While it was Audi who cut their teeth in the fast wagon market, the S6 Avants we saw the other day were the end of an era for the marque in the U.S.. Sure, the A6 3.0T Avant carried on and was just as quick, but its sales numbers dwindled as the naughts came to an end, and it was removed from the market in 2011. The A4 soldiered on, but even its offerings were slashed – first to fall was the S4 Avant, followed by the normal A4. Today, you can only get the automatic 2.0T Allroad if you want a 5-door Audi.
It was BMW who picked up the reigns of big sporty German wagons in the 2000s, with V8-equipped E39s leading towards the E61. Not to be outdone, the E46 introduced American customers to the smaller 3-series wagon for the first time (though it had been around for 2 prior generations) and that continued with the E91.
However, even though BMW offered two wagons right through 2010, they were rewarded with minuscule amounts of sales. In 2009, the company sold 1,430 3-series Sports Wagons in the U.S. – accounting for only 2% of sales of the E9x here. It was just as bad for the 5-series with 878 sold, so the company dropped it from the U.S. lineup in 2010. Frankly, it’s amazing that BMW continued to sell wagons at all here.
But they did, and you could order yourself up a neat sporty wagon. It wasn’t an M3, true, but the N52K-equipped 328i produced 230 horsepower and could be opted in rear-drive, 6-speed manual configuration with the M-Sport suspension:
In the early years of the 1990s, the writing was on the wall for the high-strung M88 derivatives. They were excellent motors, no doubt, but power levels were rising to the point where the M5 was no longer top trump. It enjoyed a small power advantage over cars such as the V8 4.2 quattro, true – with 276 horsepower and 295 lb.ft of torque, the Audi had less punch but more pull. But cars like the M119-equipped 500E changed the playing field; 322 horsepower was enough to overcome the S38 in the M5, but the big number was the 354 lb.ft of torque. That was nearly 100 lb.ft more than the S38 and it was more usable, too.
BMW wasn’t to be outdone, launching its own series of V8 for the 1992 model year. in 3.0 and 4.0 form, the modern aluminum motors dubbed the M60 brought new levels of power to the third generation 5. In fact, so potent was the 4.0 version that BMW decided the more expensive M5 was effectively redundant in the marketplace. The M60B40 was rated at 282 horsepower and 295 lb.ft of torque and and good enough to scoot the luxury car from 0-60 in 6.9 seconds even when equipped with a 5-speed automatic.
But there was a 6-speed manual option as well, and of course you could opt for the sport package that would give you better seats, springs and a limited-slip differential. These options turned the two-ton Teuton into an athlete. While this particular E34 started life as a 525i, it’s been given the full 540 treatment and then some, culminating in a Vortech supercharger for some serious punch:
We usually try to give plenty of time for readership to check out the auctions we link to. However, if you click on the link below you’ll find there’s only a few hours before this auction will end. Why am I writing it up?
Well, it should be pretty obvious. I like yellow cars, I like wagons, and I like Audis. Three checks there! This is a rare package, and I like rare, too. And before you start chattering about the BBK’s propensity to eat timing chain guides, this one’s already been upgraded. So it must have a million miles? No, they’re in check, too, at 112,000. Best of all, the seller is offering the car in a no reserve auction format and for some reason, bids aren’t outrageous yet.
If you want a big, bad and bold manual wagon, ACT NOW!
To this point, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the E39 M5 referred to as the “first of the robot-builts”. Sound ridiculous? So does dismissing a car because it was produced in mass quantities. While the original run of 4- and 6-cylinder M-cars got the trend rolling, there are quite a few who’d argue that the recipe of the super-saloon was better achieved in the third generation M5 rather than the first two. It was still very understated, yet with 400 horsepower and instant torque it was quite a bit faster than the prior generations had been. It retained the ability to demolish back roads, keep up with super cars, and bath its occupants in luxury. Despite not being assembled ‘by hand’, it was also the last of the “analogue” M5s, with limited computer intervention and interface. And, they only came as manuals. This certainly sounds like a recipe for success.
It was. BMW sold nearly 10,000 E39 M5s in North America – triple the combined total of the E28 and E34 models. So there should be a lot of really great examples out there to consider. Yet many are starting to come to market with upwards of 150,000 miles a a laundry list of maintenance to catch up on. Where does a low-mileage example fall these days? This beautiful Royal Red one in California gives us a clue:
Perhaps one reason that the S6 Avant didn’t really take of on U.S. shores was because of the shoes it had to fill. Enthusiasts had enjoyed the B5 S4 in Avant form for a few years, and consequently as a popular model when the B6 launched it was almost sure to make a return, almost certain to have more power, and almost certain to be available in a manual. Those premonitions came true, and so if you were willing to wait two years between the B5 and B6 S4 Avant production you were rewarded with the 4.2 liter V8 mated to a manual and even more sporty feel. For lovers of fast Audi wagons, the S4 was the answer to the things that the S6 wasn’t.
But as time has gone on, the “OMG it’s got a V8 and a manual!!!” shine of the B6 has waned slightly as long-term problems have reared their heads with the powertrain. Like the Allroad and S6, those problems are probably overstated by the “‘Exaggernet’, but they nonetheless exist. So while the B5 to B6 represented a huge jump in power, there are quite a few fans of the older generation still. That grunt deficit is easily overcome with the twin-turbocharged V6, as well, thanks to clever tuning potential. Like the B6, you could of course have the B5 with a manual. And, in some wild colors:
Back to wagons!
