Abstract This paper considers input affine nonlinear systems with matched disturbances and shows how to compute an a priori upper bound of the H ∞ attenuation level achieved by the optimal L 2 controller and the suboptimal H ∞ central controller. The case where the disturbance contains a constant term is also discussed. These bounds are shown to depend only on the function mapping the control input to the performance variable. This result is used to derive a robust control design for a special, but practically important, class of non-input affine nonlinear systems consisting of the series connection of a nonlinear state and input dependent map and of a nonlinear input affine dynamical system. Approximate inversion of the nonlinear static map leads to a robust control problem which fits into the framework. The effectiveness of the theoretical results is shown by its use for the robust control design of a diesel engine test bench.