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Review: Audi 90 quattro V6

This was copied (without permission) from rec.autos.vw, 
and was written by eliot@engr.washington.edu (eliot).
There is also a review of this car (90 Quattro Sport)
in the latest edition of Car + Driver. 

	- dave t.

Article 7830 of rec.autos.vw:
From: eliot@engr.washington.edu (eliot)
Newsgroups: rec.autos,rec.autos.vw
Subject: Review:  Audi 90 quattro V6
Message-ID: <Aug05.091056.23068@engr.washington.edu>
Date: 5 Aug 92 09:14:48 GMT
Sender: news@u.washington.edu (USENET News System)
Organization: University of Washington
Lines: 174
Xref: rec.autos:59386 rec.autos.vw:7830

Yesterday I took the new Audi 90 quattro V6 for a short drive.  Here is my

The Audi 90 series is the new entry-level Audi.  The 80 series
according to Autoweek, has been dropped.  That makes the cheapest new
Audi today some $25K or so.  I drove the "90 quattro sport", which is
the top of the line of this range.  For $30K+ sticker, you get the
famous quattro all-wheel drive, the new 2.8 liter 12 valve V6 and very
useful fold down rear seats.  Responding to stinging criticism for the
useless trunks of the outgoing models, Audi has provided a very
generously sized trunk, with or without the rear seats folded.

The new 90 can be considered to be a "brand new" model.  Sheet metal
changes on this car are extensive; I am not sure if any panels from
the old models are used.  I suspect not.  This car is certainly not
simply facelifted from the old car..  Beneath, the V6 is certainly
new for this range though the same layout is used.  It is significant
to note that Audi has produced a new model after only 4 years.  Thus
Audi has matched the Japanese 4 year model cycle.  The 5000/100/200
series was unchanged for about 8 years.

Changes to the front suspension is probably small compared to the
drastic, expensive changes made to the rear, both to increase trunk
space as well as to provide a decent rear suspension.  The rear uses
the ever increasingly popular double wishbones.  The all-wheel drive
system is essentially unchanged from 1988 on, with a torsen center
differential and a manually locking rear differential.  This is a
tried and true system.  That it has been available in this form since
1988 speaks not of its obsolescence.  Rather it speaks of how advanced
Audi was and still is in the all-wheel drive business.

However its clever and radical design is not without its drawbacks,
the main one being that it rules out any hope of fitting an automatic
transmission.  Audi endured for 9 years without an automatic quattro
model until it finally bit the bullet and re-did the entire layout for
the V8.  The current 100 series, being based on the V8 floorpan, uses
the V8 layout for the automatic quattro system; all 5 speed models
(including the 5sp V8) use the original layout with hollow concentric
driveshafts.  A very elegant piece of engineering if you ever get to
see cutaway drawings.  The 90 quattro will have to make do as a 5
speed only model because the big, heavy and bulky system used in the
automatic V8 will not fit into the smaller car.

The styling of the new car, to my eyes is not as successful as the
outgoing model.  However, not many people will argue that the previous
model was beautiful and it would have been really difficult to improve
on it.  In Europe, its styling was cited as the biggest reason for its
sales success despite the fwd models having mediocre suspension and a
useless trunk.  The new car, however, looks much better in real life
than it does in photographs.  The lustre of its paintwork (I drove a
metallic black one) is magnificent.  The 90Q comes with very
attractive multi spoke alloy wheels as well, Dunlop SP8 (?) tires and
flared wheel arches.  It does have an aggresive stance and would
probably provoke a BMW 3 series driver into a drag race.  (More on
that later) All in all, I consider its styling attractive and very
distinctively Audi.  One would never mistake it for a Japanese sedan
from far.

The interior has been left largely unchanged, though there's lots of
evidence that the bean counters have been hard at work.  The new 90Q
has far less frills than the 90Q20V.  e.g. Only the driver's seat
is electrically operated;  the trip computer is no longer standard
issue.  This is not meant to be criticism.  As far as I'm concerned,
the less luxury crap, the lower the weight and the lower the price.
However to survive in the US, one has to compromise.  Oh, they didn't
forget cupholders!!  Hooray!!  (said with overflowing sarcasm)

Anyway, the point that I wanted to make is that the 90 quattro is a
very expensive car to manufacture.  The $32K sticker sounds excessive
until you find out that the dealer has only a miniscule profit margin
and the maker itself staying in the US only because of its continued
success in Europe.

So much for the incidentals, onto the meat!  This is the second Audi
that I have tried with the new V6.  I have to admit that this time I
was less impressed than the first time.  (Probably because I tried the
VW VR6 in between the two)  It is astonishingly quiet and smooth at low
revs and low loads.  To the point where you are not even sure if it is
running.  So far so good.  Surprise number one is when the sales droid
almost stalls it taking off from rest.  Later on when I try it, I also
find that near idling it is very weak and easy to stall.  We did have
the air conditioner going at full blast though, so maybe Audi has
upgraded their usually ineffective air conditioning compressors for
higher capacity ones.  Yes, the air conditioning was very good and it
also has the new style climate control panel that allows anything from
full auto to full manual operation.