Today’s example is another fan-favorite model, of which it seems surprisingly hard to find a great example. The E39 continued and expanded the 5-series wagon’s popularity by bringing bigger wheels, more power and updated looks to the mid-range Audi-challenger. Like the first generation, these were only available in rear-wheel drive in the U.S., so matching the all-wheel drive variants available from…well, everyone else, required a very good looking and potent package. BMW pulled that off, with the Sport versions of both the 528i and 540i Tourings thoroughly encapsulating the ethos of the great Euro wagons.
But there was a catch.
If you wanted a manual gearbox, you had to select the lower output 528i model. For all its shouty V8-ness, the 282 horsepower 4.4 liter M62-equipped 540i only came with BMW’s Steptronic if you needed to haul ass and a family. Of course, that hasn’t stopped a few enterprising individuals from combining the manual from the sedan with the more desirable wagon:
Update 5/28/18 – further price reduction from $14,950 to $12,995.
Update 3/23/18 – The asking price of this 540i has dropped from $15,995 in November to $14,950.
By the early 1990s, even though the S38 was an incredible engine there was no denying that it was from another era. BMW’s new lineup of V8s – all-aluminum, quad-cam units were cheaper and easier to build, run and nearly as powerful – especially so in everyday use. As a result, BMW phased the S38 M5 out of production for the North American market. Yet there were still cadres of M-devotees who wanted to fly the 5-series flag here. The result was two special models for Canada and the U.S..
The more rare of the two was the Canadian market M540i. For all intents and purposes, it was a European-specification M5 without the inline-6 – they even moved production of them from Dingolfing to M’s home base of Garching. In total, they built 32 of them – making them one of the least-frequently seen M products out there. It’s no surprise that it’s been quite a while since we last saw one for sale.
The U.S. market got a slightly de-tuned version of the M540i. Known as the 540i M-Sport, unlike the M540i it was available as either a manual or automatic and didn’t carry quite as much M-content as the Canadian car. But you did get M5 looks, M5 suspension and M5 wheels – in this case, the M-system II “Throwing Stars” found on later U.S. production cars opposed to the M-Parallels found on the M540i. They were also not finished at Garching, but alongside normal E34 production. A reported total of 205 were produced for the U.S. market and we last saw one about a year ago.
So when today’s car popped into my recent searches, I was immediately pretty excited as it appeared at first glance to be one of the elusive examples of the M-Sport. And it was certainly priced like one, as asks are usually in M5-territory. But was it love at first sight?
If the minor nomenclature differences between what constitutes a BMW with sport items, a Sport model, and a M-Sport model can be confusing, the ordering of model designation in Audi’s TT lineup is downright infuriating. Technically, I think the correct order for the model is as shown above – Audi TT Coupe 225 quattro ALMS Edition.
And here’s the trick. First you needed to differentiate if you ordered a Coupe or Roadster. In 2002, you could get a front-drive coupe with the 180 horsepower engine, and you could also get the 180 horsepower motor with optional Haldex quattro all-wheel drive. But if you selected a Roadster, you couldn’t get a 180 quattro. Now, if you went for the upgraded 225 horsepower motor, you automatically got quattro – there was no front-drive option. That makes the “quattro” moniker after any 225 model redundant. Even more redundant in this case is the “Coupe” moniker, because if you opted for the ALMS appearance package in the 2002 model year, the hardtop was your only choice. So if you referred to this as a TT ALMS – as many do – the rest would follow – you’ve got by default a 6-speed manual 225 horsepower quattro Coupe. For many, this makes the ALMS one of the most desirable 8N TTs, and the limited run of 1,000 examples in either Misano Red Pearl with Silver Gray Nappa leather or, as show here Avus Silver Pearl with contrasting Brilliant Red Leather tends to command a premium over other examples of the first-gen Golf-based model:
My recent M5 v. Alpina B10 post took a look at two exotic versions of the E34. Of course, BMW offered their own alternative to the M5 late in the production cycle, as the introduction of the M60 V8-powered 540i produced nearly as much usable power as the more expensive M variant. Such was the success of the 540i that BMW initially judged the M5 dead in this market; it was removed from the U.S. in 1993 after slow sales and wouldn’t return until the new millennium.
As a result, the 540i flew the 5-series performance flag for two generations and still is very popular today. Especially in Sport versions, the E34 and E39 540is offered power, refinement and outstanding chassis dynamics in a package that was attainable for more people. So which is the better buy today – the first or second generation?
At the beginning of the 1990s, pretty much everyone was stepping away from twin-cam inline-4s. While they had been the rage in the 80s and “DOHC” was nearly as popular as Miami Vice, buyers demanded more power and refinement. Sure, you could make 200 horsepower from a high-strung four-pot; but making it tractable for daily driving, passing emissions, and reliable? That was another ball-game. As a result, most major manufacturers went to larger displacement 6- or 8-cylinder motors in their small performance cars.
Everyone, that is, except for Porsche.
Porsche dialed in the 944S2 a bit more with updated 928-inspired looks and a new ‘VarioCam’ adjustable valve timing on the 3-liter inline-4. Now with 237 horsepower and an impressive 225 lb.ft of torque, it roamed the sports car elite field like a small dinosaur. Porsche added another speed to the mix, but since this was a relatively expensive 4-banger coupe based on a twenty year old design, they didn’t sell particularly well. A total of 2,234 Coupes were imported between 1992 and 1995; the last year was the worst seller, with a scant 259 making the journey. This particular last-year example may just be the best one left in the country: