Success: Is it something measured by popularity and profitability alone? Or is it something measured by innovation, inspiration, and ultimately, legacy? Furthermore, for something to achieve a lasting legacy, does it require an impeccable reputation, unscathed by any marks of negativity?
With production at over 830,000 units over the course of ten years, introducing advanced powertrain and forward-thinking drivetrain, and debuting trendsetting styling, the Audi C3 was by all means a highly successful and influential vehicle. But of course, with success comes haters. And the Audi C3 was not immune to an unscathed reputation, something its contemporary German competitors did not face, at least to the same degree.
Introduced as a 1982 model, the C3 was the third generation of Audi’s executive sized 100, which was also sold more premium 200, and badged as the 5000 in North America through the 1988, upon which it adopted the 100/200 model designations that were consistent with the European market.
Before delving into the C3’s many positive virtues, the elephant in the room must be addressed. As it’s been well documented here at Curbside Classic before, the 5000 is unfortunately highly memorable for a well-publicized and slanderous “unintended acceleration” scandal, largely the doings of the now infamous and very fabricated 60 Minutes story. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s extensive study concluded that it was ultimately driver error and not any mechanical or design defect which was responsible for “unintended acceleration-related accidents”, the damage had already been done.
With the model and brand’s reputation in the U.S. severely damaged, Audi sales continuously plummeted from a high of 74,061 units in 1985 to just 12,283 by 1991, or a decline of 83.5 percent. Sales of the initially popular C3 5000, which accounted for over 64 percent of U.S. Audi sales in 1985, saw a direct correlation in their sharp decline of 84.3 percent to just 7,497 total in 1991, by which point the car had been rebranded as the 100 and 200, in a failed attempt to disassociate the car with the controversy.
Due to this rather tragic debacle, the Audi 5000 is a model that tends to get swept under the rug as far as Audi history goes, at least in the U.S. This is unfortunate, as the Audi C3 was truly a trendsetting vehicle for its time, introducing a number of innovations and making inroads for both Audi and the appeal of larger German sedans for the upper-middle class masses in the U.S. Its influence can still be seen today in modern vehicles nearly 35 years later.
Without even scratching the surface, one will notice just how slick that surface is. At a time when sedans wore very boxy and upright styling wrapped in sheetmetal with a lot of angles and creases, and don’t even get me started on many American sedans with their vinyl roofs, opera windows, and other excessive prosthetics, the Audi C3 wore flush, aerodynamic sheetmetal with no major creases or character lines.
A large, airy greenhouse featured expansive glass area, with an expansive six-window design unusually featuring the rear quarter windows entirely aft of the rear doors. This is something which Audi sedans have retained through the present, and something which has become very common on cars in recent years.
Additionally, versus most contemporary sedans which featured nearly vertical side glass, windshields, and rooflines in comparison, the C3 sported sweeping, nearly 90-degree angle A- and C-pillars, as well as side glass that gently sloped inward from its base for a dramatic, almost space age look. Equally notable, much like its distant NSU Ro 80 ancestor, the C3 featured a C-pillar that wrapped inward at the base, adding some visual distinction from the simple lines of the body.
Most notably, side window glass was completely flush with the body. Combined with smoothly integrated body panels and bumpers for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, the C3 sedan achieved an ultra-low for the era drag coefficient of just 0.30.
From any angle, the design itself was striking, and still is even today. Versus its predecessor and its competitors, the Audi C3 exuded a look that was futuristic but done so in a tasteful enough manner that it still boasted very broad appeal to the masses. Equally appealing were the Audi’s proportions, its long and low hood, low beltlines, high deck, fast roofline, and wide stance contributing to an athletic look that was quite novel in a sedan for the time, largely contributing to the rise of the “sports sedan” genre of vehicles.
Unlike most competitors, the C3 eschewed the traditional wagon bodystyle, with its Avant version featuring a dramatic and rather Citroën-like roofline, vaguely predictive of modern Audis such as the A7 and A5 sportback.
But the Audi C3 wasn’t merely a sports sedan in appearance only. It had the performance credentials to back its looks. Apart from the 100’s base 1.8L inline-4 available only in Europe, the heart of the C3 100, 200, and 5000 Series’ was its inline-5 cylinder engines. Combined with the car’s ultra low coefficient of drag, the C3 was able to achieve both better acceleration and speed, and better fuel economy than most competitors.
The U.S. market naturally had fewer engine choices, but the 5000 always offered buyers with the choice of one naturally aspirated I5 and one turbocharged I5. Almost annually, both inline-5s received increases in both displacement and output. By this featured car’s 1987 model year, the base engine had gone grown from a 2.1L making 100 horsepower to a 2.3L making 130, and the turbo had grown from a 2.1L making 140 horsepower to a 2.2L producing 162 horsepower.
Diesel engines were also offered for the C3’s entire production run, though unlike the previous generation, were not made available to the U.S. market. The C3 100 was significant in premiering one of the world’s earliest and Volkswagen Group’s first direct-injection turbodiesel engine in 1990, making it the first vehicle to wear the now somewhat infamous “TDI” badge.
U.S.-market 5000s did not receive any of the European-spec 200’s higher output gasoline turbo engines either, with the notable exception of one. Featuring dual overhead cam design, four valves per cylinder, turbocharging, a reworked intercooler, and port injection, this special version of the 2.2L boasted a 9.3:1 compression ratio with 11.8 pounds of boost, and pumped out a very impressive for the era 217 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque.
The most powerful engine offered over the course of the C3’s production, it was available only in conjunction with Quattro all-wheel drive and a 5-speed manual, earning the model’s designation as the “200 Turbo Quattro 20V”. Achieving a zero-to-sixty time of 6.5 seconds, quicker than the Ford Taurus SHO, V8-powered Infinti Q45 and Mercedes 400 E (which would arrive in 1992), and within less than a second of the BMW M5.
On a design note, the 200 Turbo Quattro 20V was easily distinguished from other models by its flared front and rounded rear wheel arches versus other models’ flush front and flatter rear wheel openings. This design modification was necessitated by the Turbo Quattro 20V’s wider tire sizes and wider front and rear tracks.
Regarding Quattro, introduced on European models in 1985 and U.S. models in 1986, it should be noted that Audi was among the first of any manufacturer to offer full-time all-wheel drive in a production sedan. It was also the very first among premium brands to offer all-wheel drive in its midsize sedan, something that preceded the all-wheel drive craze in luxury sedans by nearly three decades. In the C3, all Quattro-equipped vehicles sent 50 percent of torque to each transaxle via an intelligent torque-sensing differential, but could send up to 75 percent of torque to the transaxle with most traction.
As for our featured 1987 model, it’s a top-spec 5000 CS Quattro, featuring the 2.2L turbo inline-5 making 158 horsepower and 166 lb-ft torque, along with a few tasteful modifications including taillight clusters from the related Audi V8, Euro-spec headlight assembly, and aftermarket rims that work rather nicely. The top-of-the-line 5000 variant for the 1987 model year, this car carried an original MSRP of $26,640, which translates to $57,830 in 10/2017 USD, which is within $1,000 of MSRP for a 2018 Audi A6 Quattro with the larger 3.0L I6 — how’s that for consistency?
Even at a decade old by the time production ended in 1991, the C3 remained a highly competitive, appealing, and polarizing midsize luxury sedan in the face of its competitors from BMW, Mercedes, Saab, Volvo, and now Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus. Its successor, the C4 Audi 100, was not an entirely new vehicle, but a heavily reengineered and restyled C3, retaining its predecessor’s radical-for-the-times greenhouse.
