When an Audi cost half of the equivalent Mercedes-Benz

In the 1980s, while Audi put plenty of resources into WRC-level rallying and high-end, all-wheel-drive sports coupés that would help build the brand, Audi was also trying to differentiate itself from Volkswagen, especially in North America. First launched in Europe in 1978, the Audi 80 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and built on VW’s B2 platform, with all-wheel-drive capability and luxury features that would make it a somewhat worthy successor to the Wankel-engined NSU Ro80.

With quad headlamps instead of larger twins, Audi’s sedan went to America as the 1980 4000, first available with front-wheel drive only, and a base 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Audi soon realized that this engine would not be sufficient at any price against BMWs and the 2.3-liter Benzes, so the 4000 S came with a long-stroke 1.7-liter and a standard five-speed. Audi also had the 2.1-liter five-cylinder in the 4000 5+5 two-door sedan, while the regular car was upgraded to a 1.8-liter engine.

audi 4000s advertisement

Yet back in 1983 when MotorWeek got to see what Audi had, the 4000 S was still a 1.7-liter sedan showing “a mild case of understeer”, but also gaining “a gold star for serviceability.” With a wheelbase under 100 inches, a weight figure at the 2400 pound mark, an accurate five-speed, and a tight steering rack offering 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, the Audi 4000 S handled adequately as long as the driver factored in the understeer. It would also return 37 miles to the gallon as long as somebody wasn’t trying to push it to 62 mph under 12.5 seconds.

Most importantly, however, Audi’s front-wheel-drive four-door cost less than a BMW 3 Series, and with a base price of $11,800, half of what Mercedes-Benz was charging for its 190s. A crazy difference given where they are today. Shame about that blank cutout between the instruments on the central console.

Audi’s pricing as well as its products caught up to Mercedes-Benz a long time ago. Today, Ingolstadt is producing high performance cars, such as the S6 and S7, powered by a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 that uses an electric motor with a small turbine to build turbo pressure faster, reducing turbo lag to 250 milliseconds. All of this is powered by a mild-hybrid system running at 48 volts, spinning that electric compressor up to 70,000 rpm for a peak of 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, at any given time.

Audi’s Quattro drive learnt a few new tricks too.

audi engine diagram
audi engine diagram
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