We celebrate Audi’s performance touring car
90 20V quattro Sport and 90 20V Sport
“Top marks…a classic Audi, one of the best ever”
Volkswagen Audi CAR September 1989
Audi enthusiast and 90 20V Sport owner Tom Gent, reviews the special character of this great but unsung car with the legendary 5 cylinder 20V engine and reveals the direct descendency from Audi’s rally sport heritage
Note: Exports to North America and elsewhere had different specifications; they had reduced power output and modified front bumper configurations to meet US emissions and crash test requirements, were supplied with different dealer options including many with automatic gearboxes to suit the US market which resulted in increased weight and reduced performance. Export models did not have the ‘Sport’ specifications or identity.
This website relates only to the original European factory specification Sport models with manual gearbox, in the quattro and non quattro versions. The non-‘Sport’ 90 20V and other 90 models are referenced for comparison purposes only.
The first generation Quattro drive systems added significant weight but the traction advantage was such that Audi were Group B world rally champions from the outset in the hands of the Finn Hannu Mikkola and the Frenchwoman Michèle Mouton in the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally and later Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist in 1982 and 1984, dominating the sport until the conclusion of Group B racing in 1986.
The same i5 (in line 5 cylinder) engine used in both the 90 20V’s and the UR quattro’s 20V and 10V engines evolved directly from Audi’s Group B rally car victories culminating in the S1 Sport Quattro with a 598bhp turbocharged 2,110cc unit. In 1987 the S1 won a series of victories at the 12.42 mile long Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Colorado Springs USA, driven by Walter Rohrl.
The 90 20V Sport’s i5 engine was simultaneously used in the final edition of Audi’s turbocharged UR quattro RR (1989-91) with an increased power output from its 2,226cc unit to 217bhp (162kW) at 5,500rpm with a torque of 310Nm from just 1,950rpm. Previous UR models were the first SOHC MB of 1980 (2,144cc, 200PS, 285Nm, 7.1 seconds 0-62mph, 137mph) and WR which were turbocharged 10 valve versions of the i5 cylinder engine. In total 11,452 UR quattro’s were produced since 1980 (RR, MB and WR).
When the 90 20V’s and Ur RR were launched in 1989, the i5 20V engine made another appearance on the world racing stage in the monstrous form of the Audi 90 IMSA GTO. This quattro race car had a short large bore single exhaust exiting through the front side panel and a turbocharged 2.1 litre engine developing an immense 720 bhp (530 kW). This was the ultimate incarnation of the i5 engine and the 90 20v inspired body shape. The tyres were 14 inches wide, the chassis was a tubular space frame and the body panels were carbon fibre, achieving a weight of just 1,206Kg. Despite missing the first two endurance stages of the championship races at Sebring and Daytona, Hans Joachim Stuck took third podium place in the American production race car series IMSA GTO with seven wins, five of which were one-two finishes and the car came second in the manufacturer’s championship of 1989.
Interestingly the S1 and the 90 IMSA GTO had the same unladen weights as the front wheel drive 90 20V Sport.
Audi’s latest i5 engine – 31 years on
2011 saw Audi’s 2.48 litre TFSI engine triumph at the International Engine of the Year Awards and was heralded as “the best turbocharged engine in recent years”. The i5 engine which derives from the original Audi Quattro engine of the 1980’s features in the RS 3 Sportback and the TT RS. The engine produces 340PS between 5,400 and 6,500rpm with peak torque from just 1,600rpm of 450Nm providing an acceleration of 4.6 seconds to 62mph.
Audi’s in line 5 cylinder engine DNA lineage has evolved directly from Audi’s rally sport heritage. From the original 1980 Quattro, the successive Group B rally championships of the mid 1980’s and the 1987 S1 rally cars, to the 1989 90 20V Sport, UR RR quattro, Coupe quattro and 90 IMSA GTO, through to the current 2011 RS 3 Sportback and TT RS models, the distinctive i5 sound and character whether turbocharged or not, is as recognisable and evocative today as it ever was.
