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Daily Driver Daydreaming:
Thoughts on the Audi 200 20v quattro

September 30, 2011 by Matt

1991 91 Audi 200 Turbo quattro 200q20v 20v 20 Valve

I can’t shake this car. It’s funny that as much as I imagine myself on some pointless quest for encyclopedic knowledge of obscure-yet-cool cars from the past 50 years, this one didn’t occur to me at all… At least until a would-be trader suggested it.

I’ve always been an Audi fan. To me, they’ve always represented the yin to BMW and Merc’s yang, the Apple to their collective Microsoft, the scrappy underdog to their conventional dominance; in other words, a concentration of automotive non-conformist cool. And since (right or wrong) I see myself as something of a non-conformist, the brand complements my self-image in exemplary fashion. BMW in particular may be great objectively, but Audi has always held all the cards when it came to the subjectives. Maybe it’s Audi’s deliberate differentiation from their rivals (AWD vs. RWD, 5 cylinders vs. 6, etc), maybe it has something to do with their perennially tasteful design, or maybe it’s the fact they’re not the self-evident choice—whatever the case, they possess some kind of subatomic pull I haven’t quite been able to identify the cause for.

1991 91 Audi 200 Turbo quattro 200q20v 20v 20 Valve Interior Inside Cockpit

The car featured in this post, the one-year-only 1991 Audi 200 Turbo quattro powered by the 20-valve 3B engine, represents something of a proto-Audi S-car, an S6 before there was an S-series. After years of making do with an outdated 10-valve turbo engine, Audi finally stuffed their newest motive creation under the hood…only to promptly update—and uglify—the bodystyle the following year to create the original S4. The ’91 Audi 200q20v, as it’s known, represents something of a unique point in the development of an already-unique automaker, and that exclusivity elevates it to yet another plane of cool.

1991 91 Audi 200 Turbo quattro 200q20v 20v 20 Valve Engine 3B

All that said, it wasn’t really on my radar until a little over a year ago, when I had finally decided to sell the BMW 635. I won’t retell the story except to say the Audi definitely burst out of nowhere onto my short list for a BMW replacement. When the would-be trader emerged from the woodwork and offered his 200, I was a bit embarrassed I hadn’t consider the car a possibility before then.

And when my mind wanders and I contemplate a replacement for the car that actually did take the 635’s place—my ’95 525i—I invariably return to the 200q20v. As a purely academic exercise, then, let’s do something of a brain dump and compare the respective advantages of my current 525i and a 200q20v.

525i pros:

  • Chassis balance. The Audi can’t hold a candle to the BMW’s 50/50 weight distribution and downright balletic movement through the twisties. The car rotates effortlessly around its midpoint and just dances sure-footedly through the corners. It’s utterly fluid and a joy to drive.
  • 6-cylinder engine. I’ve always had a fondness for this engine configuration, and the BMW’s engine is a excellent example of the type: Smooth, torque-y (for 2.5l, at least), linear in operation.
  • Mechanical simplicity. Compared to the Audi, the BMW has one diff instead of three, two axle shafts versus four and a much simpler naturally-aspirated engine contrasting with the Audi’s turbocharged complexity. Fewer things to break, and fewer elements to get in the way of power transmission to the pavement.
  • Fuel economy. Dovetailing with the last advantage, a major benefit of the BMW’s simplicity is an exceedingly efficient drivetrain which allows the car to deliver 26 mpg in mixed driving on premium fuel. Need I remind you, this is a 16-year-old midsize luxury sedan we’re talking about. Remarkable.

