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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

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