We celebrate the original European factory specification 90 20V quattro Sport and non-quattro 90 20V Sport
Technical data references from Audi AG Instruction Manual supplied to European owners and Volkswagen Audi CAR magazine articles of September 1989 (quattro test review) and July 1990 (front wheel drive test review)
- Years of production: 1989 to 1991
- Model: 90 20v quattro Sport and non-quattro 90 20v Sport. Model type code 8A, engine code 7A. Series 3, B3 chassis, four door. The 90 20V models had the lightest of all the B3 chassis.
- Factory fitted options as standard: tilt/slide metal sunroof, ski bag (requiring special shape fuel tank), continuous light strip between rear lights, heated electrically adjustable blue tint wing mirrors painted in matching body colour. Electric front windows, Audi Entertainment sound system – Blaupunkt radio cassette player with head phone and plug-in point behind the rear seats. Three circular dials in centre console (oil pressure, oil temperature and alternator), aerial set in heated rear window, Sports seats. Selectable ABS switch. All glass blue tinted with green tint band across top of windscreen.
- Finishes: Interior – all black finishes with 45 degree stripes to jacquard satin seat trim including ‘quattro’ logo (no logo on front wheel drive option), leather gear shift gaiter and stitched leather steering wheel. Exterior – all black trims (full de-chrome) including side strips. Colour matched bumpers with split finish ‘orange peel’ and smooth finish. Speedline 15” 7J alloys with split rim effect. Hydro-forged hollow aluminium rear aerofoil painted in matching body colour. Body paint colour options; red, white or black.
- Power Output: 125kw (170bhp) @ 6,000rpm with 220Nm torque @ 4,500rpm. Specific output 74 bhp/litre; specific torque: 95.28 Nm/litre. Power to weight ratios: 129 bhp/tonne (quattro option) and 142 bhp/tonne (non quattro option). The use of a metal mesh air filter will add about at least 10bhp and is not classed as a modification.
- Engine: 20 valve 5 cylinders in line with light alloy cylinder head and double overhead camshaft valve train layout (DOHC), 2309cc fuel injected engine. Compression ratio 10.3:1. Tubular manifold (1989-90 only, cast manifold 1991). Catalytic converter, electronic ignition. 5 forward gears. Automatic transmission was not offered on the Sport model in the UK or Europe. Fuel efficiency overall average is 30/33mpg quattro/non quattro, or about +10% for the front wheel drive when tested by Volkswagen Audi CAR magazine, although Audi claimed only +4%.
- Performance: At 1,320kg the quattro model is 120kg heavier than the front wheel drive option with a corresponding 10% lower power to weight ratio. Gear ratios less well matched to the engine required a change to third gear to reach 60mph, which combined its heavier weight reduced acceleration performance and agility. Top speed almost 140mph.
- Aerodynamics: The Audi 80 and 90 had a drag coefficient of 0.29 which made these models ‘best in class’ of any car in the world at the time. There are no figures for the 90 20V Sport, but sitting 25mm lower it must be as good – or better than 0.29.
Acceleration for the quattro model was claimed by Audi as 8.4 seconds to 100 kph (62mph). When the quattro was tested by Volkswagen Audi CAR magazine in July 1990 they recorded an acceleration time of 8.9 seconds to 62mph – half a second slower than Audi’s claimed figure, and a top speed of 135mph, just 2mph slower than Audi’s claimed top speed of 137mph.
The acceleration test figure for the 120kg lighter front wheel drive model recorded at the same time by the magazine was 7.6 seconds – a hugely more impressive performance of 1.3 seconds quicker than the heavier quattro. Interesting to note that Audi claimed the non-quattro’s acceleration was 0.2 seconds slower than the quattro – maybe in slippery conditions, but this wasn’t mentioned. An intervention by the Audi marketing team?
The lighter weight resulted in a 10% better power to weight ratio enabling greater agility. 0-62mph can be reached in second gear with a better matched gearbox ratio whereas the quattro gear ratios required a change to third. Also more rapid acceleration through the gears than the quattro was recorded as 0.7 seconds quicker between 30-50mph in third and fourth gears, 0.3 seconds for 50-70mph in fourth gear and 1.1 second quicker for 50-70mph in fifth gear.
