Road impressions

Audi 90 and 90 Quattro

Contrary to what might be expected, the announcement of yet another new Audi after a wave of new releases should go some way to simplifying the designations in the range. The Audi 90 will be to the 80 what the 200 is to the 100; the result is that now all the small five-cylinder cars will be 90s, leaving the 80 designation for the four-cylinder versions. The 90 will aim for a prestige slot, with a high level of equipment such as power steering, central locking and electric windows, and it is distinguished from its lesser brother (to which its bodyshell is identical) by slimmer dual headlights, deeper “aprons” fore and aft, the integral foglights, plus similar full-width rear lamp treatment to the 200.

There are only two options: two or four-wheel-drive. Spend £10,030 on the former, and you get a 2-litre 115 bhp unit giving 116 mph and 0-60 in 9.9 seconds, together with the sort of torque which should result in 30 mpg plus in everyday use. For extra performance you will have to go quattro — undoubtedly a great asset, but the forced choice is indicative of VAG’s determination to wean purchasers onto four-wheel-drive. The extra cost is 0,000, power jumps to 136 bhp thanks to a revised 2.2-litre engine, giving 0-60 in 9 seconds, and ABS braking is an optional extra.

Driving the 90 on damp and muddy Hertfordshire lanes recently showed that the suspension, unchanged from the 80, remains sure and positive with good traction even in 2wd versions, while the comfortable ride and lack of noise make the car a good contender in the small luxury car market (its rivals being Mercedes 190 and BMW 3series). Changing over to the quattro version demonstrates immediately that the handling is crisper, probably less because the rear torsion beam axle is replaced by MacPherson struts, than the result of the tractive effort being channelled through twice as mag wheels, and so lessening the combination of steering and driving loads on the front wheels. It is easy to extract very high cornering forces from the 185/60 HR 14 tyres, so the sports seats are a welcome standard fitting. A pleasant gruff exhaust note managed to find its way through the generous soundproofing, while the light but not always precise gearchange and the overall flexibility make this a most relaxing saloon for the ubiquitous businessman who seems to mou!d the, marketing policy of most manufacturers today. — G.C.

High performance from the Porsche 944 turbo

Even before the Porsche 944 model was announced in 1981 a turbocharged version had raced at Le Mans, finishing in seventh place, and since then more than 60,000 normally aspirated 944s have been built, which is quite a success story. The turbo version, announced this month, incorporates what they term “third generation technology” to derive 220 bhp from the 2.5liter four-cylinder engine, retaining all the smoothness that comes from the twin counterbalance shaft design. What is remarkable about this sports car is that the turbocharger is completely unobtrusive, with massive power and torque distributed throughput the range, so that it comes as a surprise to see the maximum speed of 245 kph indicated on the speedometer within seconds of a clear stretch of road presenting itself!

Against a stopwatch the Porsche 944 Turbo is closely matched with the 911 Carrera, and when the new car arrives in Britain in November the price will be nudging £27,000 at current values, so it’s going to appeal to a fairly exclusive clientele. Porsche Cars Great Britain Limited see a potential for around 200 cars a year against 600 911s, the 944 Turbo falling into quite another category in terms of appeal.

While the basic design of the Porsche 924 has not been changed in nine years, the 944 evolution is now moving forward rapidly in the same way that the 911 progressed between 1964 and 1969. New interiors are now in Production, featuring a new dashboard design with 928-style instruments, the seats are improved and the windscreens are now flush-fitted to reduce the aerodynamic drag. Aluminium suspension castings replace welded steel, something that will follow on the “basic” 944, and in addition the 944 Turbo features a number of exclusive new features such as four-piston brake calipers which allow better heat dissipation, 7J and 8J cast alloy wheels (which, on the test cars, were equipped with a new type of Dunlop Sport D40 low profile tyre), stiffened suspension, a more aerodynamic nose form made of polyurethane, and undershields to improve airflow underneath the car and get rid of unwanted heat. A full-width spoiler underneath the rear bumper is the final stage in cleaning up the airflow, and the drag factor is slightly reduced to 0.33. Family resemblance to the 924 and 944 Le Mans cars can be seen quite clearly, and by means of quite subtle changes the svelte lines of the 924 body have been transformed into a very purposeful looking sports car in true Porsche tradition.

At 220 bhp engine power even exceeds that of the limited production 924 Carrera GT, but while that was an aggressive car the 944 Turbo is remarkable for its refinement. A new design of KKK type K26 turbocharger, with a water jacket to reduce bearing temperatures, is fitted on the cold, induction side of the engine with a crossover pipe from the exhaust passing behind the engine block, with several advantages including a 90-degree drop in temperature and a shorter passage to the induction manifold, which virtually eliminates throttle response lag. A new type of boost pressure regulator which eliminates the traditional flap valve has been designed, reducing exhaust back-pressure and improving economy.

Thankfully our legislators have not yet considered catalytic converters but the Germans are now set to follow the American emission requirements, and the 944 Turbo is remarkable in another aspect, that the power is exactly the same whether or not a converter is fitted to the exhaust system. This breakthrough is made possible by the processors in the Motronic “brain” which compensate the power loss, aided by a sophisticated knock sensor. Porsche are moving rapidly towards the era of “world engines” which are suitable for all markets, which will soon enable the Stuttgart company to export the 911 Turbo to the States once again. This will mean, too, that the 32-valve Porsche 928 S model, now sold only in America, will become available in Europe as well soon.

A test run in the Alpes Maritimes gave only an insight to the character of the Porsche 944 Turbo, which pulls as well at low engine speeds as the normally aspirated version. There is no perceptible point at which the turbo comes into play, just a far more pronounced surge as the revs increase. In a way the engine was even more impressive on the autoroute where, in a very short burst of highly illegal acceleration, the 944 built up to its claimed maximum speed of 245 kph with astonishing rapidity, and even touched 260 kph (161 mph) indicated on an apparently level stretch. Even allowing for a 5% speedometer error, which the engineers admitted as a possibility, the performance was nothing less than amazing since the engine noise remained subdued, and the most obvious sounds were the rustle of wind around the door mirror and the thump of the wide tyres over road joints. It is utterly unlike the 911 which is a more bustling, vivacious car altogether.

The ride has not been spoiled by the stiffened, gas filled shock absorbers, and the 944 Turbo felt extremely surefooted on bumpy, mountainous roads. To begin with PCGB have pitched their sights low at 200 cars in the 1986 model year, and it is admittedly a very pricey commodity, so it will be interesting to see how this model progresses. — M.L.C.

BMW Plans

At a conference in London recently, the Managing Director of BMW (GB), Mr Paul Layzell, announced plans to increase BMW sales by 20% this coming year. Group turnover rose by 14% in 1984, and it was against this confident background that he foresaw a trebling of sales of the “tanbeater” 518i saloon, with smaller increases for four-door 3-series saloons.

The company do not see any immediate future for themselves in the estate-car or the 4wd markets, preferring to refine their misting products gradually. An example of this is the new electronic “NOX Control”, which promises reduced exhaust emissions with existing fuel and no consumption penalty.

MG Metro 6R4

ARG has announced that it is to go ahead with the production of 200 examples of its mid-engined four-wheel-drive MG Metro 6R4 which uses a normally aspirated V6 version of the Rover V8 engine. The car will appear in the hands of Tony Pond in the Gwynedd Rally on March 9th.