UK CAR Road Test 

The Audi Coupe shoot-out:  
OLD vs NEW 1985/1996

 

Audi Coupe 1996
On paper at least, this should be no contest. Conventional wisdom alone tells us that Audi's restyle and re-motored Coup should be all the good things of the first model and then some more.

This, remember, is the car that spawned the seminal Quattro. The car that dominated world rallying and set that particular branch of motor sport into a near terminal arms race.

The new Coupe therefore has not only to be better than the previous incarnation but needs to build on the heritage and the glamour that the previous model bestowed upon the Audi range.

If you're looking at the pictures in the magazines, neither of these car sets your pulse racing. The original is all long and pointy with American style long overhangs. The newer car looks slab-sided and heavy. But the reality is that both these cars look better in the flesh. Most will find the newer model more palatable but it's really just a more fashionable face. On first viewing it appears to have high slab-sides and blunt nose but the more you look at it the more it grows on you. Put it alongside another car and the reality of its shape begins to dawn on you - the sides aren't high, it's the windows that are small, with echoes of a 70's custom car chop-top and remarkably similar to the letterbox windowed TT Coupe that's the rave of the press at the moment. How it will fair in the long term remains to be seen. The alloy wheels, though, will never go out of fashion. Highly reminiscent of the 60s magnesium mini-lights, these spoked items will keep all but the fussiest of posers more than happy.

To my eyes at least, the original is the better looking car. It's looks are unmistakable - it exudes a menacing profile, powerful yet agile, sporty yet sensible, all things to all for whom this balance is important (well, those of us with a glimmer of good taste any way).

Direct comparisons aren't that easy since the older car is, due to a reversal of current trends, much the larger of the two - spacious (for a coupe), with a decent-sized boot. The newer car is relatively modest inside the back, seats being particularly tight. If pure practicality is your bag Ye Olde car looks the most promising.

But you don't buy a Coupe for practicality now, do you? 

1996 Audi Coupe Interior

The interior trim shows how far cars have come in the space of ten years. Or maybe how far upmarket Audi have moved. The old girl is disappointing to those of us used to the toys and  fripperies of modern motoring plain cloth seats with little or no side bolstering, acres of dark hard plastic and a big, ugly steering wheel that looks more like it's straight from the VW parts bin with a matching hard round black thing from a Series Two Land Rover masquerading as a gear knob.

The young gun has a much more inviting interior, heavily shaped and bolstered part leather seats with integral head restraints, plain functional but beautifully built and finished dash and superb small, chubby steering wheel (no market for Momo replacements in this car) with matching gear knob.


Performance

A straight five powers the old car and is, of course, hard pressed in normally aspirated form, to keep with the newer V6 motor.  But the seat of your pants tells a different story on first contact. The 5 has a strong, grunty bottom end, helping it away from the lights like a scalded cat, though it may get breathless at the top end.  But where it really counts most of the time, at the bottom and mid-range revving levels, it has plenty of poke for most.

Combined with the hard edged, offbeat growl of the engine it sounds and feels faster than it really is.

The six comes from a different world. Smooth as silk with a completely flat torque curve which just pulls from low revs to high revs - no steps, no increasing urgency, just a smooth hard push right round the dial. It's a deceptive unit, totally smooth and refined, its urgency hidden behind a long travel throttle. Fast yet soft, easy but uninvolving.

There's no competition with the gearboxes though. The new item is short, fast, light and accurate, allowing full access to the engine's performance, when you're in the mood. You could ask for no more.


Handling

The handling follows the lines taken by the engines. The newer Coupe is undoubtedly better, smoother, less fussed by potholes and grippier but the steering is corporate Audi light; there is no feeling of man/machine interface between you, the rubber and the road. It's never going to let you down but it would be nice if it had some real feeling.

The old girl starts to show her age in this department. She's still a capable performer but it's far more physical and ultimately the limits are lower. Some of this is down to the tyres which, of course, are neither as wide nor as low profile  but  rubber alone can't cover the distance between these two, the march of time and science affects all things no matter how good they are at inception.

Buying

Well, here's where the biggest difference lies. The old car can be picked up very cheaply nowadays. It's just not fashionable any more and currently lies in that limbo status between depreciation and the scrap yard when a car's value relies on condition only and even a good one will only raise modest money.

The newer car is still a fashion item for yuppies lost in time and pulls in big money but it is hewn from solid materials and well worth it.

The Quattro Coupe is, of course, a legend in its own lifetime and already a desirable classic; it's not going to be long before a normal front-drive version follows it and collectors start to drive up prices. 

The latter Coupe is a fabulous car to own, have no doubt, but it will never achieve classic status because it just doesn't break any new boundaries or rewrite any rule books like the original or stand out against a myriad of other modern coupes. Unfortunately for the new car, Audi had already retired from rallying before its production and hence it has no super brethren from which to bask in the reflected glory.

Which to choose?

One of either would keep me happy but for entirely different reasons. Posers should choose the junior version, those of more eclectic or eccentric taste should find themselves a nice old one. 

 

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