- Tyres and Wheels: 205/50 R15 85V. Rims 7J Speedline six spoke 15” split rim effect alloy wheels with painted spokes and polished rims. Non-‘Sport’ 90 20V’s had 6×15 Ronals fitted as the original factory specification.
- Brakes: 276mm ventilated front discs (20mm larger than the standard 90’s front discs), 245mm rear solid discs, circuits split diagonally on non quattro and front to rear on quattro, manually selectable ABS on/off.
- Suspension: Independent McPherson struts with forged triangular wishbones and stabilisers (front and rear on quattro, front only on non quattro), non quattro rear suspension is torsion beam axle with trailing arms and struts with transverse suspension rods. Audi 90 models without the 7A 20V engine and ‘sport’ specification and surprisingly the 20V coupe’s did not have the forged triangular wishbones until after 1992; instead the wishbones were fabricated from sheet steel and these models also had 3mm thinner anti-roll bars at 21mm diameter, rather than the 24mm roll bars of the 90 20V’s.
- The Sport has 25mm lower suspension with more substantial, firmer Boge gas dampers with a more sophisticated and far superior geometry setup, and combined with wider 7 inch rims fitted with the original Dunlop or BF Goodrich tyres enabled outstanding and beautifully balanced handling at all speeds.
- Weight: Unladen 1,320Kg (quattro) and 1,200kg (front wheel drive option). The quattro’s weight distribution is 50/50 front/rear compared to 55/45 front/rear for the non-quattro due to omission of 120Kg rear axle weight.
- Badging: All the quattro Sport 90 20V’s were specified and generally badged as ‘Sport’. The non-quattro 90 20V Sport was specified but not always badged as ‘Sport’.
- Price: In July 1990 according to Volkswagen Audi CAR magazine the 90 20V quattro Sport’s sales price in the UK was just under £21.4k (similar to the Coupe 20V but the Coupe quattro was £23.5k) and the non-quattro 90 20V Sport was £20k. For comparison purposes the lower specified 90 20V (non-‘Sport’) was £19k, and the 10V 90 quattro and 90 2.3E SE models were £18.6k and £17k respectively.
The quattro and non-quattro models do have a few other differences
- the quattro model has a raised central section in the boot due to the quattro mechanicals below. The 2WD model has a deeper, flatter floor providing better luggage space
- the quattro model has a longer rear overhang by 10mm
- the quattro model has a shorter wheelbase by 10mm
- the quattro model has a narrower rear track by 5mm
- the quattro model has 2 litres of extra fuel tank capacity
- the quattro model’s seat cloth stripes include the ‘quattro’ logo (the front wheel drive option has the stripes with no logo)
Audi AG International Customer Services record that all Audi 90 models fitted with the 20V 7A engine were a limited production run of 6,212 in total, of which only 1,642 were in the front wheel drive option and 4,750 in quattro option. The majority were the non-‘Sport’ lower specification models. An unrecorded number were in the enhanced ‘Sport’ specification, estimated at 1000 manufactured in total. It is thought that about 184 (about 20%) of these were imported into the UK in equal numbers of about 92 each, between the quattro and non-quattro cars, the rest being sold in continental Europe. Current UK numbers according to www.howmanyleft.co.uk at 2013 Q2 are:
Audi 90 20V quattro Sport – 10 licensed (on the road), 12 SORN
Audi 90 20V Sport – 6 licensed (on the road), 10 SORN
Based on an estimated figure of 20% imported to the UK, this would give figures of 50 on the road in total across Europe and the UK for the quattro, and 30 for the non-quattro.
These figures reduce every year and it’s unlikely that any of the SORN vehicles will ever make it back on the road as values are currently very low and parts are increasingly difficult to get hold of. When consideration is given to the generally low quality of the cars still on the road, the majority will have had a hard life, been heavily modified or with accident damage unrepaired, there are likely to be only a handful in original factory specification and in top condition.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
The front wheel drive model is significantly quicker in most ‘non-slippery’ driving conditions due to being 120Kg lighter which enabled a 10% greater power to weight ratio, and with a gear box ratio better matched to the character of the engine and less power transmission loss its handling is very responsive, precise and more agile with significantly quicker 0-62mph acceleration and through-gears acceleration at all speeds.