With its advanced engines that maximized both power and efficiency, pioneering all-wheel drive, and trendsetting design, the Audi C3 100/200/5000 was truly a revolutionary vehicle, that above all, looked like no other vehicle on the market at the time. As a whole, it largely set the mold for sedans that would arrive in immediately ensuing years, and its influence can still be seen in vehicles of the present day. You might just call it, a “runaway success”.
Featured 1987 Audi 5000 CS Quattro photographed at Porsche Westwood in Westwood, Massachusetts – October 2017
1991 Audi 200 Avant Quattro 20V
The Audi 5000 Unintended Acceleration Debacle
This NSU Ro80 inheritor is one of those cars which looks best in stripper form (the third picture) and more notably, much better thus in the real world than any photo, where they can look bland. Personally, I reckon it is a stunner, even now. But I also think a lot of folk would just see a Slightly Uninteresting Car, even then. Let alone now.
A friend had one 15 years back, and it sticks in my mind as one of the nicest cars I’d yet driven. Speed, silence, economy, ride, room, real-world handling, seats, it felt well in advance of the cars of 2002-odd. Only irritation was the idle of that five, which vibrated.
60 Minutes didn’t need to feed every nutjob media conspiracy theorist by inventing that acceleration nonsense, if my friends car was any guide. It was perhaps 8 years old, low mileage, and immaculately serviced – and still about as robust as a consumptive poet.
A really lovely, rather useless pretty thing, as too many VW/Audi products have proven to be.
Now there’s your story, 60 Minutes.
“About as robust as a consumptive poet”! +1
“and more notably, much better thus in the real world than any photo, where they can look bland.”
Excellent point. Looking as the photos here, I was having trouble justifying my admiration for these in the 1980s.
In the US domestic oriented part of the country where I live, these cars seemed remarkably common amidst the Cutlasses, Caprices, Celebritys and Citations. It may have just been the striking design standing out that I had to concede looked very good while also progressive. For me, the car, especially in lighter colors, also seemed larger than it probably is. The long simple lines are likely part of that.
The wheels are wrong, but otherwise this photo does the car some justice, and is the color that I recall seemingly everyone of these wearing…
I was thinking the same thing: why am I not as impressed now as I was then? Then think about what they were parked next to in 1981 when they came out! Context is everything. These looked light years more modern back then than anything else on the road in Michigan where I grew up. Now they have 4 decades of subsequent cars to compete with in our car-guy minds. Think about all of the cars that came afterward that they inspired…
I agree that this was a landmark car, though it inadvertently highlighted two unfortunate trends that are still with us today.
One is the tyranny of aerodynamic design. This look was indeed radical when it appeared in the early 1980s, and was fresh and trendsetting. But where do you go from there? In the 30+ years since the 5000 appeared, Audi is still serving up 6-window greenhouses on the same basic shape, except now the cars are puffed up with aggressive character lines and oversized grilles. No one would say that current Audis look fresh and trendsetting–seemingly only ever painted gray or black, now they are the epitome of upscale automotive conformity.
The other trend was not Audi’s issue at all, though it nearly killed them stateside: fake news. The whole unintended acceleration debacle was (and is) a disgraceful indictment of unscrupulous “journalists” putting out a sensationalistic story to drive ratings, truth be damned.
That term, “fake news”, churns my guts now. Yet you’re right. The damage such foolishness has done over time, the size of the own-goal! “Unscrupulous” and “disgraceful” barely does it. It has meant….well, certain political results, but respectfully relevant to the interests of this site, it has meant, for example, that the genuine corporate scandal of VW recently was revealed by hard-grafting science researchers and not the newspeople.
As for styling, the elegant original 100 is uniquely square and round in a way I haven’t seen before or since, however I do get your point about uniformity from wind tunnels. Perhaps, ultimately, physics trumps(!) art.
Fake news rarely means things that are completely untrue; it was driver error on the Audi because Americans weren’t used to European pedal arrangements; a grain of truth to turn into a sensational and largely false story.
The VW story is also largely false. The specific issues surrounding VWs are basically true; the rest of diesel gate is hogwash resulting from lazy regulators not bothering to read the emission controls documentation and approving them anyway. The only actual deceptive cheater was VW; MB disclosed its low temperature shut down, and it was approved, for instance.
For that matter, a story on DW-News said that while diesel powered German cars that were tested emitted SIX times the allowed nitrous oxide, French cars produced TWENTY TWO times the permitted oxides of nitrogen, so German cars weren’t nearly as gross at pollution as French diesel cars.
As someone who’s been a regular user of snopes.com since the early 2000s, the thing that really grinds my gears is when people misuse the term “fake news”. Fake news does mean things that are completely untrue, or at least it should, except that a certain person had been using the term to refer to things that are not fake and has muddied the waters as to what it actually means.
What fake news is: There’s a trend that started several years ago where some unscrupulous person puts up a web site that mimics the appearance of an actual news site, writes some completely fabricated stories designed to get lots of shares on social media and make some easy money from ad revenue. If confronted about the completely made up stories they’ll usually claim the stories are “satire” even though there’s nothing really satirical about them. That is fake news.
What fake news is NOT: A story based on a nugget of truth that’s exaggerated and highly sensationalized is not fake news. It may be bad reporting, but that’s not the same thing as fake news. A story that takes a kernel of truth and spins it in a highly partisan way to support a particular agenda is just that, a highly partisan story, but that is not fake news.
This article explains the difference between fake news and bad reporting: http://www.snopes.com/2016/11/17/we-have-a-bad-news-problem-not-a-fake-news-problem/
Thanks for this. I’ve been guilty of using the term incorrectly myself, because it’s easy, but it often isn’t really correct.
Yes, there’s a big difference between the two.
The term fake news seems to get particularly muddled when sensational news outlets began useing that term themselves. It’s turned into an all encompassing buzzword. Much like how any and all real or alleged scandels get called “______gate”.
Guilty as charged–thanks for the clarification. In this case, 60 Minutes served up badly distorted news, and the net effect was building a deceptive storyline that was badly damaging to Audi.
I also think that Audi’s response was a PR blunder, at least in terms of modern expectations that the first reaction to any “crisis” should be ceaseless apologies and promises to “act quickly to solve this dreadful issue.” In the unintended acceleration case, Audi took a pragmatic, factual approach (that it was not possible, and it must have been caused by pedal misapplication) that while correct, fanned the flames and came across as blaming the victim. Great for ratings! But bad for reality…
GM learned the lesson well, however. A few years after the 60 Minutes hatchet job on Audi, NBC’s Dateline aired a sensationalistic–and rigged–report indicating that GM pick-up trucks with side-saddle gas tanks were fiery death traps. GM aggressively challenged the veracity of the story, and wound up suing NBC, and winning, when the level of the report’s deception came to light.
In response to XR7Matt:
That was indeed part of the problem. For years the only people who were talking about fake news were sites like snopes who were trying to debunk the stuff. Then all of a sudden about a month before the election last year all the major news outlets started reporting on “fake news” — and most of them got it wrong!
Fame news was not created by 60 Minutes. Proof:
“You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” William Randolph Hurst, on the Spanish American War.
Seriously, fake news came out when the printing press invented the idea of making money for supplying it.
