Audi puts a Turbo into its lineup

Comfort! That's one of the top pluses of the new Audi 5000 Turbo, the new flagship for the Ingolstadt-based Audi division of West Germany's Volkswagenwerk AG.

That's what I found when I drove 1,000 miles at one go in one of these high-performance machines. Leaving Asheville, N.C., at the crack of dawn and not reaching my own driveway in the suburbs of Boston till 21 hours later, I felt none the worse for the ordeal, if that's what it was.

The Audi 5000 Turbo is the first of other exhaust-driven turbocharged Audis due to hit the road in the 1980s.

The Audi 5000 Turbo has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 25 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 around town. EPA figures, of course, don't mean much, anyway, except as a means of comparison between different cars. I found I got an average 21 on the 1,000-mile trip, including a few hundred miles of driving in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia and the Poconos of Pennsylvania.

"Turbocharging gives the 2.2-liter engine a 30 percent boost in power," says an Audi engineer.

The entire auto industry, in fact, is training its sights on the turbo as engines get smaller and the makers try to stretch the distance a car will run on a tankful of gas.

The turbo puts the punch back into a car, thus making it quicker and safer to pass other vehicles on the road.

The Audi 5000 itself has been on the road since 1978 and was the world's first mass-produced 5-cylinder gasoline engine. A year ago the company added a diesel. Looking ahead, a replacement for the 5000 isn't in sight, says Tom Duck , product strategy manager for the Porsche-Audi division of Volkswagen of America Inc.

"We have no plans for revamping the 5000 at the moment," he asserts, adding: "Our product cycle runs anywhere from four to eight years." Thus, the two-year-old 5000 will be around for a while even though some changes, generally minor, are made from year to year. The aerodynamics of the car were sharpened for 1980, for example, and the automaker switched to rectangular headlights.

In the spring of 1979 Audi launched the 4-cylinder 4,000 to replace the aging Fox. Now the 4000 offers the 5-cylinder engine of the 5000, even though turbocharging is still down the road. Base price of the 5000 Turbo is under $17 ,000. Even at that, the importer expects to sell about 5,000 this year and, if available, could probably sell more.

Options include a two-way electric sunroof, electrically adjustable outside mirrors, metallic paint, heated seats, and leather upholstery.

Audi has had some nagging problems over the years, notably with the 100 LS, predecessor of the 5000, which had a strong tendency to rust. The new generation of Audis give the division another chance.

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