It’s been criticised compared to the quattro for a tendency to over-steer, but if it was rear wheel drive that would present its own issues. With the weight of the engine over the driving wheels and a 55/45 weight distribution front to rear it’s pretty well balanced and the rest is down to driving technique and experience to work with the character of the car. On virtually all road conditions other than the most slippery, the non-quattro feels like it’s on ‘rails’ and can be thrown around what look like impossible corners to emerge straight and level thanks to the 20V Sport’s suspension and overall Audi engineering being so well resolved. Once mastered, power slides on long wet corners can be immensely enjoyable – only on track days of course.
In the late 1980’s Audi wanted to focus their marketing strategy on the quattro brand and did not advertise the front wheel drive option or publish performance figures but Volkswagen Audi CAR magazine’s article in July 1990 let the cat out of the bag. Due to its perfectly matched gear ratios and 120Kg lighter weight, Audi inadvertently created a contender for the performance and handling of their quattro Sport model.
The last one?
H523 XBD is thought to be the only original condition and original factory specification 90 20V Sport remaining on the road today – anywhere. This car was first owned by VAG UK in Milton Keynes, still has the original VAG plates and is thought to be one of Audi UK’s ‘Press Cars’ used for marketing and test drives.
And finally –
Could there have been any improvements in the original specification of the 90 20V quattro Sport and 90 20V Sport?
How could Audi have improved on such a great design with superb handling and character in the early 1990’s without compromising its performance touring car credentials?
Comments on the quattro
- A sixth gear would have been an advantage for more economical and relaxed long distance high speed motorway driving. The quattro’s traction gets it off the mark very quickly but the gear ratios are less well matched to the engine, with a shorter second gear requiring a change to third to reach 62mph making it significantly slower than the non-quattro. See the ‘Performance’ section.
- The quattro mechanicals in the late 80’s were still quite heavy, adding 120Kg which reduced the power to weight ratio by 10% compared to the non-quattro, making the quattro less agile, slower to accelerate through the gears and less fuel efficient. See the ‘Engine’ and ‘Weight’ sections.
Comments on the non-quattro
- A sixth gear would have been an advantage for more economical and relaxed long distance motorway driving – but I would not change the 1st to 5th gear ratios which are perfectly matched to the engine’s character, torque and power delivery. The 7A is a high revving engine with 4,000 rpm in fifth gear at 88.86 mph – part of its character, sound and performance mix, but wonderfully free-revving, and unstressed without the turbochargers of the UR quattro’s. Torque peaks at 4,500 rpm so even at 90 mph in top gear there are huge reserves of acceleration without changing down, to propel the car towards 140mph. Above 120mph the engine takes on the sound of a lion‘s roar.
- The non-quattro would have benefitted from limited slip differential, as getting the power onto slippery roads even in second and third gears requires careful control to avoid wheel spin.
These are mild criticisms, but a limited slip differential for the 120Kg lighter non-quattro Sport would have made it even more awesome and closed the gap on the quattro’s traction in slippery conditions. Is this why Audi didn’t offer limited slip differential? Would it be the same reason for claiming a slower acceleration – when in normal road conditions it’s significantly quicker, and for downplaying the much better fuel efficiency? Maybe the marketing people felt they had to protect the quattro brand…but thankfully the review in Volkswagen Audi CAR magazine in July 1990 put the record straight and reported the actual figures.
The 90 20V Sport – a light and agile performance touring car
This car, described as a ‘Tiger Cat’ by Volkswagen Audi Car magazine in July 1990 should receive far more credit than it has to date as a race proven thoroughbred, light and agile performance touring car with the legendary i5 20V engine, always overshadowed by its contemporaries – the turbocharged UR quattro road versions of the Group B rally cars.
The 90 20V Sport – a classic car with a classic engine, evolved through continuous technological design and engineering advancement of race proven experience since 1980 and continuing to this day 33 years later in the form of the RS 3 Sportback and the TT RS.
last updated June 2013
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