Totally agree that fake news is as old as journalism itself. However, I think what was insidious about 60 Minutes was the fact that as the crown jewel of the “Tiffany Network,” (the long-running nickname for CBS to denote its high quality), the program was perceived as offering journalistic integrity and it was one of the top rated shows America in the 1980s. Therefore, many people were influenced by the program and trusted the content, which turned out to be misplaced in the case of the Audi story. While the newspaper barons of a bygone age (Hearst, Pulitzer) were unabashed in their use of “yellow journalism” (tabloid stories and/or fake news), 60 Minutes had appeared to be above that.
The Audi report was not the first of this genre or the last. I remember an earlier one on the danger of the Jeep Dispatcher (the postal Jeep) that people used to buy at Postal Service auctions. Well of course it was dangerous – it had no crash safety equipment and was tall, so if you tried driving it like a Camaro bad things were likely to happen. It might have been 20/20 (I no longer remember) but it was a terribly manipulative, one-sided bit of “journalism” that made no effort at balance.
The more famous one was of course the bit on the sidesaddle gas tanks of the 1970s GM pickup trucks. An attorney in Indianapolis did the digging to prove that the “news” crew had rigged the tank to explode on impact because they couldn’t get one to blow up on camera by just running a car into it.
In between “fake” news, distorted news, and the truth is corporate or NGO PR passed off as news stories. While these may not be untrue, they are often not the sort of thing the majority of readers would really care about. This is an application of Edward Bernay’s thesis in his sinister 1928 essay “Propaganda”: Interested parties telling the public what they should think or know about. It can be found online now.
In addition, the press often gets their facts wrong even in relatively uncontroversial stories, probably due to haste and lack of diligence.
You highlight a major point, one which has always represented an internal sort of dichotomy regarding my feelings of the Audi brand: adhering to exceedingly evolutionary styling and essentially the same design language since the C3 100.
On the one hand, it’s always been an attractive design language. There’s a simple kind of elegance to it that few competitors have been able to imitate, with none of the “look at me” styling elements that competitors always must keep adding. Audi also has done really well keeping the look contemporary through the years with tasteful revisions.
Yet on the other hand, the obvious. It is very little-changed from the 1980s. The greenhouse, especially hasn’t changed on A6s and A4s since the 1990s. While attractive, Audi’s designs take few risks and don’t offer the same level of excitement as competitors.
Audi sedans are like supermodels from the 1980s. Apart from a few little nip-tucks and facelifts here and there, they largely have the same look as they did three decades ago.
“…now they are the epitome of upscale automotive conformity.”
For about the last decade, I’ve been trying to pinpoint just why Audi went from being my favorite premium brand in the 1980s/90s to my least favorite today. This phrase sums it up perfectly.
I’ve been trying to figure out the same but think it’s more to do with the fact that Audis used to be at the forefront of technology (or at least early proponents of), i.e. Front Wheel Drive, turbocharging, then Quattro, and the people that purchased them were looking (or liking) something a little off-beat and could appreciate the technology for its own sake.
Then Audi (or at least AoA) started chasing growth for growth’s sake and somehow became “fashionable” – it’s similar to what happened to BMW about a decade earlier. I’m not saying that both brands don’t make terrific vehicles, I just don’t/can’t particularly buy into the image part anymore. Maybe this has to do with aging/maturing or just being more cynical than ever, I don’t know.
In Audi’s case, they went from making a fantastic rally car (yes I know there was much more history before that and that while the Quattro had successes it wasn’t quite as dominant for as long as you’d think) to translating that successful technology to the street and then for a long span pretty much disavowed and ignored the genesis of that (The original Quattro) to the point that many parts for it became NLA (and still are) until they realized very belatedly that those racing successes could be marketing gold (but still don’t really support the car which is the ONE car that Audi has ever built that is steadily and significantly climbing in value).
Contrast that with BMW and Mercedes – BMW built a 2002 a few years ago from scratch entirely from the spare parts catalog, i.e. nothing is NLA, and Mercedes will happily sell you any part their ever made even if they have to recreate it (at a cost, mind you). Nevertheless, the factory support for the heritage is there and never went away.
Then in the 1990’s and early 2000’s as SUV’s were taking off Audi took a big stand and pretty much publicly declared that there is no way they will follow that trend (remember the ads mocking the high-heeled lady climbing down from her SUV?) and that AWD Wagons is where it’s at. Sure enough, here we are today and their CUV line is the largest driver of their profits/success and their only wagon is the lifted Allroad (which is outsold at least 10:1 by the Q5. Don’t get me started on the Q3, a lifted prior generation VW Golf at heart, which is just as bad as an Ultimate Driving Machine BMW X1…
I get it, they are in business to make money and they are surely doing so without owing me anything. I like driving their cars. But I’m no longer the rabid fan I used to be even a few years ago.
Yup; The world has changed and you’re getting old. 🙂
“Tyranny of aerodynamic design”
You say that as if aerodynamic design was the equivalent of opera windows and padded roofs, a design fad. Let’s remember that aerodynamics is one of the key breakthrough in the constant improvement of automotive efficiency. That’s why Ferdinand Piech went to such extremes to develop a roomy and practical sedan with stellar aerodynamics. And the rest of the industry had no choice.
Clearly, there are a number of stylistic approaches to highly aerodynamic shapes, but certain basic aspects are inevitable. The Audi showed one specific way; the Mercedes W124 a few years later showed that it could be done with different design aspects, but the key aspects, including tapered body (in plan view), flush glass, sloping rear window and high tail are inevitably part of an aerodynamic design.
How would you like Audi to look “fresh”? Build a boxy brougham? Seriously; cars are converging towards ever more aerodynamic shapes, out of necessity, which essentially makes “fresh” impossible.
I’m sorry you’re tired of it, but if you can suggest what a “fresh” design would look like and meet the efficiency requirements of the modern world as it is, not as we would like to imagine it, please suggest away.
I for one respect Audi for sticking to their clean and distinctive design language continuously for all these years, unlike other companies. Consider the alternative: all the past many generations of the Chevrolet Malibu, going backwards from the current one for a couple of decades. Zero design continuity. Meaning zero design equity. The Malibu has to convince folks it looks attractive from scratch with each generation. And although the current one looks pretty good, it’s still not competing successfully.
Here’s the bottom line: Audi’s slow but inexorable rise from humble beginnings to compete mano-a-mano against MBZ and BMW , and enjoy essentially comparable brand status globally is little short of miraculous. As has been their recovery in the US. And I attribute their design continuity to be a key part of that.
Just like everyone instantly recognizes a Hermes scarf of Gucci bag, so does one recognize an Audi. Which is more than I can say about many of the competition.
All this means nothing to me personally, as I long gave up any interest in these kinds/brands of cars, but just saying…
“One is the tyranny of aerodynamic design. This look was indeed radical when it appeared in the early 1980s, and was fresh and trendsetting. But where do you go from there?”
In a word; nowhere.
I didn’t take his comment necessarily as a fad, but more encompassing. That “tyranny,” regardless of whether one agrees with the choice of word, is real. It’s codified in US CAFE laws and to a degree European car / pedestrian crash standards. Even if the future brings cheap to run water spewing hydrogen cars, it would still be unlawful to 3-D print the front clip of a 1967 Cadillac onto the front of that car, what with its pointy W prow and sharply hooded headlights.
It’s not “codified in US CAFE laws” or pedestrian standards. You can meet the CAFE laws with whatever you want; they apply to your overall corporate efficiency. Which means boxy cars like my xB were sold here recently.
And just look at trucks; you think the CAFE laws mandate the front of an Escalade or F150? Or the Jeep Wrangler. Or… They’re somewhat the equivalent of a modern interpretation of a ’67 Cadillac front end. Which you could still build, if it was made from the right (soft) materials. But that’s not the real point, though, is it?
