Audi 80 1.8 S: Retro Road Test

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Although six years separated the launch of the second and third generation Audi 80, the B3 – introduced in 1986 – ushered in a new era for Audi’s compact executive saloon. Gone was the boxy exterior of the B2, replaced by a new aerodynamic body, influenced by the Audi 100. As the Mk3 Audi 80 is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016, we felt it was time to take a rather delightful 80 1.8 S for a trip around Somerset.

Audi 80 1.8 S: what are its rivals?

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Today, the Audi A4 lines up against the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But back in the late 80s, the Audi brand wasn’t strong enough to do battle with the German giants. How times have changed.

So while Audi had visions of muscling in on the premium market dominated by the 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz 190, the reality was that the Audi 80 was battling the likes of the Alfa Romeo 75, Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier.

Audi 80 1.8 S: what engine does it use?

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The 1.8-litre engine is essentially the same unit found in the Volkswagen Golf GTi, but in the case of the carb-fed 80 S, it’s minus the ‘i’. Today, some city cars would struggle to get out of bed for 90hp, but back then it was just enough for the Audi 80 to perform.

It helps that the Audi 80 is so light: a kerb weight of just over a tonne draws another comparison with a modern city car. But Audi also spent over 4,000 hours of wind tunnel testing to reach a Cd figure of 0.30 for the 1.8-litre models (0.29 for the 1.6), with flush door handles, rounded bumpers and flush glass just a few elements of an incredibly aerodynamic package.

Audi 80 1.8 S: what’s it like to drive?

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In his 1982 cover version, Phil Collins told us that you can’t hurry love, and the same could be true about the Audi 80 1.8 S. The fuel-injected 1.8 E or 2.0 E would offer a dollop more performance, but those in search of fireworks are better off hunting down a five-cylinder Audi 90 of the same era.

The first thing you notice when driving this particular Audi 80 is the lack of power steering, which was still an option back in 1989. It’s incredibly heavy at low speeds, making parallel parking a bit of a workout, but conversely it’s nicely weighted and full of feel when up to speed. It’s not a driver’s car as such, but it’s a thoroughly pleasant car to drive. Make of that what you will.

Audi 80 1.8 S: reliability and running costs

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In the 1980s and 1990s, there was always a sense that Audi built cars first and priced them later. A bit like Saab, Audi’s cars were enjoyed by those in the know – people who didn’t mind straying from the obvious path.

Back in March 1989, this Audi’s present owner, Darren, was sat on the back seat when his father traded in a 1979 Audi 80 GLS at Mann Egerton in Christchurch. Today, it still wears the original dealer sticker on the back window and has been in the family since new.

The 185,000 miles on the clock are testament to the build quality and a lifetime of good maintenance. Original figures suggest you can expect 30.8mpg on a combined cycle, with road tests reporting up to 40mpg would be possible with a light right foot.

Audi 80 1.8 S: could I drive it every day?

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Oh, absolutely. Don’t be fooled by the slightly erratic idle or put off by the lack of power steering, the Audi 80 1.8 S is definitely a car you could drive every day. What it lacks in modern safety equipment, it more than makes up for in an overall feeling of solidity and quality.

The doors shut with a reassuring thud and the seats offer levels of comfort similar to one of our other favourite cars of this era: the Saab 9000. Remember, just a few decades ago this was the kind of vehicle enjoyed by families up and down the land.

It’s not too short on ‘luxuries’ either. Central locking, four electric windows and electric door mirrors were standard on the S model, while Darren’s father added a factory-fit sunroof and three gauges to measure oil temperature, oil pressure and battery volts.

Audi 80 1.8 S: how much should I pay?

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From a collectable and classic perspective, the only real interest lies in the five-cylinder, quattro, coupe or cabriolet models, leaving cars like Darren’s sublime Audi 80 to sit in the wilderness.

Not deemed interesting enough to be a classic, nor modern enough to be considered sensible daily transport, even cars as special as this can be bought for a few hundred notes. That said, £500 to £1,000 is more realistic and remains stupidly low for a car as well-engineered as this.

Audi 80 1.8 S: what should I look out for?

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The Audi 80 was the first car in its class to be entirely galvanised, so rust shouldn’t be an issue. The interior was also built to last, as highlighted by Darren’s 80, which still looks factory-fresh, even after 185,000 miles.

As a result of the above, a clock could easily be wound back to make an Audi 80 look younger than it actually is. Take a look at the service history and old MOT certificates as evidence of genuine mileage. On the plus side, the simple mechanicals should please those who enjoy some DIY servicing.

Audi 80 1.8 S: should I buy one?

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Whether you’re looking for a useable daily classic or some retro fun, the Audi 80 presents itself as a worthy contender. Unlike certain other German cars of the same era, the 80 hasn’t been affected by ‘scene tax’, so you can still grab a bargain.

You’ll be amazed at the all-round visibility and the overall feeling of solidity. More appealing and eye-catching than a first generation Audi A4? We certainly think so.

Audi 80 1.8 S: pub fact

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The 80 was available with Audi’s ingenious Procon-Ten passive safety system. First introduced in 1984, the Programmed-Contraction-Tension (hence Procon-Ten) pulled the steering column out of the driver’s way while tensioning both front seat belts in a frontal collision.

It was discontinued in the mid-1990s as airbags became mandatory equipment, but you’ll still see older 80, 90, 100, 200 and V8 models with the Procon-Ten sticker on the rear window.

Thanks to Darren for the drive in the Audi 80 and to the Haynes International Motor Museum.

Has an unhealthy obsession with cars of the 80s and 90s. Doesn’t really do supercars. Not a huge fan of sports cars. But loves the undervalued and the underwhelming.

Is probably a bit strange.

VERDICT
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Audi 80 1.8 S
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