Engine History: Audi’s (and VW) EA827 Engine – The Inline Four That Could!

Sometimes, great engines are applauded and commended from day one, like the small block chevy engine. But other times they are equally as good, being produced for decades, without anyone even noticing, like the Buick V6 or Audi’s EA827. Are these the underdogs of the car world?

Audis engine line-up in the 60s was solely based on the 4 cylinder you see above, an OHV of 1.5 – 1.9 liters capacity. Developed initially by Mercedes for military purposes, Audis engineers pushed the compression to 11.2:1(!), in order to boost performance and efficiency. NVH levels were subpar (because of the high pressures) as was the reliability.

Clearly, a new engine was needed and it was dubbed EA827 (EntwicklungsAuftrag = development assignment). Audi, already in VAG ownership by 1966, started work on it in the late 60s. The initial goal was to develop a cheap to build, 4 cylinder, 1.2 liter mill with a non-crossflow head, belt-driven SOHC, bucket tappets and 2 valves/cylinder to power the future Audi 80 (Audi Fox in the US). It had a 88mm bore center spacing and was angled 20 degrees to the right, two defining features that remained through to its successors (EA113 and EA888). The bore center spacing would later limit the diameter of the cylinders and subsequently the capacity, favouring torquey, vibration-prone, longstroke engines. As launched in 1972, it ended up having 1.3 – 1.5 liters but the engine block could still take this increase unmodified. In the Audi 80 B1/VW Passat B1 body, even the small EA827 pushed the radiator to the left.

Running a rubber belt for timing was still posing a problem in 1972. A lot of conflicting forces wear it out, and the fewer, the better. The first belt-driven car, the 1961 Glas 1004S did this by running auxiliaries like oil pump/gas pump/distributor directly from the crankshaft. Fiat, with its 1966 Twincam engine and Pontiac with the 1966 OHC Six choose to run an intermediate shaft of the timing belt for all the auxiliaries. It sounded complicated, but it worked. As Audi’s OHV engine already powered its oil pump and distributor through the camshaft in the block, they would use a similar setup in the new engine. VAG would produce belt driven engines with intermediate shafts through 2013, bringing joy to any owner whose timing belt snaps without reason. To be fair, most of the gas EA827 were non-interference engines, but the derived diesels weren’t.

Solving all of this problems, Audi’s brand new engine for 1972, was introduced in the Audi 80 and right into troubled times. The oil crisis was crippling the industry but VAG had problems of its own. Beetle sales were going down fast, the VW 411 was a flop to begin with and the adopted VW K70 from NSU proved to be a big disappointment, despite having the modern layout with a watercooled engine and FWD.

The EA827 came in 3 versions at launch, 1.3 55HP, 1.5 70HP and 1.5 85HP, with respective engine codenames ZA, ZB and ZC. Soon after, Audi and its engine proved it had the right package for the times. The engines were praised for being revy, economical and light. Together with light bodies they had good performance for the day, leaving even some 02 BMWs behind. The early 1.5s had a 76.5mm bore which remained in production in the 1.4 VW Citi Golf up to 2009.

To make sure the competition stayed behind, the EA827 got a big makeover already in the 1973 Audi 80 GT. The water channels between the cylinders were deleted and the bore was increased from 76.5mm to 79.5mm, making now 1.6 liters and 100HP (Codename XX). Together with the fuel injected 110HP 80 GTE (EG) these were the fastest Audis of their time. This engine also helped the Golf GTi define a new genre: the hot hatchback. In this application the induction was placed on the left because of the bulky airflowmeter. The surprising reliability of the new 1.6 version showed a sound engine block design.

This made the engineers dieselize it, launching the revy 50HP 1.5 Diesel in the VW Golf (Rabbit) in 1976. Yet another improvement that will sport a new generation of diesel cars in Europe.

Needles to say, the 1.6 replaced the 1.5 in its duties, powering a large array of midrange models throughout the late 1970s and 1980s usually making 70 – 85 HP, ending up even in the base Audi 100 C1 and C2. In the later, it even had room to spare, the radiator was finally in front of the engine!

Towards the end of the 1970s, VWs own smaller and cheaper engine EA801 was also growing and making inroads in the Golf and Passat, replacing the EA827 in the popular 1.3 displacement. If it was to survive, the EA827 had to grow.

The first measure was to stroke the 1.6 in 1978, resulting a new 1.7 engine, of 79.5mm bore (as in the 1.6) and a new 86,4mm stroke. The engine was made available first in the 4×4 VW Iltis. It was the first marriage between an EA827 and an early version of the quattro system. This engine also provided power for the 1978 Dodge Horizon, making 76HP.

In 1977 the 1.7 was developed into the EA828 2.1 liters 5 cylinder engine with 136HP, helping Audi become a premium brand quickly and cheaply through the 1980s. While the 5 cylinder version shared a lot of parts with the lowly 1.7, it didn’t have the heavy&bulky intermediate shaft. The four would lose its intermediate shaft only with the advent of the EA113 in 1994.

And there was a six cylinder version too; gasoline and diesel versions were used in VW’s LT light truck, and the diesel was used in Volvos. The gas versions were not common; here’s one from an LT.

In 1981, through new casting techniques the bore was increased to 81mm and combined with the 1.7’s crankshaft it made a new 1.8 liter engine. For better NVH, the piston rods were lengthened and the engine deck was heightened. The resulting engine, codename DD, was rated at only 75HP, presumably not to stress the thin cylinder walls too much. Testers found it rough at first, but NVH levels improved a lot through its production run. A faster version, launched in 1982, codename DX, produced 112 HP and powered the Golf I GTI, VW PASSAT 32i GT and Audi 80 B2. Together with the better insulated Golf II of 1984, it gave markedly better high speed cruising capabilities. With 112HP, the heavier Mk2 GTi was more a warm- than a hotperformer. A 16V head helped cure this, bumping power to 139HP (KR) in 1986. The timing belt conveyed motion only to one camshaft, while a small chain would power the second cam from the first one.

Later, the 1.8 was combined with a centrifugal supercharger to up the power to 160HP in the 1988 Corrado G60 (PG), as an 8v SOHC. Its healthy torque curve and virtually no throttle lag caused a sensation. This engine was later introduced in the Golf 2 sporting a host of limited editions. The Golf G60 Limited had, for example, AWD, DOHC and 210HP. Reliability problems with the supercharger shortened its production life considerably, being dropped by mid 1993.

The concept of having a softly charged engine with good torque throughout the rev range outlived the failure prone G60 and came around in the form of the influential 1994 1.8T. Technically belonging to the successors EA113 series, the first iteration of this engine was a curious mix of EA827 block with intermediate shaft but EA113 heads and auxiliaries. It was also the peak of EA827 career, as from here, the successor engine would gradually replace it in many models.

Back in the 1980s, the flexible 1.8 covered the ground from 75HP to 210HP, bringing you to 60 Mph in 17s if you were in the Audi 100 with 3+E gearbox or in 7,4s if you were sitting in the Golf G60 Limited, quite a stretch. As if that wasn’t enough, two 1.8 16V 139HP engines formed the basis of the first modern V8 of Audi, with, wait for it, 2 x 1.8 = 3.6 liters capacity and 250HP.

During the 1980s, the 1.6 also kept getting better. Especially NVH levels were improved for the 1.6 by strengthening the engine block where necessary against vibration (they learned a lot from the diesel versions). Gradually increasing the bore and reducing the stroke, gave the 1.6 an oversquare ratio in the 1983 MY (EZ). It now used the new 81mm bore from the 1.8. Of course, NVH levels were further lowered down the drivetrain by longerratio gearboxes and the mass introduction of the 5th gear.

The final EA827 incarnation pushed the limit of physics in every direction. Stretching the bore to 82,5mm, the thickness of the neighboring cylinder walls comes down to 5,5mm creating the 1.9 liter in the 1986 Audi 80 (SD). Later, in 1988, a new crankshaft + once again heightened engine block brings a monster stroke of 92,8mm, making for an undersquare 2.0 liter producing 112HP (codename 3A). Because of its awkward dimensions the base engine didn’t like to rev that much. A 16V head brings 136HP in the Passat B3 (9A) and Audi 80 B3, but higher revs make the engine loud and sound unsporty, especially in the Audi, whose body is prone to resonating. Furthermore, there are reports on excessive engine wear and high oil consumption. The 2.0 16V was definitely a step too far in 1988, but VW tries again 6 years later with the new Golf III GTi. The 2.0 liter comes with improved reliability and more power, 150HP to be exact (ABF).

The 1.8 & 2.0 DOHC 16V engines have a crossflow head and long intake runners for better midrange torque, giving the last major improvement to the EA827 series. This crossflow head eventually gets carried out on the smaller 1.6 in 1994 with 100HP (AEK) and variable intake runners (AFT) and the basic 1.8 & 2.0, albeit as cheaper 8V SOHC.

The EU emissions regulations are strengthening and the successor EA113 is already in production by 1994. The EA827 is set to die out in the old world together with the Golf Mk3 platform. Production ends in 1997 for the Mk3 hatch but the cabriolet is built through 2002. The 1.6 8V (AFT/AKS) and 1.8 8V (ADZ) are dropped in 2000. The related 2.0 8V version lasts longer, being the final EA827 on offer in the 2002 Golf IV Cabrio (ABA/AWG/AWF).

The final versions, especially the 1.8, took a back-to-the-basics approach, with a counterflow head, mechanical distributor ignition, 8 valve head and central fuel injection. As seen above, the white Golf 3 doesn’t look much different then the green Golf 1 under the hood. By 2002, the EA827 had been exactly 30 years in production, having fulfilled it’s mission to save VAG from bankruptcy and then some. In developing countries the engine survived a couple more years thanks to more relaxed emissions regulations.

In South Africa and Brazil it survived through 2009 in the VW Citi Golf (installed transversely as 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8) and in the VW Gol as seen above (installed lengthwise as 1.6 and 1.8 and still keeping the radiator to its left). In China, the 1.6 VW Santana ended production as late as 2013, finally bringing this engine’s story full circle, born, raised and killed off together with the B1/Bx platform of VAG.