger than the outgoing model.
On the fly, the 100’s new motivation was a revelation. The 2.8 liter V6 replaced the 2.3 liter inline-5, and though horsepower was only 172 and torque 184, both figures represented a nearly 30% gain over the 5-pot. New, too, was a 4-speed automatic transmission. And while the inside looked little different from the last of the C3, only switch gear was shared and the C4 brought a host of new safety and convienence features to the large-chassis Audi.
Strange, though, was the re-appearance of Audi’s earlier naming convention in the U.S.. Back in the early days of the 5000, Audi had used the “S” and “CS” monikers to denote turbo and quattro models at times (but, again being Audi, inconsistently). Well, the S and CS were back after a four-year hiatus. Base model 100 came with steel wheels, while the “S” model stepped you up in options and gave you alloys. But outside of the 20V turbo S4 model, the 100 to get was still the 100CS, which was the most loaded and gave you the option for Audi’s quattro drivetrain. Fully loaded, they were around $35,000 – not cheap, but also not the most expensive in class, and were still unique in offering all-wheel drive.
However, like the C3, the front-drive 100/100S/100CS outsold the quattro model by a fair margin. Audi claims they traded 2,230 of the new 100CS quattro in 1992, and here’s the nicest one out there:
Just the other day, an old car friend of mine contacted our group of enthusiasts with an interesting challenge. He currently owns a Nissan 370Z, and while he really likes the car he’s got a family and needs something a bit more practical. So he queried the group; what car should he get in the $40,000 range that was special, fast, had 4-doors and a manual transmission?
Several thoughts came to mind, and I’m sure that everyone’s head is already spinning like mine did. While immediately several went to BMW M products like the E39 M5, I had an alternate suggestion which also considered where my friend lives – New Hampshire. ‘What about the Audi S4?’ I suggested. He admitted had hadn’t thought of one, in part because he previously owned a S4 – in his case a B5 – and didn’t love the driving experience.
Well, since the S4 has come a long way since the 1990s in power, technology, size and driving experience. And what has emerged is a very impressive all-arounder which flies under the radar. The supercharged V6 in the B8 gave a healthy 333 horsepower an Russian steppe-flat torque curve with 325 lb.ft available from 3,000 rpms straight through 5,250. This power could be channeled through two increasing rare options to find in electronics-heavy cars – a manual gearbox and a sport differential. Okay, 333 horsepower doesn’t sound outlandish in today’s world. But as with fast Audis of the past, the B8 and 8.5 made efficient use of that power and putting it down on the ground, making them capable of 4.4 second 0-60 sprints and a 13 second quarter-mile. This is a car which punches above its weight class, capable of embarrassing unsuspecting muscle cars.
Yet it retains its luxury-oriented character and go-anywhere all-wheel drive options, along with the practicality of offering 4-doors. And like ‘Q-Ships’ from the past, outside of a few extra exhaust ports and slightly flashier badging, most people would be hard-pressed to differentiate this serious performance package from the normal A4 wrapper. But that doesn’t mean that this car has to be boring, and you could select a few beautiful exterior colors such as this Volcano Red Metallic example:
Back in March I took a look at two Audi A4s, comparing an early FronTrak example to a late loaded Avant. Though it looked to be in good shape, the running condition of the ’96 was in question. More problematic, it was a front driver, and hooked to the Tiptronic 5-speed automatic. As a result, despite the low entry price point, it was really hard to get excited about it.
Today’s A4 remedies many of the ailments afflicting that particular A4. It’s still in an Audi signature color combination from the 90s; in this case, Emerald Green Mica over Ecru leatherette. But the highlight here is the drivetrain, with the much more desirable 5-speed manual driving all four wheels through the combination of a Torsen center differential and an electronic rear differential “lock”. Best of all? It’s in great condition and the auction is no reserve!