Indirectly codified, of course. As long as mass market manufacturers are beholden to the internal combustion gas engine as we know it, and pedestrian safety standards are in place, certain basic design elements, with varying widths and heights, are inevitable.
I look at trucks daily, starting with a walk down the garage steps to my F-150. The basic rounded front, with the bumper ends tapering back 6 inches, generally smooth with little third dimension sculpting, and the top of the front tapering back is the face of modern vehicles.
In the picture below, change the height / width ratio of the clear headlight lenses on my truck and you have an Escalade. Change the height and width, and you have a 1987 Audi. Square it out slightly and it’s your Scion. The design is a compromise for pedestrian safety and smooth air flow.
My truck just fits between a utility chase and a staircase due to its very tapered front, the old school Cadillac, as its shadow makes clear, never would. The Cadillac’s six-pointed multi-dimensional air and people catching front is nowhere close to coming back with current regulations on the books – and unlike my F-150, won’t be confused with an Escalade anytime soon 🙂
Point taken. The ’67 Caddy front end is not going to be reprised. Thankfully. 🙂
Come on Paul, you know I am not part of the die-hard brougham brigade on here. And I am a firm believer in design equity. And I certainly understand and appreciate the importance of modern aerodynamics. But that doesn’t mean the only available style options are Porsche 911 stasis or “brougham.”
My point is that Audi’s looks are no longer cutting edge. They were in the early 1980s, they are not now. I will grant you that Audi did evolve the looks nicely for many years, which enabled them to regain footing especially in the U.S. But I think they are now trapped in an aerodynamic “box” of their own making.
There have been plenty of aerodynamic designs that were, well, dynamic since the Audi first appeared. Mercedes-Benz is a case in point: the S-Class continues to be unmistakable, and very aerodynamic, through succeeding generations. You may not love them all (I don’t) but they all had presence, they all were clearly from MB, and each generation looked fresh and different from their predecessors.
Audi’s style of aero has also become the default cop-out look for many cars, which is arguably laziness on the part of designers more than anything else. J Mays famously quipped that he was glad that people thought the Ford 500 greenhouse looked exactly like an Audi’s. It’s a very easy look to copy, and it can be couched as aerodynamically “efficient” and “necessary.” But it becomes boring in the process.
The VW group is ultra conservative with its core products. I personally like the Golf, but “yawn.” It is a consistently good car, but not even close to being an innovative style leader. Neither is Audi. For a volume product (in Europe anyway) with a conservative clientele, the Golf makes sense. For an aspirational luxury product, I think Audi should mix it up a bit.
I also would highlight Peter Schreyer’s work. An accomplished designer from Audi (the TT is credited to him), he certainly understood how to work with Audi’s forms. But he has really blossomed post-Audi, and his work for Hyundai/Kia has been impressive. And all those cars are aerodynamic. Kia in particular is building design equity between generations and model families. But each new car looks different and fresh. Can you say the same of recent Audi products? Do people think of Audi as innovative anymore? Or is Audi now just a maker of really nice cars (or increasingly SUVs) with really nice interiors and very, very “safe” and “familiar” designs?
My point is that Audi’s looks are no longer cutting edge.
Of course not. In a world of boxy broughams, it was relatively easy to look cutting edge with the C3.
So what is “cutting edge” now?
I find it curious because almost everyone here rags on endlessly about how much they dislike most new car designs. They’re obviously a conservative bunch. And Audi design has been relatively conservative. Yet now they get ragged on for not being “cutting edge”?
Do people think of Audi as innovative anymore?
None of the existing luxury brands are innovative. One innovates when one is desperate to break into a segment of the market, and has little to lose. We’ve covered this issue repeatedly here. Like Ford’s aero gamble in ’83 and ’85 with the Tbird and Taurus. Ford was desperate; but once they had success with it, they stopped innovating. This happens to almost all companies; it’s a well documented phenomena. There’s too much to lose in innovating, if you’re already successful.
The only innovative car company is Tesla. Not so much in their design, which is really just another evolution of the C3 design, but because of everything else; much more than just being EVs. It’s their whole approach to every aspect of the business. Now that may involve some pain along the way, and may ultimately involve some serious stumbles or even a degree of failure, but watching them do things so differently is a genuine treat to me, since I’m rather utterly bored with the whole rest of the car industry.
People like Ferdinand Piech and Elon Musk don’t come along every day, for better or for worse. But watching them in real-time action is fantastic. I intensely followed Piech then, like I follow Musk now.
In comparison, almost everything else in the industry is something of a slow-motion me-too bore.
I think innovation is way too high of a bar to set when it comes to aesthetics. The 1980s was sort of a renaissance of technologies like FWD, AWD, Turbocharging, DOHC, ABS, airbags and of course aerodynamics, after the rather stale 70s(where much of this stuff existed, but only in more exotic forms), and since then those technologies have set in and become more and more refined as they are to the point they are today.
The technology and cars then truly are better than ever, but again, very little new technology was actually invented since the end of the brougham era, what was new was new to mass production cars that the middle class could afford, and being middle class in America(who these European brands began consciously chasing), they were programmed for decades to embrace every yearly aesthetic update, and that same demand spilled into the substanative advances. It’s no surprise to see a “what have you done for me lately” sentiment for new cars and matured technology because we still have that desire for regular updates, mixed in with the technological ones, which are a lot harder to come up with than pure aesthetics.
I think aesthetics is something automakers are afraid to deviate too far away from lest they be seen as technologically regressive, not having a new model with a smaller coefficient of drag decimal than the outgoing model on the stats. People do complain about the more out there modern designs while seemingly contradictory complaining about stale ones, yes. But the out there designs are mostly reserved for grilles lights, DLOs and some surface creases on what are wholly conventional aerodynamic body shapes.
Perhaps we are once again in a new version of 1960 where nobody is yet clear on what the next big thing will be. The current trends appear to be pretty played out given the lazy use of goofy creases and outrageous grilles and C pillars. Something new will be along and I would guess it won’t be long. But don’t ask me what.
When do I say I dislike all new car designs? I do think some are bad (overzealous Japanese over-styling) and some are boringly static (current Audi), but there are plenty of good ones, including the S-Class, most Kia products, Range Rovers, Porsche Macan, Ford Mustang… I could go on and on. Several of these, like the Porsche, are definitely seen as cutting edge and trendy. And frankly the whole notion of an SUV from a dedicated sports car company was a pretty bold bet back when the Cayenne was introduced. But it paid off handsomely. The Bangle/iDrive era at BMW was also pretty innovative, albeit divisive. Yes, the luxury class has grown very conservative of late, with rare exceptions like the i3 interior and BMW’s extensive use of carbon fiber, but is it a lull, or the complete end of all automotive innovation except from Tesla? I think not.
Likewise, I think there are also plenty of ways to do fresh designs that are still reasonably aerodynamically efficient. For example, the square cut 2005 Chrysler 300 with the gunslit windows and ample swagger had a drag coefficient of .33, compared to .31 for the ultra-swoopy LH-body 2004 300M (source: Allpar). So yeah, the 2005 300 was “worse” aerodynamically, but not by that much. And it didn’t matter, because it was still efficient enough and the car introduced a whole new design language that was new and polarizing at the time, looking nothing like an ’84 Audi 5000 nor an ’84 Chrysler 5th Avenue (though it had more in common with the latter and was a 21st Century interpretation of the “big American sedan”). In a sea of aero-blobs, the ’05 300 certainly stood out, and things like the exaggerated contours and truncated greenhouse became fashionable across a spectrum of products, though the look is now past its prime.
