January 21, 2001

Past and Present Side-by-Side
Article and photos by Steve Sherwood

As with most other industries, the technology found in automobiles seemingly develops more quickly than ever. Sheet metal has been replaced with high tech alloys, mechanical fuel injection has given way to electronic sequential fuel injection and everything from brakes and suspensions to restraint systems has been made more efficient and offer much better performance.

As if any proof is required, a simple comparison can be made between the modern day Audi sedan and one from the early 1980's.

Back in 1983, Audi was offering the Audi 4000, 5000, Coupe, and had newly released the Ur-Quattro (the original Quattro Coupe). The entry-level car of the time was the 4000 (Audi 80 in Europe and other markets). This little sedan was the base 4-door model offering and probably sold to small families that needed just a bit of extra room. Audi's smaller cars like the 4000 and the Ur-Quattro were based on the VW Group corporate B-chassis (B2) shared with the Volkswagen Quantum (a.k.a. Passat in Europe).

Our choice for comparison was an Audi 4000 sedan, as it compared most closely to today's modern A4/S4 models. Finding a car of this vintage that is still in worthy of comparison is not easily done. The 4000 was sold to people who drove them, thus pristine and low-mileage versions of this almost twenty-year-old car are nearly impossible to find. The much rarer quattro models are even rarer still.

While we would have preferred to compare the marginally quicker 5-cylinder 4000 quattro, none were available to us and thus this front-wheel-drive version was found.

Switch gears now to the present day B5 Platform Audi. We chose to compare an Audi S4 as it is the flagship of the 4-series line. Some basic similarities exist between the two vehicles. Like the 4000 it has four wheels, an engine and is essentially a compact car. The similarities end there.

The purpose of this article is to examine just how far we've come with automobiles over the past 20 years, and specifically how much the Audi product has evolved. Audi wasn't making "S" versions in 1983 so it's fair to say that this comparison is a little bit apples and oranges. Regardless, these happen to be the two cars that we had access to for the writing of this article and we believe the overall premise of the article holds true.

These two sedans actually do share a few design characteristics on paper; both have four doors and a wheelbase of almost exactly the same length (176.5 vs. 176.6 inches). In person one immediately sees tremendous differences between the two, including just how much the fit and finish has improved in the past 17-18 years.

Ask current A4/S4 owners about why they chose the Audi over a competitor's offering and a high percentage will undoubtedly put "high fit and finish" near the top of their answer list. The S4's internal workmanship can be described as a refined atmosphere, even luxurious. We've all read the stories about the Audi engineers testing and refining design attributes such as the noise the door makes when it is slammed shut or the ergonomics of the shifter location. This painstaking effort is quite obvious in the S4.

The 4000's interior, which could be best described as spartan, exists in dire contrast. If you ever owned a Volkswagen of this vintage, you will immediately notice the similarities between this Audi 4000 and Rabbits and Jettas of those years. Back in 1983 dashboard design and interior comfort were apparently not on the top of Audi engineers' list of critical items. The dash is flimsy and the matte finish leaves a bit to be desired.

Nighttime driving is somewhat hampered with poor vision of the dash. The 4000 has very dim white lighting and one could go as far as to say that the car's dash is dangerously under-lit. The instrument cluster in the 4000 again shows heavy VW influence with very few warning lights displayed in a rectangular box located behind the steering wheel.

However cheap it may now appear, the interior was also very sensible. Buttons and controls are all easily found. The new owner of a 4000 quattro of this vintage may have had a hard time finding controls to the power windows for the rear windows, as Audi had fitted the car with the Ur-Quattro 's dashboard and having only two window control buttons, simply made the rear windows those of the non-power roll-up variety.

The seating position of the 4000 will remind you of a 1967 VW Bug you might have ridden in long ago. The 4000's seats position the driver very upright -- a position that creates a proximity zone whereby your face is uncomfortably close to the windshield.

The 4000 seats are passably comfortable for city driving, but would be miserably useless in any kind of spirited driving. The 4000 headrests aren't much better, angling slightly but not really supporting anything. On a positive note the center hole in the headrest does allow for better vision.

In fairness to Audi and the VW Group, it must be remembered that Volkswagen had recently begun their early efforts in platform sharing and had only recently made the jump to the water-cooled technology used on the 4000. Competing cars of this vintage, including the BMW 3-series, Mercedes 190 and Cadillac Cimmaron were equally lacking in quality judged by today's standards.

In comparison the S4 has a very well thought-out dashboard with easy access to the climate control and stereo controls. The ultra-chic red backlighting is pervasive throughout the S4 dash. The S4 head rests are very comfortable and would definitely assist in preventing whiplash in in a rear-end collision accident.

The exterior appearance of the cars is strikingly different. The S4 definitely has an emphasized performance look, with Audi's now trademark slippery aerodynamics that aid in much improved low levels of interior noise, gas mileage and top speed. Audi design is now much more pronounced from other vehicles on the road and this has contributed into a much more easily recognized vehicle that looks much more the part of a luxury car.

In comparison, the 4000 is very boxy. The three-box design of the car may not appeal to today's enthusiast, as much as the curvy S4, but in the early 1980's this angular design was all the rage. These first-generation 4000 models appear much tinier than they actually are due to the older non-aero bumpers and lack of ground effects of any kind. However, the overall look is very attractive and this particular 4000 design is about as close as an Audiphile can get to a 4-door version of the Ur-Quattro.

Standing back and looking at the two parked next to each other, it would seem the differences could not be greater in number. One could even say that, besides the four rings on the front, these cars share virtually nothing in design. However, should you park each model of this range that was produced between the original 4000 and today's A4, a cohesive evolution of design becomes strikingly apparent.

Design aside; a simple jaunt behind the wheel of each of these cars will quickly demonstrate where the largest differences reside.

With the S4 you get what can be accurately described as a "luxury sports sedan" experience. The S4 is just as comfortable in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a major freeway as it is barreling down the Autobahn or racetrack at 140 mph. Acceleration in the S4 is brisk, whereas, the 4000 takes it's own sweet time gaining speed (over 12 seconds from 0-60). The surefootedness of the S4 is outstanding with the grip of the quattro all-wheel drive system exuding confidence in any driving condition. In comparison, the 4000 feels like an old Jetta: noisy, rough, and slow.

On a twisty road, the newer and heavier S4 also has the upper hand, though much of this can be attributed too much improved suspension and significantly larger wheel and tire setup. The 4000 does have the benefit of lighter weight, and with the proper suspension and wheel/tire combo, might be able to hang with or beat the S4 on a tight enough autocross course where the S4 couldn't make use of its gargantuan power edge.

Is it fair to even attempt to compare these cars? I think most automobile enthusiasts would agree that the S4 is in the league of it's own relative to most cars on the road, much less one that is 18 years old!

However, don't count the 4000 out. Throw in a few semi-realistic "what if" factors and the 4000 could hang with an S4 on a performance level. It shouldn't be forgotten that the first 4000 quattro was the lightest quattro-equipped vehicle to be sold in the USA. The highly tuneable 20-valve I-5 turbo could be dropped into the car and has already been done by some of the more nutty Audiphiles out there. With a proper suspension setup and tires to match, the older 4000 could be tuned to performance beyond today's stock S4. However, all the modifications in the world won't get it to the refinement levels of the S4.

Back to reality, it is interesting to see the two cars side by side and appreciate just how much Ingolstadt's most famous export has improved. Seeing the differences in these cars only makes us salivate thinking of what a 2019 S4 will entail.

There is a brief comparison chart for the 4000 and S4.

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