On hard acceleration it sounds remarkably similar to the trusty inline
5, the later ones that is.  The power delivery has a deep, seamless
note.  It sounds like a BMW inline 6, though not as silky nor as
sweet.  Most of the time it is largely silent.  At high revs a little
hoarseness intrudes, just like the 5's, but less so.  To get a good
idea of what this engine is like, think of the normally aspirated 10
valve engines with much more torque and perhaps 10dB less volume.  All
in all a decent engine, but not class setting and it won't get any
rave reviews here.  I have not been moved by this engine the way I
have been by Alfa's and VW's (still drooling today) V6s.

On the go, one finds that the car has an extremely rigid structure to
which very stiff springs and very firm dampers have been fitted.
Stiff bodies are becoming more and more popular these days because
they offer a wide range of benefits.  Among them is improved noise
suppression and less flex, which means that the suspension can be
mounted more precisely for better handling.  Also, a stronger back
bone means that stiffer suspension can be used for a given ride
quality.  (Imagine a car with a weak back bone and stiff suspension;
when it hits a bump, the springs do not compress, but rather the body
bends into a "U" shape).  So one finds that the 90 quattro has
excellent handling.  Turn in is sharp, roll is minimal (a big
improvement over the previous cars) and ride is reasonable, though
unmistakably firm.  It is virtually impossible to upset its composure
mostly because its damping is superb.  But then Audis have always had
superb damping.  Road rumble, another big Audi (most German cars
actually) boo-boo has been reduced to near Lexus LS400 levels.  The
improvement is in orders of magnitudes over the old car.

The downside to all this heft is, you guessed it, weight.  The new car
has gained 300 pounds over the old car.  Some of it went into
reinforcing the structure (already quite good in the old car) but most
of it went into the massive sub frame onto which the new rear
suspension is now mounted on.  So while we have improvements in
quietness, ride and handling (and probably safety), we pay the price
in terms of acceleration and throttle response.  Thus, the 90 quattro
only has adequate acceleration.  One has to have a real heavy right
foot to make it go.  The car makes it quite clear in the beginning
that it is a gentleman's car and that it does not really like to be
cracked with a whip, though it will oblige if you insist.  The car's
character is of the more mature and dignified variety rather than the
boy racer type. 

I have saved the worst news for the end.  The car has *horrid*
steering.  Just plain awful and unbelievable for an Audi.  Part of
that blame naturally goes to the Servotronic speed variable steering.
Curiously though, its assistance at 0 mph is not feather light.  Most
maddening of all is the numbness and vagueness around the center
position.  This numbness never goes away even when you get up to
70mph.  I doubt if it would have gone away at 140.  When I pulled back
into the dealer lot and cut the engine (thus cutting the power
steering pump), I found that I could move the wheel 10 or 20 degrees
both directions with almost no effort.  Just like a good ol' boat.

I suspect that the steering problem is more than just the Servotronic
system.  A 100 that I drove did have the Acura style feather lightness
at low speeds but it firmed up real nicely when speed built up.  I was
not too pleased with that, but that is heaven compared to this.  So my
theory is either the new suspension geometry has seriously screwed up
the steering or there's something wrong with this particular car that
I test drove.  Whatever it is, it is there and it is cause for great
grief.  I would like to hear from others who have driven this car to
tell me if they find the steering any better.  This one is
unbelievably bad.  Even the Acuras have better steering than this car.
There is little joy left in attacking corners.  Even if the very
competent suspension encourages you and fills you with confidence, the
steering ruins all the fun.  I don't know if I can ever get used to it
or accept it..

Taking into account that the Audi 90 quattro is not terribly exciting
in a straight line and that its V6 engine is not terribly special
either, the poor steering tilts my thumb down.  Usually Audi quattros
can play the joker (as in card games) to tilt things back in its
favor, its quattro drivetrain giving it an advantage that none of its
rivals have.  One only has to drive one in the rain to be forever
hooked on the concept.  However this time not even quattro all wheel
drive will save it.  The improved handling and quietness are welcome,
but in my judgement they do not overcome the bad steering, lame
acceleration and a general lack of excitement in its driving
experience.  Audi has just joined the ranks of Lexus.  Perhaps for the
US market that is a good thing.  After all the 1-gallon-a-minute-
adrenalin-pump turbo quattro coupe' was a failure in this market.  For
us enthusiasts, it is a sad day.  As Eliot W. Dudley would say, Audi
don't make Audis anymore.  Thank god for the VR6!!!!!