When the Audi 90 was launched it completed the German company's line-up of modern, very aerodynamic family sedans. Most popular, mainly because they were the three models more commonly exportered, were the 2-liter front-drive developing 115 bhp, a 2.2-liter front-drive developing 136 bhp, and a 2.2-liter quattro version also developing 136 bhp. A 2.3 liter version was manufactured for Germany and other catalyst markets, such as the USA.
The Audi 90's competition came from the Mercedes 200-series and from BMW's upper 5-series models. It was a tough job to take on such competition, where image was what it was all about in this sector of the market. The majority of purchases were paid for with company cheques, and a Mercedes, a BMW, or a Jaguar XJ6 carried considerable prestige.
The particular appeal of the Audi 90 was its aerodynamic qualities, its modernity, technical excellence, and above all its driver-appeal. The 90 was naturally enough based largely on the second generation Audi 80
, which went into production in October 1986 and went on to be an outstanding success.
Demand was so high a year after release that Audi increased production to 1200 per day, 200 more than the highest level for the previous model, this accounting for the subsequent two delays in the launch of the five-cylinder version.
As before, the sporting 90 shared
the shell of the 4-cylinder 80. Audi-watchers were somewhat surprised that the Sport version had been dropped, while the stiffer suspension was standard equipment only on the quattro, which also had ABS braking as standard.
Compared with the previous 90, the new version was substantially improved. It had the 100-look bodywork which reduced the aerodynamic drag from 0.39 to 0.31, making it a very quiet car to cruise at up to the 128 mph maximum speed of the 2.2-liter version. The body-coloured air dam was new and the quattro version also had a rear spoiler, along with alloy wheels and all-disc braking, with ventilated discs at the front, and 5½ J 14-inch wheels carrying 195 section tires were also standard for the range.
The 90 Quattro was equipped with the Torsen centre differential, which ran normally with a 50:50 torque split but, depending on the available traction, could transmit up to 75% of the torque to the front or rear wheels. A rear differential lock was available to the driver to tackle icy inclines and it disengaged automatically at 16 mph, allowing the ABS brake system to function normally.
The front-drive models had the alumminium cased gearbox which had already been introduced for the 80, and research director Dr Ferdinand Piech revealed at launch that all models, including the Quattro, would become available during the 1988 model year with a new four-speed automatic gearbox, developed jointly by VW and Renault. Audi's, however, "will be much different, especially in quality!"
By mid 1987 the simple but effective Procon-Ten active safety system had reached 20% acceptance in left-hand-drive European markets, an impressive figure which countered the old motor industry adage that "you can't sell safety". This system was made available to right-hand-dtive markets later that same year.
The 90 had a full-sized spare wheel mounted upright in the left rear wing housing, and Piech admitted to a change of heart here. "A few years ago we needed a 2.5kg weight saving because of the energy situation, but this is not so now." The luggage area, criticised on the 80, had been increased by removing the "false floor" which surrounded the space-saver spare wheel.
The five cylinder models were delightful to drive, the extra cylinder bringing with it a higher degree of refinement and acceleration, and they handled far better than would be expected of any model with a lengthy engine placed ahead of the front wheels. Understeer was very gentle, no more than any other manufacturer would design in for safety reasons, and if there was any criticism at all it was that the springing felt rather soft in cornering.
That is not the case where the Quattro was concerned, for the stiffer suspension kit literally gave the car an "on rails" feel, with neutral handling at very high cornering speeds. Not everyone liked the distinctive growl of the five-cylinder engine, but those who did instinctively fell in love with the 90 Quattro straight away. Today they are still considered to be a good second hand buy, particularly if you like your driving. A word of caution though, ensure any car you buy has been well maintained and comes with a comprehensive service history.