I think companies like Toyota have proven the most effective long-term model for the car business: steady, incremental improvement that cost-effectively meets the needs of the majority of customers and focuses on keeping products up-to-date and occasionally ahead-of-the-curve. Toyota certainly popularized the Hybrid and brought it mainstream, and that was pretty innovative. And the Prius arrived at a time when Toyota was no way in trouble as a company. Sure, the bloom is off the hybrid rose now (and Toyota is letting it get stale). Plus the current obsession is “pure” EVs with Tesla being the trendiest, coolest, “best-est” company ever. We’ll see, but without a doubt I will give Tesla credit for outsized PR and creating a rabid fan base.
I do agree that the industry could use some shaking up, both from a design standpoint as well as with the vehicle ownership business model that has been prevalent for 100 years. But I stand by my assessment that Audi design has gotten stale and the company has lost its mojo as an “innovator” (a reputation it held for years, whether or not the products were actually innovative).
Matt; Agreed. It’s a mature industry with mature technology. The only areas that are really new/innovative now is in the field of electric propulsion and autonomous technology, regardless how you feel about them. Which is why they interest me; it’s new stuff, not the same-old same-old.
And most folks’ interests in mainstream cars reflects that. Does anyone really care what a car’s Cd is these days? Or if it has 20 or 40 more hp?
I suppose some do, and I’m undoubtedly reflecting my own interests, and the lack of them.
GN: For example, the square cut 2005 Chrysler 300 with the gunslit windows and ample swagger had a drag coefficient of .33, compared to .31 for the ultra-swoopy LH-body 2004 300M
That’s actually an example of continuous aerodynamic technology improvements. That would not have been possible, realistically, ten years earlier. Improvements on other aspects of aerodynamics (engine room and underfloor air flow management, etc) allow vehicle shapes to look less blatantly aerodynamic than one might expect.
but is it a lull, or the complete end of all automotive innovation except from Tesla?
Based on all their ambitious EV program announcements recently, it would pear to be a lull of sorts. But all of that is in response to Tesla. A lot like all the C3’s aero look being adopted by everyone else shortly thereafter. But imitation isn’t the same as innovation. And in all of their EV programs, I see mostly Tesla imitation, not innovation.
But it’s a lot like the C3 in the first place. Once someone has disrupted a place with a new technology, it’s hard for anyone else to do it too or again.
Agreed about Toyota’s gamble with the Prius. That was initiated by another single person, Eiji Toyoda. It made Toyota the darling of the green car crowd. And they’ve utterly thrown that mantle away by not embracing the next thing: EVs. I’ve rarely see a company throw away so much brand/image equity as Toyota has for being so late to the EV party.
We’ll see, but without a doubt I will give Tesla credit for outsized PR and creating a rabid fan base.
So they don’t get any credit for actually building the first practical mass-produced long-range high-performance EVs? It’s not exactly just hype and vaporware anymore; the Model S came out five years ago.
This statement sums up my issue with Audi design:
Improvements on other aspects of aerodynamics (engine room and underfloor air flow management, etc) allow vehicle shapes to look less blatantly aerodynamic than one might expect.
Audi can and should evolve their styling from the now very bland–and very copied–6 window greenhouse, flowing rear window, high/short deck look that typified early aerodynamic efforts and has continued more or less unchanged for years and years.
While you can bash Chrysler for swinging from the LH cars to the RWD 300, they were all distinctive American designs that did not look like “international” generic aero cars, but they were reasonably aerodynamically efficient, though not class leaders. Yes, the designs aged, but over a decade. But park the last 3 generations of Audi A6 side-by-side and see how similar the basic design language is over that time span. Try the same with the last 3 generations of the MB E-Class: the cars all look like Mercedes, but are clearly from different eras and the designs have progressed pretty dramatically.
So that’s what I meant by the “tyranny of aerodynamic design.” Lazy stylists use it as an excuse to crank out unexceptional designs because “they need to do well in a wind tunnel” and maintain “visual identity” when in reality there are multiple ways to create visual interest while still being slick and modern.
So that’s what I meant by the “tyranny of aerodynamic design.” Lazy stylists use it as an excuse to crank out unexceptional designs because “they need to do well in a wind tunnel” and maintain “visual identity” when in reality there are multiple ways to create visual interest while still being slick and modern.
It’s not, though. I assure you the Audi designers are not sticking conservatively with their well-established design language because of aerodynamics. They don’t have to, and they know as well as anyone they don’t.
They’re choosing to stick with a conservative evolution of their very well established design. For better or for worse. Frankly, for the most part it (obviously) suits me better than the endless design gimmicks on lots of other brands. That may well be my Germanic background. At least I know what I’m looking at when I see an Audi; I can’t say that for some other brands, I’m almost embarrassed to say.
Frankly, it would be hard to imagine an abrupt change of design direction at Audi like Chrysler did from the LH to the LX. But if Audi’s market share falters, I’m sure they will reconsider their design strategy. But last time I checked, they’re still doing pretty well, globally.
I think you’re right about car design as a whole but the criticism is off base for Audi. I think American brands are the ones whose venture into aerodynamic design was forced due to industry trends, Ford being a notable exception during the 1980s. I do find it a shame in those cases because even if US cars were conventional and sometimes archaic from a technology standpoint, the styling alone could make the cars appealing, and that was really the modus operandi of the industry, and it worked very well for them and the buying public until the technological knuckle dragging became too untenable to ignore, and design studios needed to play second fiddle to engineering. For US brands interesting styling is the historical tradition of them, not bound by any pressures dictating rooflines, trunk heights, wheelbases and overhangs, but unfortunately even with very up to date mechanicals and beneficial to styling underbody aerodynamics, as Paul mentioned, the design studios have long since settled into the habit of using tracing paper for their designs to simply be relevant.
Audi, and stereotypically German brands in general, were driven by engineering first, it’s the natural identity for them, and powertrain configurations matched – there are exceptions but traditionally longitudinal front engine RWD = BMW and Mercedes Benz, rear engine RWD = Porsche(and pre-Golf VW), Transverse front engine FWD = VW, and longitudinal front engine FWD/AWD”Quattro” = Audi – Styling has been purposely evolutionary to match the evolution of the underpinnings. Course BMW decided to get “daring” with Chris Bangle, but that proves the point that they should stick with their traditions, just as Audi has.
Audi’s new A7 Sportback just revealed, with “new dynamic sporty face of the brand”. Is this better?
And the view from the rear.
While the last one was very nice, this one is only slightly different (as usual) but the rear looks higher than before which (to me) is an improvement. The wheels look even larger than before which is probably unnecessary but will make those with smaller wheels look worse.
However, I’d likely be a bigger fan if they made a wagon of it as well. Porsche did it with the Panamera…
Aerodynamic designs don’t have to be bland. Just look at the first generation Chrysler LH models. Especially the New Yorker and LHS.
And where are they now? Their design was flash-in-the pan, with no lasting qualities, unlike Audi’s.
Yup! And what did Chrysler do after a decade of those jellybean-shaped, front-wheel drive, V6 LHs?… go right back to very boxy, rear-wheel drive LXs with available V8 power. The LH was a noteworthy design, but ultimately just a fad.
Or perhaps it was a case of no other company having the guts to follow Chrysler’s lead. Chrysler was a styling leader in the 90’s, and the second generation LH was an impressive design as well. I remember Car & Driver running a photo of the 1998 Concorde on a cover with the caption “No, this is not a show car”. The last LH design , the 300M, was produced in 2004.
