Audi (1985-2001): History of The Four Rings, Part 3

Audi AG (1985)


In 1985, with the Auto Union and NSU brands effectively dead, the company’s official name was now shortened to simply Audi AG. At the same time the company’s headquarters moved back to Ingolstadt and two new wholly owned subsidiaries; Auto Union GmbH returned and NSU GmbH was formed to own and manage the historical trademarks and intellectual property of the original constituent companies (the exception being Horch, which had been retained by Daimler-Benz after the VW takeover), and to operate Audi’s heritage operations. The four rings of the Auto Union returned to the badge once again and would remain the symbol for Audi until the present day.

In 1986, as the Passat-based Audi 80 was beginning to develop a kind of “grandfather’s car” image, the type 89 was introduced. This completely new development sold extremely well. However, its modern and dynamic exterior belied the low performance of its base engine, and its base package was quite spartan (even the passenger-side mirror was an option.) In 1987, Audi put forward a new and very elegant Audi 90, which had a much superior set of standard features. In the early 1990s, sales began to slump for the Audi 80 series, and some basic construction problems started to surface.

Through the early 1990s, Audi began to shift its target market upscale to compete against German automakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW. This began with the release of the Audi V8 in 1990. It was essentially a new engine fitted to the Audi 100/200, but with noticeable bodywork differences. Most obvious was the new grille that was now incorporated in the bonnet.

By 1991, Audi had the four-cylinder Audi 80, the 5-cylinder Audi 90 and Audi 100, the turbocharged Audi 200 and the Audi V8. There was also a coupé version of the 80/90 with both four- and five-cylinder engines. Although the five-cylinder engine was a successful and robust powerplant, it was still a little too different for the target market. With the introduction of an all-new Audi 100 in 1992, Audi introduced a 2.8L V6 engine. This engine was also fitted to a face-lifted Audi 80 (all 80 and 90 models were now badged 80 except for the USA), giving this model a choice of four-, five-, and six-cylinder engines, in saloon, coupé and convertible body styles.

The five-cylinder was soon dropped as a major engine choice; however, a turbocharged 220 PS (160 kW; 220 hp) version remained. The engine, initially fitted to the 200 quattro 20V of 1991, was a derivative of the engine fitted to the Sport Quattro. It was fitted to the Audi Coupé, named the S2, and also to the Audi 100 body, and named the S4. These two models were the beginning of the mass-produced S series of performance cars.

The next major model change came in 1995 when the Audi A4 replaced the Audi 80. The new nomenclature scheme was applied to the Audi 100 to become the Audi A6 (with a minor facelift). This also meant the S4 became the S6 and a new S4 was introduced in the A4 body. The S2 was discontinued. The Audi Cabriolet continued on (based on the Audi 80 platform) until 1999, gaining the engine upgrades along the way. A new A3 hatchback model (sharing the Volkswagen Golf Mk4’s platform) was introduced to the range in 1996, and the radical Audi TT coupé and roadster were debuted in 1998 based on the same underpinnings.

The engines available throughout the range were now a 1.4 L, 1.6 L and 1.8 L four-cylinder, 1.8 L four-cylinder turbo, 2.6 L and 2.8 L V6, 2.2 L turbo-charged five-cylinder and the 4.2 L V8 engine. The V6s were replaced by new 2.4 L and 2.8 L 30V V6s in 1998, with marked improvement in power, torque and smoothness. Further engines were added along the way, including a 3.7 L V8 and 6.0 L W12 engine for the A8.

Audi Turbocharged Direct Injection “TDI” Engine

Audi engineers invested thirteen years of research work in the development of a car diesel engine with direct fuel injection. This principle was previously only used for truck engines. Cars were dependent on the pre-chamber combustion system until the Audi TDI was launched in 1989. On TDI engines the fuel is precisely metered by electronic sensors and injected directly into the piston recesses under high pressure. The combustion air compressed by the turbocharger flows through a specially formed intake plenum into the combustion chambers. This gives it the right swirl and it begins to rotate in the cylinder. The intensive turbulence of the air/fuel mixture brings about an optimum combustion process, which in turn results in extremely economical fuel consumption.

TDI is the combination of two existing diesel engine technologies:

  • Direct injection— where a fuel injector sprays the diesel fuel directly into the main combustion chambers. This causes in a more complete combustion process than using a pre-combustion chamber (known as indirect injection), which therefore increases the torque output and reduces the exhaust emissions.
  • Turbocharging— where an exhaust-driven turbine compresses the intake air, in order to obtain higher power and torque outputs from a small displacement engine.

Most TDI engines also use an intercooler to lower the temperature (and therefore increase the density) of the compressed air before it enters the cylinder. In 2000, a fuel system using unit injectors (called “Pumpe Düse” by Volkswagen) began to replace the distributor injection pump systems. Similar technology has been used by other automotive companies, but the “TDI” marketing term is only used by Volkswagen Group and Land Rover.

Audi Spaceframe (ASF) Chassis

The Audi Spaceframe (ASF) was presented a the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in 1993, and found its way into series production in 1994 with the launch of the Audi A8. The ASF body weighs around 100-150 kilograms less than a comparable steel body. This reduces fuel consumption by up to 1.5 litres per 100 kilometres. The body is noted for its outstanding new design principles: aluminium extruded sections are joined together by means of die-cast nodes. This produces a light space frame that demonstrates a high level of safety.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Audi introduced new technologies including the use of aluminium construction. Produced from 1999 to 2005, the Audi A2 was a futuristic super mini, born from the Al2 concept, with many features that helped regain consumer confidence, like the aluminium space frame, which was a first in production car design. In the A2 Audi further expanded their TDI technology through the use of frugal three-cylinder engines. The A2 was extremely aerodynamic and was designed around a wind tunnel. The Audi A2 was criticised for its high price and was never really a sales success but it planted Audi as a cutting-edge manufacturer. The model, a Mercedes-Benz A-Class competitor, sold relatively well in Europe. However, the A2 was discontinued in 2005 and Audi decided not to develop an immediate replacement.

Check back tomorrow for Part 4 in this week-long feature series!


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