New cars: Audi 200

The big If . .

Claiming a pedigree back to the Horch inline and vee-eight cylinders of the Twenties and Thirties, Audi’s 1988 launch of an aluminium 90° V8 might seem a trifle protracted.

In fact the newcomer, which amounts to a 250 bhp new heart for a radically reworked Audi 200 saloon, dates from May 1984, when the Neckarsulm R&D department was commissioned to design and develop it.

The result is a notably compact 81mm x 86.4mm (3562cc) power plant which runs an exceptional 10.6:1 cr upon its catalytic convertor diet of unleaded fuel. All the current features from four valves per cylinder to double overhead camshafts on each cylinder bank and Bosch Motronic fuel-injection are present. Most ingenious is the way in which Golf GTi 16V technology has been adapted, along with the cylinder-spacing of Audi and Volkswagen inline fours. The bores carry no liners, an etching process revealing silicon crystals within the cast-aluminium block.

The new eight was running, and practical development problems (principally lubrication and acoustics) being tackled, by December 1984. The target of 250 bhp was achieved at 5800 rpm, whilst torque was eventually most generously spread, culminating in the equivalent of 250 lb ft at 4000 rpm.

This is a wonderful unit, make no mistake. It has a broad power spread, suavely delivered, and weighs about 430 lb when installed. Unfortunately, Audi muffled the alloy wonder’s civilised capabilities within a car weighing 3762lb. Ingolstadt then asked it to haul the highest of autobahn gearing through an adapted ZF automatic transmission, its first automatic in association with the quattro four-wheel-drive system.

Subjectively, it thus feels sluggish in road performance. Of course top speed is high (a claimed 146 mph), but 0-62 mph feels more than the 9.2 seconds claimed. Response to the demand for overtaking on country roads is downright leisurely, with Sport ratios selected or otherwise.

Stopping is not a problem, with front disc-calipers gripping the disc from within — a feature unique to Audi. The company says this allows 17% greater braking effort to be applied, for the same pedal effort, whilst reducing temperatures dramatically. With the benefit of ABS, as is the case for all Audi quattros, it operated faultlessly in practice.

The quattro system remains reactively effective although considerably altered to cater for the automatic transmission, including an ugly external forward shaft. The Torsen differential has moved from central to rearward position, and Audi’s first production use of epicyclic central gearing sees power split 50:50 between front and rear axles; there is also an hydraulic multi-plate clutch which locks the epicyclic gearing when traction is at a premium.

Packed with showroom features such as effective automatic air-conditioning and convincing wood and leather interior, plus all the electrical aids you would expect of a marque self-confidently declaring it will price upon the basis of the BMW 735i, the V8 is a curious newcomer.

The heritage of the 100/200 body is obvious, but Audi has eschewed its recent sporting image in favour of a quiet saloon which occasionally exhibits soggy suspension settings. Unfortunately the drag factor has also suffered middle-age spread, and is now a reluctantly-declared 0.347 on wider wheels and behind that marketing-inspired grille— a stark contrast against the trumpeted 0.30 of the first 100 . . .

Still, Audi has produced a very fine luxury saloon, with the added bonuses of quattro traction and Procon-Ten safety included in a price which is most competitive versus BMW. However there is no decision yet on the engineering of right-hand drive; at an estimated £35,000 for LHD only, the British and the Americans (who do not gain supplies until mid-1989) are unlikely to storm Audi dealerships. Now, if and when Audi puts the V8 into the new 90-based coupe (making its world debut at Birmingham’s Motor Show) and creates a worthy successor to the 1980 quattro, then it can expect to be besieged by customers, for that is where the current Audi image was created. JW