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Hidden Hero: Audi 90

Published 01 November 2019

The Audi 80 B3 was a highly advanced car for its era, with neat flush glazing, class-leading aerodynamics and its ‘Procon-Ten’ safety system, which was displaced by (but arguably not bettered by) the mandatory use of airbags.

It was a fine car, but if anything let it down it was the powertrains, which came from a choice of proven, tried and tested Volkswagen-Audi four-cylinder units that were dependable enough but a little bit boring. 

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An Audi 80 1.8, for example, came with plenty of feel-good factor, amazingly handsome looks, an upmarket images and a distinct lack of poke.

To add a bit more sizzle to its sausage, Audi waited a year and introduced the upmarket 90, powered by a characterful five-cylinder engine and distinguishable from the 80 by its one-piece plastic rear panel and front indicators that were moved from alongside the headlamp lenses to the front bumper, next to the now standard fog lamps. 

With a choice of 2.0 and 2.2-litre engines with two valves per cylinder, developing 113bhp and 134bhp respectively, the 90 still wasn’t quick, but it was peppier than the four-cylinder models, with a free-revving nature and seductive soundtrack.  

The 90 was available as both a front-wheel-drive or Quattro 4WD-equipped model, the latter identifiable by its side graphics and slightly raised ride height. 

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In 1989, Audi gave the 90 a bit more poke with a new 2.3-litre 20-valve turbo engine, developing 170bhp and finally giving the car the vigour it deserved. Find a 2.3 90 Quattro today and you’ll have a fabulous sports saloon that not a lot of people know about - and nor are they likely to find out, with fewer than 20 left on the road. It’s a car that deserves better, but has disappeared largely as a result of its own anonymity. 

That rarity doesn’t mean silly money, however. If you can find a 90 for sale, chances are you won’t need more than a couple of grand, and for such modest outlay it’s a fascinating, interesting, reliable and enjoyable car to own. 

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