1989 Audi 200

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The Morning Call and Mcall.com

Driving through heavy rain and hailstones during a crowded rush hour is all part of operating a car: Despite adverse conditions, one must keep beating on.

A car in good operating condition, tires with lots of tread and a positive outlook can certainly go a long way toward easing one's mind in these less-than-desirable driving situations.

To take things a little farther in the mind-easing department, throw in a new state-of-the-art, four-wheel-drive car with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). Now any ride - despite terrible conditions, or perhaps because of them - will seem like a picnic.

Essentially this is the way it is when driving the Audi 200 Quattro - truly a car for all seasons. Here's a car that combines flash, dash, splash and brash in a nice tidy package. The package, though, does require lots of cash. In fact, the type of cash that can catch one's breathe or weaken one's knees. As the cliche goes, you get what you pay for; and at $38,000 one should expect lots.

The 200 Quattro is Audi's flagship. Or at least it is at this time. In the very short future, the Audi V-8, at about $50,000, should be hitting these shores. But, regardless, the 200 Quattro is unlikely to give up any of its prestige.

For those not familiar with Audi labels, the 200 means a turbocharged engine in the big series, and the Quattro is all-wheel drive. All wrapped-up in a classy four-door sedan body. The basic styling is now more than a couple of years old but it still looks as fresh and crisp as it did when introduced in 1984. A lot of car manufacturers are getting into flush glass these days, but the Audi 5000 (predecessor to today's 100 and 200 series cars) was the first to feature flush glass all-around.

But despite all its advanced styling and innovative engineering, Audi had a bad time for a couple of years. Charges of unintentional acceleration in its 5000 Automatic received wide publicity, and although this German car manufacturer was vindicated, sales fell.

Audi, however, did not stay down for the count. It came out with new models, improved existing models and offered what is probably the most secure ownership program offered on any car sold in this country. Known as the Audi Advantage, the program is about as advanced as the 200 Quattro's engineering.

Under the program, scheduled maintenance costs are reduced to practically nothing. For the first three years or 50,000 miles, all scheduled maintenance, all routine repairs, all dealer visits, all routine oil changes are free when the work is performed at an authorized U.S. Audi dealer. During the period, Audi's three-year, 50,000-mile limited warranty remains in full effect. Also, Audi's limited warranty against corrosion perforation has been extended to 10 years (actually this is an easy one since the body is fully galvanized.) And a three-year membership in the United States Auto Club is provided .

The freshest and boldest part of the program is the Guaranteed Resale Index, which offers a certified trade-in value. From two to four years after initial purchase, an owner is assured when trading for a new Audi that his/her vehicle has retained at least the same percentage of its original base sticker price as the average NADA value retention of the comparable Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo. Should the published value of the Audi be below average, Audi will make up the difference, either toward the down-payment for a new Audi or in cash to the owner.

So, with this in mind, let's get back to the 200 Quattro test car. Here was a car done up in the brightest red I have seen in a long time. Named, appropriately enough, tornado red, it would be a difficult car to misplace.

What couldn't be seen, though, is the biggest change for the '89 model year: the new torque-sensing differential. Like the previous design, the new Quattro system incorporates three sepa ate differentials - front, rear and center - which compensate for different wheel speeds when cornering and prevent damaging drivetrain windup.

The new differential is in the center and automatically distributes torque between front and rear wheels, up to a maximum split of 78/22 percent. During normal operation, the torque split between front and rear is 50/50. The new differential can transmit up to 3.5 times more force to the wheels with the best grip on the road surface in difficult road conditions. Since power isn't wasted on wheels achieving poor traction, the car's total traction and road handling ability are enhanced.

A driver really doesn't have to know anything about this to drive the 200 Quattro. It does all the thinking and will provide maximum traction (and maximum mental security) on all road surfaces and conditions. The new system still retains the manual lock capability for the rear differential. But with the new torque-sensing differential, it is doubtful the manual lock will ever be needed - with the exception of the car getting mired axle-deep in mud.

As befitting a car in this price category, the interior of the 200 Quattro is, well, rich. Leather upholstery, all the convenience and comforts offered in a car, sporty instrumentation, a long, long list of standard equipment and an ambience sure to impress even the most blase. All-in-all, a very easy car to take.

Driving, as should be expected, is a real treat. Responsive handling, plenty of power on tap and the additional security of ABS, combine to give a driver confidence. The only downer for some drivers is that the car does not come with an automatic transmission. You either have to know how to use a five-speed manual or move on to another car (or maybe wait for the V-8 which will be automatic). But, then, there is a sort of snobbishness about the whole thing. After all, anytime you see a $38,000 car only available with a manual transmission, you know it is a serious car requiring a serious driver.

The car is powered by Audi's unique five-cylinder engine. Here's an engine that has never been copied but it certainly has been a success for Audi. Displacing only 2.2-liter/132-cubic-inches, this turbocharged, fuel-injected engine produces an impressive 162 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 177 foot-pounds torque at 3,000 rpm. This is enough horses to propel the 3,350 pound car from 0-60 mph in about eight seconds. And for those who like to go fast, Audi claims it has a top track speed of 135 mph.

Meanwhile, fuel mileage is very decent, but that's what five-speed transmissions are all about. The test car averaged 23 mpg over Lehigh Valley highways and 14 mpg in the city. Unleaded premium must be used.

Base price for the car is $37,305. Add to this a destination charge of $335 and the car's only option, a Cold Weather Package (heated seats, all- weather tires) at $500, and the full price comes to $38,140.

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