Junkyard Find: 1994 Audi 90 S

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1994 audi 90 s

The folks at Audi got really confusing with their American-market car names for a couple of decades and I have given up trying to sort out from memory, say, when the 5000 became the 100 or the 200 or whatever the hell it became in the chaos following the Unintended Acceleration Debacle. The Audi 80 was sold in the USA as a 4000 or something — it’s all a blur — but then Audi badged it as an 80, except for the sedans, which were 90s, I think.

Anyway, this California ’94 sedan has 90 S badges and it’s a fairly interesting car.

It made it very close to 200,000 miles, which is great for a high-maintenance German car in a state with the ball-bustingest emission testing in the country. My guess, based on the good condition and high miles, is that it’s a one-owner car that was loved dearly … until the time came to trade it in on (probably) a new A4 or S4. Buyer interest in high-mile Audis with manual transmissions and front-wheel drive hovers somewhere between zero and oh gawd no, so it washed up in a San José wrecking yard.

The buyer of this car recognized that all-wheel drive doesn’t provide many benefits in a region with no dirt roads, no snow, and very little rain, and he or she went for the more sensible front-wheel-drive version of the 4000/80/90/6000SUX/Horch 830BL.

Five-speed? Damn right.

With all the dozens of Audis — including plenty of 1.8T- and V8-powered models — that have competed in the 24 Hours of LeMons, only one has taken the overall win at a race: a front-wheel-drive Audi 90 powered by a V6. Tellingly, it is campaigned by a team made up of Audi dealership mechanics.

The V6 engine in this car made 172 horsepower, which was just 17 less than the straight-six in the 1994 BMW 325i. The 90 S listed at $27,820, versus $29,990 for its BMW competitor; the ’94 Mercedes-Benz C280 with a 194-hp L6 was $34,900, though burly security guards might have escorted you from the dealership if you’d been the kind of person to request a manual transmission in one.

Don’t break the glass!

This era of Audi sedans was all about manly rock-n-roll in Germany.

With the TDI version (not available in the United States, because diesels are all about diminished expectations), you could drive from (some miserably gloomy Northern European location) to (some sunny Southern European location) on one tank of oil!

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Aug 02, 2016

    Occasionally I'll see the Cabriolet version of the 90 on the road or on E-bay. They were only equipped with the 2.8 auto and FWD.

  • Jerome10 Jerome10 on Aug 02, 2016

    Ha. I'm amazed at all the gushing love for these cars here. Because frankly, these were hunks of expensive junk.

    • See 1 previous
    • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Aug 16, 2016

      I owned one of these, a laser red '95 model over black leather, 5spd. I sold my 93 Probe GT. It was one of the most reliable cars I've ever owned, and one of the longest ownership runs I've had. I bought it sight unseen from Beecham Audi in Cinn., as a CPO with 58k in '99. The only things that broke on that car was an electric antenna which was under warranty at the time, a cat. conv. replaced under emission warranty at 70k, and fuel pump at 148k or so,ironically as soon as we arrived home from a round trip from STL. I kept it for 170k. I had timing belt /water pump done at 90k. I never replaced the Torsen fluid as per my mechanic and the drivetrain was in perfect running condition upon sale. Until recently we still saw "Red" in South KC. I sold it to a couple who actually broght their bass( the instrument not the fish) to make sure it fit in the rear compartent. The suspension woke up with Konis SAs in front , Bilstein HD in rear. I would have went Bilstein all around but there was no front fitment. This car suffered the same issues as other VAG products with poor clear coat , my brothers Ur S6 had same issues. I had the top half and black lowers repainted at a body shop in a bad area of town for cash only for 350.00. I really liked the styling it was a mini A8 which was an aspirational at the time.It had one of best HVAC systems I've ever experienced based on complaints of the previous generations poor cooling capability, I think they over engineered it.The heater especially, combined with the heated seats, a first for me, was quick to warm the car as I spent most of my time at work with the car uncovered. The locking center Diff was unstoppable in deep snow even with no season tires mounted, and lack of electronic nannies and mechanical throttle linkage made for an analog driving experience and plenty of fun on snow covered parking lots. Overall a pleasant experience of ownership. Unfortunately with Audi withdrawing the manual from the new A4, they won't likely be getting any new car business from me.

  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.