I agree that this car was startlingly modern when it came out. Was this the last really fresh new beginning of a basic styling trend we have seen? Also, this car was right out of the “loads of black plastic trim” school of design that I didn’t like then and don’t like now.
I always thought that these were quite pricey for what you got. A 100 horsepower 5 cylinder? The VW GTI got the same output out of 4 cylinders and did it for less than half the price (And nobody would have called the GTI inexpensive). Yes, the VW was in an entirely different class, but 100 horsepower in a car of this size was something less than special. These seemed to sell on style (and German-ness) more than anything else.
I also recall that these followed that hallowed Audi tradition of being very expensive to keep on the road. I guess I’m Mr. Negative today.
They were a lot cheaper than a 65 hp Mercedes 240D. 🙂
Which was precisely why they were so popular; they offered the German sedan/prestige experience for quite a bit less money.
I owned one of these…black ’91 100s Quattro. Built like a tank, black with gray leather, inline 5 with 5 speed, slower than it should have been and worse fuel economy than the BMW 528e that I owned prior to that. It even had a button on the center console to lock the differentials.
NO room under the hood to work on it but a pretty car.
The joke on the Audi I-5 forums was…
The power of a 4 cylinder with the fuel economy of a 6.
Respecting its influence and disregarding the unintended acceleration thing, I’m thoroughly unmoved by the C3. The styling is clean but utterly bland. Only the Turbo quattro 20V adds a hint of character, like your extremely stolid coworker rolling up his sleeves to reveal he’s actually muscled like John Cena. Nothing about its looks, interior, specs, or performance was intriguing other than quattro, whose weight exacerbated the underpowered normally aspirated engines, at least in U.S. spec. It didn’t help that U.S. cars were very pricey and had an “expensive hanger queen” reputation.
I’ve been accused of liking some really boring cars, but the appeal of the C3 is lost on me.
Great piece, Brendan (and the title made me laugh).
My take: in 2017, it’s really hard to remember just how groundbreaking and impactful the styling of these cars was when they were new. It’s only in contrast against the current crop of cars with their jigsaw / buzzsaw styling that this generation of 5000 looks the least bit dated – to me, anyway.
As for my favorite Audi sedan design, it would be the C5 generation that came out in ’98 – a high-water mark.
Sidebar: I like that “outtie 5000” is still in use today as slang for getting the heck out of Dodge City.
Its influence was massive and lasting.
Agreed, the C5 was a gem.
Thank Joe! I agree about the C5. It was probably the most revolutionary restyle in the 100/A6’s lifespan, and I still find them to be among the most timeless of all Audi designs. It’s certainly held up a lot better than the Mercedes W210 E-Class.
Glad to see one still rolling, and I can appreciate these would’ve looked pretty damn impressive in 1983.
Alas, Audis rarely interest me. Once in a while, an Audi almost breaks through and grabs my attention – first S8, RS4, ’97 A6, current A3 sedan – and I genuinely lust after the Audi R8. But everything else? Meh. BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes just appeal to me a lot more. Maybe it’s the fact I appreciate a balanced RWD platform over a FWD-derived AWD powetrain. Doesn’t help that Audi has been retreading the same design language for decades now. They’ve managed to steadily grow and grow until, to many, they’re seen as being on the same level as BMW and Mercedes. Personally, I don’t get it.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that Audis don’t interest me, but I do agree with most of your reasons for it. From a handing standpoint, I can attest that Audi’s FWD-derived AWD doesn’t offer the same feel at BMW’s and Mercedes’ RWD-derived AWD.
The front-wheel drive basis is very clearly felt in all Audis I’ve driven. That said, they still can be very fun to drive in their own right, especially in stick, and what Audi lacks in advancement in exterior design, it usually makes up for in its high-quality and beautiful interiors (except in the TT).
I think that statement can unintentionally be taken as a little misleading – Audi’s Quattro system hasn’t historically been FWD derived the way that a Highlander or CRV is – i.e. it’s not a FWD-based system that then moves some of the power to the back as/when needed.
The cars themselves were/are FWD based insomuch as their chassis usually start(ed) as a FWD car and then full time AWD is added.
Also, every generation of Quattro has had some major differences. The earliest cars had a 50/50 split without ANY deviation possible. The earliest cars also had a manually lockable center differential. These are the ones that are the most “hallowed”, 4000Q, 5000Q, QuattroTurbo up until about 1987 or so. Absolute beasts in the snow or mud assuming proper tires. While front heavy, it is extremely easy to induce oversteer, and plenty of it, and very controllable too, in the right conditions.
Then the Torsen diff was introduced allowing some movement of power, between 67-80% depending on the car front to back). And some cars still allowed manual (electronic) locking of the rear diff side to side up until the mid ’90’s. Torsen diffs specifically also mechanically vary the torque split while turning, so this is one of the systems where AWD DOES have an advantage while turning as opposed to what many believe, in that it helps keep one axle from breaking loose without the other as long as one is in gear. This also allows some fantastic 4-wheel driftery.
The TT, being Golf based and transverse, started out with the Haldex system, and generally is not considered as strong as the regular system in use at the same time.
And it went on from there. The two newest systems/concepts are current opposites of each other where-in the sporty cars actually have a built in rearward bias but “Quattro Ultra” is a total sellout to what Quattro used to be by really being a FWD slip and grip system with FWD being the default mode in order to promote higher fuel economy. But the average owner has no clue anymore. Just like many BMW owners don’t know (or care) if their car is FWD or RWD.
Most Audis (at least the longitudinally oriented engined ones) have been front heavy with most of the engine hanging in front of the front axle. This definitely affects the feel. However drivers to get used to it and some prefer it.
In short, it definitely matters which cars and which generation you drive. You can’t really paint the whole concept with the same brush as they are very different depending on the era.
I don’t doubt though that your 228 drives better than Maddox’s A4. Then again, your car is a size smaller, right? The only comparable Audi size-wise is the A3, to be perhaps a bit rude it’s basically a transverse engined Golf. But its likely that you personally may prefer the 3-series to the A4 as well.
My knowledge of Audi engineering doesn’t scratch the surface much, so that was actually really interesting to read.
Audi’s placement of the engine in most models is no doubt reflective in their handling, and something I didn’t really think about.
It definitely is, but they’ve been able to tune around it to a large degree, especially in the most performance-y models such as RS4 etc.
Kind of like the 911, the rear-engine effect has been tamed. Mostly. 🙂
Don’t take this as me making a suggestion (although it is, I suppose) you might want to check it out more, I realize you’re more on the Mini side currently but obviously a large percentage of BMW shoppers are looking at Audi as well, especially as BMW starts getting into X-drive more on their performance models. And I doubt that the Audi salesmen are really getting into the Quattro “Ultra” difference vs regular Quattro for example (they offer both). Actually, come to think of it, the Countryman and other All4 models likely compete with the Q3 and likely the A3 as well to some extent, right?.
Looks like a reason to drive some more newer Audis then, and maybe Porsches too 🙂
In fact, one of my newer car friends is actually a sales advisor for Porsche. But I honestly can’t say I’ve even driven any Audis with Quattro “Ultra”. The last RS4 I drove was a 2008 we took in on trade.
We do get a good amount of MINI customers who cross-shop the Clubman All4 and Countryman All4 with cars such as the Q3, GLA, and X1 (cars which the Countryman more interior room than), and I can recall a handful who have traded in Q5s and Allroads as they downsize a little.
