The first of the new Audi models to gain notice in the United States was the Audi Fox. The model came to the U.S. along with the slightly more upscale Audi 100LS in the 1970s. While the Fox was prized for its crisp styling and sprightly handling, the 100LS was rather dowdy and didn’t make much of an impact. However, the follow up car to the 100LS, built upon the admired styling of the Fox and called the Audi 5000 attracted a lot of attention. Larger, more luxurious, and featuring what would soon come to be a hallmark of new Audi cars—a deliciously inviting interior treatment—the Audi 5000 made the company an "overnight" success.
Well, for a little while anyway...
During this period, Audi also took advantage of a change in the rules for rally cars permitting the use of four-wheel drive. The Audi Quattro (which means four in Italian) made its competition debut in 1980, and went on to dominate the sport throughout the 1980s. A road car based on the racing car was developed, giving Audi its first modern high performance passenger car.
New Audi cars were selling very well when the unintended acceleration scandal hit the Audi 5000 in the late 1980s. Those new Audi models had attracted a lot of first-time European-car buyers out of American luxury cars. It is generally agreed the Audi's smaller pedal set and the pedal's closer proximity to one another (ideal for high performance driving) confused a lot of American drivers, leading them to apply the throttle when they really wanted (actually, really needed) the brakes.
The nature of the problem was inflated considerably when the very popular CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes rigged an Audi 5000 to accelerate without a driver at the wheel and then presented the footage of it on the program. The resulting panic dropped the bottom out of the sales of new Audi cars and nearly ran the company out of the American market.
Needless to say, the company killed the 5000 name after that.
Today’s “A” nomenclature scheme was introduced for new Audi models in 1994, along with the technological tour de force that is the Audi A8. First sold in the U.S. in 1997, the A8 featured an all aluminum body known as the Audi Space Frame—making it the lightest luxury car in its class. Building upon that success, the new Audi sports cars, the TT and the R8, also use aluminum space frames. Known today for combining luxury with sporting attributes, Audi’s success with all-wheel drive has essentially forced every other luxury manufacturer to offer the drivetrain on their new cars.