And the Audi’s advantages:

  • Turbocharged power. Eminently upgradeable, completely intoxicating. There’s no substitute for boost, especially from Audi’s modern-era 20-valve engine.
  • Tidier styling. Not everyone will go there with me, and I’ll concede that overall, both cars are equally handsome, but Audi possesses an discreet, tucked-in, buttoned-down yet mechanically-compact aura I love. It manages to perfectly assume its sleeper status without looking at all homely.
  • Beautiful interior. Nobody excels at interior design like Audi, and the 200’s cabin is a paragon of ergonomic and visual purity. It easily trumps the BMW’s bulky, awkward dash design.
  • Rarity. Made for only one year (but sharing its mechanical bits with Audis before and after), the 200q20v has it all over the 525i, made in copious numbers for 7 years.
  • The intangibles. Much as sports pundits like to discuss momentum and other contextual factors when stacking up two teams in anticipation of a big showdown, the Audi, in my mind, claims just about every non-rational accolade I can think of. At the end of the day, it just relfects to my self-image better than the BMW and goodness help me—it’s just cooler. It’s not the obvious choice and it just happens to be an excellent car, qualities that, among others, manage to keep the 200q20v front-and-center in my mind.

Filed under: Audi

13 Comments

  1. Joel says:

    No doubt on the draw of Audi. There’s an intangible there, and frankly I find the lines on the more angular 80’s and 90’s models to be their best.

    I strongly considered a ’97 or so A6 wagon before eventually tracking down an ’01 9-5 last time I was car shopping. One reviewer put it best as to why I went with the (slightly) more conservative choice… “As beautiful as it is, at the end of the day the Audi is a white rabbit, destined for many weeks in the shop.” Still thinking on his choice of words; perhaps the white rabbit leads its owner (Alice) down a hole in a never ending chase for full functionality of temperamental parts.

    Though its reliability reputation has come a long way, I wonder if a voice in your head said the same thing, leading you to the tried-and-true 525i. Incidentally, I vacationed in England a couple summers ago. Audi dominated the A-roads of the UK, with its now trademark moustache headlights coming around us every other car or so.

    • Matt says:

      It’s funny you mention the reliability thing. The 525i is a tank, no doubt, one of the most reliable models BMW ever made, and that’s saying quite a lot. It’s been absolutely fantastic in the department for the year and a half I’ve owned it.

      That said–and this is going to sound counterintuitive—it’s almost, I dunno, too easy? There’s no timing belt to change, no valve clearances to adjust, no carbs to tune. I don’t want my cars to break the bank, but maybe I do want a bit more to do on them than just regular oil changes. I think that might be just me trying to justify the Audi, though; I know for a fact I’d be hopping mad tomorrow if, oh, the BMW’s fuel pump or MAF decided to quit.

      In any case, during the acquisition process for the 525i, the 20-valve 200 temptation was a moot point—both would-be traders were offering their 10-valve ’89 and ’90 models. Both turbocharged, yes, but considerably down on power and tuneability compared to the ’91 200q20v with its two-generations-newer engine. So the BMW was more of a no-brainer in that situation than maybe I let on.

  2. Mike B. says:

    Matt, if you want more to tinker with, get an M60 E34. It seems like there is always a coolant issue as I have replace almost the whole cooling system at this point. Maybe we should have traded cars, lol. I would have been more temped if yours was white. :)

    • Matt says:

      Haha. I think the Audi would keep me plenty busy (timing belt, various sensors, HVAC system are known to go bad, and the headliner is virtually guaranteed to be drooping).

      You sound like you’re nearing the end of your rope with the car. Is something going wrong besides the valley pan?

      • Mike B. says:

        Right now the valley pan is the only issue.

        It just seems that I never get a break with this car, it always needs something. I never beat on it and rarely drive it hard. I really need it to give me a year or so where it needs nothing but oil changes and an inspection. The only things I haven’t really touched at this point is the starter, alternator, battery, power steering pump (I have changed the fluid) rear suspension, engine mounts, front brakes, and the fuel pump. The valley pan was a surprise. I remember reading about it as soon as the mechanic mentioned it. I have just spent so much money on this car I can’t really sell it until I get some use out it.