Following up on the A8 3.7 front-driver oddity I posted last week, today I’m going to look at a few of the cars that put Audi back on the map. 1996 was the year Audi brought the brand-new A4 model in to replace the aging B4 90. So successful was the A4, and so ubiquitous in the small German executive market today that you’d assume the early examples were far more prolific than they were, in reality.
Still, the A4 is credited with saving the company, at the very least for the U.S. market share. Is it true? Take this into consideration; Audi sold 18,960 A4s from the launch in late 1995 until the end of 1996. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Toyota, after all sells about 400,000 Camrys every year for the last half-decade – and that’s in a market that very much no longer values the sedan. But in 1995, Audi sold a total of 18,124 cars including those early A4s. Go back a year, and the number was substantially lower; 12,575. Entering into the 2000 model year, Audi crested 100,000 A4s sold in the U.S. market. The proof was in the pudding. By the time the new C5 A6 launched, Audi’s sales had crested 65,000 units a year and they haven’t looked back. 1994’s sale figures represented 0.08 of the marketplace; today, Audi sells a still modest but sustainable 1.3%.
But while Audi and “quattro” are synonymous, like the A8 I looked at, a fair chunk of the early A4s avoided the extra cost of all-wheel drive and came configured as FronTrak models. About 7,000 of those nearly 19,000 1996 A4s were so ordered. The prolific nature of these cars, coupled with typical low Audi residual value, has meant that they’re hard to find in clean condition. So today I have two; one from the beginning and one from the end of the run. While both are white, it’s just about there where the similarities end:
Only a week ago, I looked at a great example of an Audi S8. Granted, it was not perfect; but, the maintenance and ownership ticked the right boxes for proper consideration. Still, the unique Cashmere Pearl paint coupled with the Ecru interior weren’t most people’s favorite, nor were the C6 Speedline wheels the best match for the design. Does the cost of ownership mean you have to accept a good maintenance history at the expense of the color you want? Not necessarily, as witnessed by this Brilliant Black 2001:
It’s often difficult for a second act to follow a legend, and that’s just what the C4 S4 had to do when it launched for U.S. customers in 1992. The Type 44 was already a fan favorite before the 20V version appeared here briefly for the 1991 model year, with wider flared track, bigger brakes, and more power. To answer fans, Audi introduced an even more potent version with the S4; even bigger wheels, lower suspension, and a few more horses were encased in a thoroughly modern shape, yet one that was easily recognizable to fans of the brand. With a reputation for smooth power delivery and still the market cornered on all-wheel drive performance luxury vehicles, Audi’s new S4 sold out almost immediately in a period when the European makes had difficulty moving their expensive wares.
But the Type 44 still held one advantage over its replacement; an optional fifth door. While the Avant version of the new 100 was available immediately, there was no range-topping S4 wagon brought here. That was finally remedied with the relaunch of the now renamed S6 Avant for 1995. With smoothed out bumpers, revised passenger mirror, rolling changes such as new Speedline Avus 6-spoke wheels replaced the Fuchs that the S4 wore, and headrests became closed. There were more changes with the ‘95.5’ model; the infrared remote locking became radio frequency and the B-pillar receiver disappeared; so, too, did the option to lock the rear differential yourself, as Audi opted to work in an electronic differential lock utilizing the ABS speed sensors rather than a physically locking rear end.
These were really only minor changes to the recipe, which at its roots remained a fan fantasy. The traditional inline-5 that had hung out of the nose of the high-end Audis was still there, with its dual-cam head augmented by electronic fuel injection and electronic boost control. The turbo spun up quickly and had an overboost function, giving drivers 227 horsepower and 258 lb.ft of torque to be mastered solely by a manual transmission with Torsen center differential. Form-fitting electric sport seats kept front passengers firmly planted in place through the prodigious grip generated by the meaty 225 section tires. Combined with the prodigious space the Avant offered families and the ability of these cars to eat up highway miles with aplomb regardless of weather, not to mention the incredible tuning potential of the AAN 20V turbo, they’ve become highly sought steeds with a very limited pool of around 300 originally imported: