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:
Let’s go back to the beginning of Type 44 production today and take a look at this Audi 5000S. To me, this car represents just about the least appealing model in the lineup for 1985. No turbo, no quattro, automatic, Kalahari Beige Metallic – it really doesn’t get more yawn than this. “But it’s a ‘S’ model“, you say. Ah, but continuing on the theme of Audi’s unconventional naming strategy in the U.S., there was cleverly no non-S model for a few years – everyone got a participation trophy.
As it turns out, there were a lot of ‘everyone’. The new 5000, which started selling in the U.S. in 1984, was a massive success for Audi. In fact, it was far and away the most successful model they sold in the 1980s. And while we love to see turbos and quattro and manuals, it was specifically this car – gold Audi 5000S front-drive automatics – that sold in droves. Audi sold 48,057 5000s in 1985, for example. Only about 20% were Turbos. And the quattro model didn’t launch until very late in the year. Even when it did, they similarly never accounted for more than 20% of sales of the Type 44.
Still, ~40,000 doesn’t sound like a bit number. But consider Audi sold a total of 26,000 other cars between the Coupe, Quattro and all 4000s the same year. And the 5000’s proliferation wasn’t just over one model year. From 1984 to 1988, Audi sold 171,494 Type 44s in the U.S. and was really only limited by the November 1986 airing of the 60 Minutes debacle. This ’85 is representative of how a majority were delivered, but is not indicative of the condition of most today:
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:
Today’s car is going to start a bit of a series of big-body Audis from the 1990s for me. Why start here? Well, the 1991 Audi 100 was a end of an era for Ingolstadt’s products in the U.S. For a little over a decade the big-body cars had been powered by inline-5 motors, and the NG 2.3 liter unit under the hood of this 1991 was at the end of its life span. 1991 would see the introduction of the new V6 motor that would become the staple of Audi for the nearly decade and a half. Late 1991 also saw the introduction of the Type 44/C3’s replacement – the all-new C4 chassis. Well, I saw “all new”, but inside it didn’t really look like it changed much. Outside, though…
There were other changes to the new 100 that I’ll go through in the next post. But let’s talk about today’s 100, which was really just a dressed up 5000. Like all the Type 44s, it received a revised interior with the nomenclature swap in late 1988. Dynamically, though, there were basically no changes from 1987. In fact, the ’87 5000 front-drive shared more in common with the Turbo than the later model which shared many components with the small chassis cars.
The front-drive 100 soundly outsold its more expensive 100 quattro and 200 brethren. Somewhere around 5,000 1991 100 front-drive sedans and Avants were sold here, but finding them today can be a bit of a trick:
Audi’s attention to detail in 1986 was…well, poor. Contrary to the never-wrong-Internet’s common belief structure and commentary every time an 80s Audi appears on a site, this had nothing to do with the quality of the cars they built. They were, in fact, very nice cars, and they have generally withstood the test of time as well as their countrymen and better in aggregate than the majority of 1980s cars.
So what was their problem with detail work? Well, notoriously Audis from the 1980s stood a good chance of being in some unusual specification which didn’t conform to what Audi claimed was available. Let’s take this 1986 Audi Coupe GT for example. According to Audi’s literature, if you bought the Commemorative Design 2-door in 1986, you got a special electronic digital dashboard with accompanying “Audi Electronic” oil temperature/voltmeter in place of the typical VDO 3-gauge center dash readout.
Except that wasn’t the only way to get the electronic dash. Because even though it apparently wasn’t an option you could select, Audi must have had a surplus or stock in ColecoVision, because they installed a bunch of these dashboards in a random selection of 1986 and some early 1987s. I know, because I have one of them. Here’s another, and this one only has 28,000 miles:
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:
In the long list of Audis I don’t really consider particularly appealing, the U.S.C2 is pretty high on the leader board. A design befuddled by Federally-mandated bumpers, perhaps its redeeming quality is that it introduced us to the characteristic inline-5 thrum that would hold over until the end of C4 production. Of course, what really made all of those cars sing was forced induction, and so within the C2 range, the model that ostensibly is the most desirable is the Turbo. And it was, when in ‘5T’ Euro 200 form. However, the U.S. cars were turned down, weighed down, and solely opted with a 3-speed automatic. Interest in this post has, at this point, waned nearly as much as the surviving examples have.
There was also a diesel, and a turbo diesel, version the C2. While they make frozen molasses heading uphill look brisk, they’ve at least got the diesel clique going for them. That leaves the normally aspirated Audi 5000S third in desirability in my ranking for a chassis I wouldn’t intentionally seek out. Not high praise, and this is coming from a pretty strong defender of the ringed corner of our world. But you could get a 5-speed manual, at least. This car doesn’t have that going for it, either, alas.
But am I glad someone saved one from being scrapped? Yeah, I sure am!
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:
The V8 quattro was notoriously innovative. It was also quite complicated (read: expensive) and therefore painfully slow selling. At a time when all European imports were suffering from the global recession, the range-topping V8 busted budgets. Introduced for the 1990 model year in the U.S., the launch year was really the only marginally successful one; just shy of 3,000 were sold between 1989 and 1990. However, even light revisions in 1991 and a major engine upgrade to 4.2 liters failed to bring buyers to dealerships. Audi sold 527 1991s, 270 1992s, 170 ’93s and a scant 78 ’94s. Statistically speaking, you’re about as likely to run across a 4.2 V8 quattro on the road as you are a BMW M1.
By 1994 there was no denying that the Type 44-derived D11 chassis was quite old. Audi admitted it themselves with the big splash of their new ASF concept in 1994 – a thoroughly modern large executive again full of innovation, this time with its extensive use of aluminum. Audi brought that design to market largely unchanged in the all new D2 A8 range. And to help keep costs in check, while the V8 quattro had only been available in one configuration each model year, Audi introduced options in the A8 range. The one that got the headlines was Audi’s signature all-aluminum 4.2 V8 mated to the all-wheel drive quattro drivetrain. But if you wanted range-topping looks and didn’t need the sure-footed nature of the quattro system, you could briefly opt out.
That’s because Audi launched a FronTrak (front-wheel drive) A8 model. Instead of the larger 4.2 model, motivation was provided by destroked 3.7 liter unit. Rated at 230 horsepower and matched only to the 5-speed automatic tiptronic and weighing the best part of 4,000 lbs., it was pretty underwhelming in just about every respect. 0-60 was a leisurely 8.3 seconds, and despite the decrease in power, the 3.7 was no less thirsty than the 4.2. While it did save you about $7,500 ($56,900 v. $64,500 base price for the 4.2) it was no surprise, then, that the bulk of Audi’s deep-pocketed fanbase chose to the 4.2 quattro model, and the base 3.7 was dropped in the 2000 model year in favor of the long wheel base model. Early A8s are hard to find – Audi sold only about 6,000 over three model years before the refresh. But 3.7 have become a bit of an oddity that are almost never seen:
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