        • Matt says:

          I hear you. It really seems like you’ve gotten an example determined to bankrupt you. And, except for the rust, none of the issues are things you could have anticipated when you bought the car. I’m sure there are M60 E34s that sail on without half the issues that have cropped up on yours. So it’s not your fault for “picking a bad one,” in other words. Don’t know if you thought that, but it’s true. I think a lot of your expenses could have been lessened if you lived closer to a concentration of E34 owners as well. :)

          I understand you wanting to get some mileage out of it, too. Here’s hoping she doesn’t beat you up too much after the valley pan!

          • Mike B. says:

            If I subtract the rust ($3,400), the fuel tank which was rusty ($1,500), and the set of summer wheels that are nice but not essential ($1,200) that would save me quite a bit ($6,100 of $18,000 total invested including the car ($5,200) and taxes). I might have been able to save an additional few thousand if I didn’t take it to the dealer from time to time.

            I 110% agree with you though that if I lived closer to some BF.C E34 people things would not be as bad. Also, I may have learned more faster about the E34 as I would love to help people with their cars as well.

            I will say this about southern cars though; I stopped at a small used car dealer in NC that had many used E46’s and E90’s. The rubber around the windows was all brittle and cracked on nearly all the cars and the headliners and pillars were puckered from sitting in the hot sun. I am sure garage kept cars are much better. Of course, that could have been cheaper then my rust, who knows. It is water under the bridge at this point.

  3. Chi says:

    I had my 200 20v for well over 10 years and 100k miles and during that time my wife got a job working for BMW. I had plenty of opportunities to compare and contrast brand new BMWs to my 200 and there was only 2 differences that stood out in my mind (excluding new car reliability which is essentially negated by new car cost)

    -body stiffness: after driving any bmw car and getting into my 200 you could feel the body flex over bumps

    -handling: I had an aging bilsten and eibach setup on my 200 and you could tell there was a difference even when the setup was new that the 200 simply did not handle as well.

    I loved my 200 but decided to sell the car due to lack of interest and little time and skill to devote to the car.

    Matt, I believe I spoke with you about my car but it didn’t meet your criteria so you passed on it. I ended up replacing my 200 with the family van and a Triumph Street Triple. I doubt any car would replace the 200 in my mind, though I’m not the car whore I want to be. My buddy has owned 35 cars in 10 years, but I just had the 200.

    • Matt says:

      I had those exact same impressions about the 200 after test driving a couple back in December. The chassis finesse just isn’t there. It’s complex, and cool, but the dynamics just aren’t on par with those BMW infuses their cars with.

      It sounds like you picked up a couple of worthy successors (I won’t say replacements) for the 200. Good luck with them, and thanks for commenting!

  4. Jeremiah says:

    Funny that you say the S4 was ugly. I like the angular styling of the 200 and had and loved one for years. But the bumpers are so poorly integrated and it just looks dated. Whereas my 95.5 S6 looks modern in comparison (reminds me of a first series A8 actually.

    I heard for year about how a 20v would break my with its complexity, but I can honestly say that it was a great reliable car.

    • Matt says:

      I think the UrS4 is ugly. Whatever was wrong with its styling they fixed with the UrS6. The grille and nose area of the UrS4 in particular look very flat and misshapen, a situation that was totally remedied with the UrS6. If there’s one slight criticism I have of the UrS6’s looks, it’s the long front overhang, but with the engine out in front of the axle line, and now the radiator out in front too instead of being tucked beside the engine, there’s no getting around it. To Audi’s credit, they did a great job camouflaging as much of it as they could.

      Glad to hear your 200q20v experience was so good!

  5. Jeremiah says:

    Interesting, you are obviously more detail oriented than I. Even after buying a 94 S4 parts car and a 95.5 S6 I was surprised to find I couldn’t transfer the grill. They are different, but not obviously so (to me)

    It is interesting that the 200 had the radiator off to the side, but the S6 has it in front of the engine, leading to longer overhands.

    • Matt says:

      Hey, at least the radiator being where it is gives you more access to the engine and more room for mods. :) It is a little annoying when timing belt time comes around again, though…

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