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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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Ben Bergstein    on 27 October 2020

The 20 valve version had no turbo fitted. The 2.0 20V was produced for export, and lacks the katalytic convertor. You'll enjoy 160 HP with an engine more suited to high revs, and sounds the best of all nineties! It's the last affordable small chassis quattro with some serious power. If you find one, buy it! Forget the heavvier coupe, they're more often abused and their coachwork is less stiff/rigid compared to the sedan. - B.Bergstein

Edited by Ben Bergstein on 27/10/2020 at 22:23

KiwiAudiFan    on 25 March 2021

Interesting cars which look and sound nice with a few mods and still get plenty of attention these days I,m currently restoring a 1987 90 quattro B3 10v. It came with a GTI Engineering RE2500 conversion fitted in 1988 and it,s been off the road since 2012. I refurbed the head back in 2003 with new valves and guides and fitted a Schricke cam with Powerflow exhaust. Power probably around 190 ish and way better than the original 170bhp/ 180lb.ft of this conversion Because of the long 94mm stroke of this engine I restrict rpm to 6000 but it,ll hit this in 5th gear. Original color was a metallic maroon but I,m repainting it in a slightly brighter Ford Regency Red which looks very classy. There is very little rust in the bodywork, way better than my RS2 although the underside mechanicals need a good refurb. I,m fitting 280mm vented discs at the front and 278mm solid at the rear using adapters on the original callipers to minimise extra work. Wheels are 16 x 7 OZ Super Turismo alloys Great project and I,ll hopefully get it back on the road summer 2021

Dominic Lucas    on 4 May 2021

My father had a G plate 2.3 90 stolen from his drive years ago.
The thieves trashed it and he didn't buy it back from the insurers which was a great shame.
Looking back I remember the ride was very harsh even as a passenger in the front but it was certainly quick, primarily due to the lack of EU safety standards adding more weight. Every drive was an event but I suspect only enjoyable for the driver.

KiwiAudiFan    on 20 May 2021

Your father,s G plate may have had some sort of sport suspension fitted. Mine has the factory lowered kit and is as smooth as silk on either the original Ronal 15" wheels or the current OZ 16"

Puts some modern cars to shame for ride quality, a new Mini Cooper S comes to mind. Weather has halted progress so far this year

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