I think part of its’ problem today is that it was so influential, and the “where do we go from here?” effect it created, leaving it looking as Joseph Dennis said just above, the least bit dated while a more Brougham-influenced car would clearly be an artifact from another time. Add in mechanical complexity and that’s not a recipe for widespread survival.
I liked the neat lines of the C3, especially compared to its other aerodynamic contemporary the Ford Sierra. I’m not so keen on most of the subsequent Audis though.
The fastback estate wasn’t entirely unknown, witness the 1972 Vauxhall FE:
One side effect of the 60 Minutes debacle was that Audi resale values sunk like a lead brick. That of course was terrible for Audi owners, but for other people (such as myself), it was a silver lining in an otherwise bad situation.
In 1989, I was in the market for my first car, and wound up buying a 1981 Audi Coupe for a ridiculously low price. Today it seems preposterous to say “my first car was an Audi,” but at one time, it wasn’t much of a stretch. Of course, the ’81 Coupe was far from a luxury car (no power windows, etc.), but it was a great opportunity to own a unique car.
Needless to say, I absolutely loved the newer Audis such as this 5000CS at the time. It seemed to me to be the epitome of sedan evolution — and actually, I think it still is.
The clean, plain, horizontals-only body design survives at Audi to the present — a breath of fresh styling air in a world of overwrought nonsense. Of all the features Brendan cites, it was the all-but-flush side glass that caught my eye, and stays with me as the defining advance of this body. Thanks for the story . . .
I do agree with Steve Ritchings here.
Always loved these Audis because they were so different from everything else on the road then. That sudden acceleration BS really hurt them, but it was good to see the company bounce back. Even amid all that, they were still very innovative during that era with some of the new technology they debuted.
Another fine & pleasing article from B. S.! You and P. N. are developing into my favorite posters here.
The “Unintended Acceleration” stupidity-in-action made for some truly excellent bargains on low mileage Audi 5000 models here in New Orleans.
I strongly urged friends to snap these up as an alternative to much more expensive used luxury cars.
Although not quite as reliable as a Toyota; the Audi 5000 was still a darn fine but maligned car.
A good friend had a 5000, I remember that it looked great, used a Cadillac climate control system, was kind of noisy and slow, but was nice to drive quickly over long distances.
does not say that the Audi 5000 was faultless in the unintended acceleration mess.
I don’t have the time (or desire) to read 199 pages, but I recall when this was published –
I do not think that it said that the car literally accelerated when the brake was pushed or that there was a defect in either system (engine, brake).
I do believe it said that the brakes, when properly applied, would easily overpower the vehicle with an engine operating at full throttle, whether already at speed or from a standstill.
I do recall it comparing the pedal placement of the Audi and that the brake pedal in the Audi was partially in the same space as where the throttle would be on several domestic vehicles, and further that a lot of the complainants actually had both vehicles and the Audi driver with the issue was actually the primary driver of the OTHER vehicle, i.e. used to that vehicle’s pedal placement.
These are my recollections, if I am incorrect please correct me or show the relevant page in the document to review. Thanks.
Here’s the brief executive summary below. Which blames (in small part) the idle instability of the 5000, which in some cases did cause some moderate unintended increase in engine rpm/acceleration (max 0.3 g). Which mayhave startled the driver,causing them to jam on what they thought was the brake, but was actually the gas pedal.
Still the same problem. Wrong pedal application.
it turns out that a disproportional percentage of Audi SUA experiencers/”victims” were women of less than average stature, which accentuated the relative offset of Audi’s pedals when the seat was pushed further forward. And a high percentage of the women were new to a German car, having converted from an American brand. The Audi 5000 was hot, so lots of suburban women were buying it, and ditching American cars for it. They changed pedal placement was obviously an issue.
it should be pointed out that GM has constantly had the lowest incidence of UA over the years, because they have studied the ideal placement of pedals more than any other maker. It is a key issue in UA, and one Toyota had to play catch up on, as well as other makers.
The second page has the basic conclusions and is a summary. I think that the basic problem was that the pedals were placed somewhat different than American cars. One would think that a driver would soon learn but if the owner(s) have two (or more) cars, with the other car an American make, then perhaps getting used to the pedals takes much longer or the driver with the problem is not the principle driver.
I don’t watch 60 Minutes (or think much of the program), so I don’t know what they did about this at the time. I also don’t remember much about what accidents there were.
Someone I knew with a Buick LeSabre (about 1978-1980 or so) had an unintended acceleration when the cruise control failed as I recall. He said that he could not shut off the ignition because that would lock up the steering wheel when I asked him why didn’t you shut off then engine. So the engine blew up. The steering wheels would only lock when the transmission is in Park, which requires the car to be stopped….
I worked for a Porsche-Audi dealer as a service advisor when these were new. They were lovely to look at, and a revelation to drive – when they drove. They were also only half baked mechanically. Positively wretched reliability. I mean it. Stupefyingly unreliable, and horrifyingly expensive to repair. If 60 Minutes hadn’t finished the job with their hatchet work, I assure you that VERY few owners would have entertained the idea of another new Audi. Our experience was that customers who bought an original 100LS were lost to us forever. Those who purchased the 5000 were only marginally less put off. Word on the street was (accurately) that they were junk, and the media-induced frenzy about unintended acceleration didn’t help. And don’t even get me started on the 924. The memories of these days, though some 30 years old, still are the stuff of nightmares. Oddly enough, though, I never had a customer report unintended acceleration. But then, most of them showed up in the drive on a hook. So there’s that.
Just curious – how comparable were the ’80s Audis to, say, Saabs or Volvos when it came to overall build quality and durability? I remember when all three makes were making a foothold in the U.S. back in the mid-80s – that is, before the 60 Minutes piece on Audi.
I once tried to do some work on a friend’s ’86 5000S and I can safely say that working on the thing was nowhere near as easy as my old ’85 240 DL.
Here’s my stab: Volvo is clearly above the other two, then Saab followed by Audi.
A 1980’s Audi is kind of like my late 1983 Peugeot 505: drives great but suspect reliability and any part with electricity running through it or near it is subject to failure at any time without warning.
The only real problem that late 70s early 80s Volvo had was that the insulation on their wiring harnesses turned from brittle to dust, causing myriad short circuits and bizarre symptoms. Otherwise, Volvo built a stout, if somewhat stodgy, vehicle. 4-cylinder cars, that is. V-6 vehicles had camshaft oiling issues, and were best avoided. Early straight sixes were not long-lived, and suffered greatly as well from the wiring harness issue.
Your observations really seem to confirm what I posted below regarding how Audi had to be very lean with where they were allocating development money for the C3. A pity, it seems…
I worked for a P/A dealer in the parts dept when the 5000 was new, and Bob is totally correct concerning the unreliability of these cars. This was a big part of the cars drop in sales volume. The U/A media hype combined with the cars mechanical shortcomings is what killed sales. It was a shame because the car was so modern looking and advanced in many ways, with great fit and finish let down by poor mechanical quality control.
We would joke the CS stood for “Can’t Stop”. Brake/shifter interlocks were required equipment on all cars soon after Audi’s retrofit recall.
Not a fan of Audi/VW generally but this was a very clean design that looks timeless. Today, this aesthetic has been taken to extremes with large gaping fish-grills and body contours kinked into the most contorsion-fantastic shapes ever imagined. Ugh! Please bring back clean, simple design and a sensible greenhouse-to-body proportion, I hate those tiny gunslit windows on so many vehicles.
A very fine writeup on an unfairly-maligned car I’d like to drive but wouldn’t want to pay to maintain and repair.
Actually it’s been fitted with European-spec headlamp assemblies, which include dummy fillers where the North American cars’ sidemarkers were located. No sidemarkers (clear, amber, or any other colour) on the European cars.
Thanks for that correction!
Thanks for sharing. I’ve often thought the 5000 was a very elegant design for its time. I remember a time in the mid 90s when they were being picked up for peanuts. The interior photo really highlights for me what was a main weakness of the 5000 of this generation; an austere and sad-looking interior. Audis and vws from the 1980s were really behind the other European manufacturers when it came to design and material quality. Glad that’s not the case today!
About the unintended acceleration, there was actually a flaw with the fuel injection system that caused the driver to make the brake/gas error.
This affected the automatic vehicles.
When the temperature was warm outside and the engine was cold, the CIS fuel injection would start the engine at low RPM’s. As it started the engine would chug for a few seconds then the computer would make corrections causing the engine RPM’s to surge between 1800 RPMs and 600 RPM’s.
If the driver started the engine and quickly placed the automatic transmission into gear, the driver would feel the torque trying to move the vehicle during the surge.
At this stage the brakes had no problem holding the car, but the driver would panic and attempt to hit the brake quickly or harder and instead hit the gas.
I have had 3 Audi 5000’s.
The one I am driving now is a 1984 FWD automatic Avant.
I have owned it since 24,000 miles and can confirm that this does occur.
That makes sense, I understand what you mean. I seem to recall now that shift interlock devices were added due to this as well, right? So you either couldn’t start the car or shift it into gear without being on the (correct) brake pedal.
Thirty years on, I can’t even imagine trying to start a car or trying to shift it into gear without being on the brake, it’s just ingrained behavior now…
As noted, I have had 3 Audi 5000’s although they were all purchased used.
All 3 cars were terrible with a laundry list of problems.
The real problem is that all 3 had all the same problems. So they were engineering flaws. So much for German engineering!
I purchased the first one for all the design reasons noted in this article.
The car had higher miles and I had nothing but trouble.
I thought, I must have a car with deferred maintenance and a bit of bad luck.
So I got a low mileage 1987 Audi 5000 Quattro for me and a low mileage 1984 Audi Avant FWD for my wife. I have never fixed and repaired cars so much!
I sold the 1987 last spring and I am now daily driving the 1984 Avant.
After I wear out the Avant this will be the last German car I own as a daily driver.
I may own one a weekend fun car, Nein!
A good friend of mine had 3 Audi cars in a row, starting with a 100LS and ending with the TT model.
He would often inform & lecture me all about that “Superior German Engineering” as I gave him frequent rides to the Audi service department in my inferior Japanese Toyota Camry and American Lincoln Town Cars.
Pure junk. My family had the the VAG bug for a while, getting burned too.
I find it galling that Audi is still selling cars. I thought for sure the Lexus would have (should have) put them out of business.
Speaking of unfairly maligned: I’ve never been able to find the 60 Minutes hit piece online anywhere.
Not “their finest hour”.
This one? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLDIPECcMJI
No—though that one has its own problems and whoppers. I’m looking in vain for the piece with the self-lurching (rigged) car.
I loved the design of these when they first came out in the early ’80s. I still love the design today. And, many years ago, I was able to perform the ‘brake vs accelerator’ test on one. I was convinced there was no way that 5-cylinder engine, especially with an automatic, could overpower the brake. However, I do consider the pedal placement to be a manufacturers engineering flaw.
That said, the main reason I never picked up one of these when resale prices were so low, was their reputation for spending more time in the shop, than with their owners.
A new Audi 5000 may have cost less to buy, than a new 240D. But certainly more to keep on the road after 10 years or so!
Happy Motoring, Mark
They sold a lot of these, but for some reason you never see them anymore. I was suprised to see one in the parking lot at work earlier this year.
Reverse CC effect: I saw one of these in Erie, PA a few days ago. In great shape, too!
Late to the party here, but I’m somewhat surprised to not see mention of the fragile C3 chassis. It was some time ago, but I distinctly remember reading an article in I think Classic and Sports Cars maybe 5ish years ago that was giving the credit due to Audi for such an advanced, modern design. One of the engineers went on record, explaining that the original test mules literally buckled and warped under their own weight, and it was a major, unexpected hurdle that had to be addressed. There was a photo in the article that showed one of these early cars bent down toward the ground around the middle of the front doors. Apparently some major corners were cut in other areas moving forward, according to the interviewee. It was very candid, and so jarring to read in tandem with the positive assessments of the physical design. I really wish I had a hard copy now, because it was very surprising to learn.
The way to C3 zen is to avoid both optional equipment and german made (= unnecessarily complex) fuel supply gear at any cost.
Onkel Klemens, by which name the original buyer of my 100 undoubtedly went, liked to crank his windows and train his triceps while parking, but he also had developed a taste for the good things in life: 5speed, sunroof (crank operated, you bet) and an engine option up a notch from the base, which gave the venerable EA827 1.8 topped by a manually choked two barrel carb by Keihin a bump to 88 hp. And that lowly specs make the car shine the brightest. The engine makes full use of the body with its aerodynymic advantage and lightness (2500 lbs all fueled up and ready) and vice versa.
It’s not a powerhouse, any added heft is noticably eating into performance, but it is never slow nontheless and a pleasure to drive, be it for a spirited run in the twisties or smoothly crossing the continent at 90-100 mph on the autobahn, returning well above 30 mpg in the process.
And, opposed to the poor K-Jetronic-ridden 5cylinders, it’s dead stone reliable, be it on daily commute duty or after sitting idle for several months. As for the nickel-and-diming: I bought mine at 110k miles and put another 60k in 5 years on it, the comprehensive list of items replaced or repaired:
Front brakes with rotors
Rear wheel bearings, front ones might be due some time soon as well
Downpipe (flange welded)
Two exhaust connectors
Seating (driver’s seat got tired)
Valve guide seals
Period. The car is otherwise as stock as in 1987, bar the wheels, belts and some light bulbs. Also, I prefer to replace parts prior to failure, so most items went out for sounding or looking suspicious rather than for grinding, leaking or failing alltogether.
Just for the sake of it: My Audi next to a friend’s S123. Those two series could have been cross-shopped for over 2 years, not sure to what extent they were, but the good folks at Audi were clearly aiming high. And they hit, from the get go, in my humble opinion.
Reliable they may be in stripped form, but I have no interest in a bare-bones car.
That’s the perfect generic pic of a car. These get a lot of love, I just don’t see it.
Of course, from today’s vantage point, since almost a very large percentages of cars on the road today have been deeply influenced by it. But if you’d been around in 1982, you certainly wouldn’t have said that.
STRONGLY agree with P. N. here.
I kind of liked the earlier model. Photo source: By Sven Storbeck – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=269997
Thank you Brenden for showing my 5k some love! I was inside chatting with some old friends, wish i had a chance to chat, but I love the article its very well done and accurate. Happy to see the old girl catches eyes.
I have owned since nearly new , to this day, a 87 5000csq & 86 5000cq avant. I have spent more maint time on each than all the ten other cars in my collection combined. I have never driven 5000 that there was not some sort of a problem, albeit minor, and yet I have never driven Either 5000 that I was not immensely impressed. Original quattro not only propels but evenly retards wheel Rotation , which when applied offers a unique advantage and experience over every Other car I have driven.