After two clean 90s, it’s time to look at the much greater appeal of the turbocharged S6 Avant. Imported in even more limited quantities than the 90 quattro 20V, the wagon form of the C4 with AAN turbo power has been legendary since its inception. But with a very limited stock and a chassis known to pile on mileage with aplomb, clean and low mileage examples are few and far between.
So I’ll start off with admitting that this S6 Avant is not perfect; if anything it’s probably far from perfect by most standards. There’s body damage, a replaced hatch, the wrong wheels, a fair chunks of missing paint. It’s got 179,000 miles and is in need of a suspension refresh. It’s 22 years old, too, so you can bet it’s got some Audi idiosyncrasies. And with that, most of the 911 crew just tuned out.
But, and it’s a big but, it’s a S6 Avant. As such, it’s automatically worth investigating if it runs at all. And dig beneath the (admittedly somewhat ruined) exterior, and there’s a fair amount to like here:
Emerging from the sales slump brought on by the recession and actual fake news, Audi solidified its position in the small executive luxury market with its brand new A4 model in 1996. While in truth the car heavily borrowed from the evolution of the B3/4 series and started life with the same flaccid 12 valve V6 that had replaced the sonorous 7A inline-5 for 1993, the A4 was exactly the model Audi needed to redefine its image.
And redefine it did, going from near zero to hero in just a year’s time.
Car and Driver immediately named the A4 one of its “10 Best” cars, a position it would repeat in 1997 and 1998. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the perennial favorite as the BMW 3-series was for the magazine, but still, that it was mentioned in the same breath was impressive. New sheetmetal was smooth and tight, full of great angles and well-placed curves. The bumper covers were finally integrated well again – something the U.S. specification B4 had inexplicably failed miserably at. Inside was evolution rather than revolution, but the cabin looked and felt upscale and modern. And the market responded to this instant hit; consider, in 1994 Audi sold 12,575 cars in total. In 1996, some 15,288 of just the A4 models were sold. That was before the many variations and improvements Audi rolled out in the B5, too.
Seemingly every year new changes offered refreshment and redesign to the A4. In late 1995 and 1996, you could only get one specification – the 2.8 either with or without quattro. But ’97 saw the introduction of the 1.8T, while ’98 gave us the Avant and more potent 30V V6. Okay, it didn’t pack a knockout punch, but new wheels and a sport package, along with a subtle refresh to the tail lights, gave the model a more sporty look:
Okay, let me get this off my chest first: I don’t like the A4. My reasoning is most likely completely irrational from the standpoint of being an Audi fan. Quite simply, the A4 made Audi popular, and I didn’t like that. Each successive generation made it more popular, too, to the point where my neighbor “Tiffy” (no joke) bought (of course) a 2007 Dolphin Gray Metallic sedan brand new. Predictably, it was Tiptronic. Tiffy represented to me the sale of the soul of Audi to the heartless masses of New Jersey housewives that replaced their Honda Accords, Acura TL, Lexus ES, or BMW E36 with the new flavor du Jour. Seeing gray A4s actually causes me physical discomfort to this day. The only point of solace in the situation was that I knew, at some point, these A4s would go “all Audi” on Tiffy and her cohort of hair-flipping, bleached and over-makeup’d friends in heels that fit them ten years ago, and they’d be left with a dash full of warning lights and a laughing AAA driver transporting them to the local dealership. There, their knock-off Louis Vuitton purses would be emptied, as their local authority on all-things-Audi-repair would literally take the Armani Exchange shirt off their backs.
Then there’s the group of 2nd/3rd/4th-owner bros with flat-rimmed hats and a long line of credit with APR that have modded these A4s to the hilt. They’re a whole other level of discomfort for me.
I recognize it’s a problem, and at some point I’ll probably seek therapy over it. Needless to say, I won’t be owning an A4 at any point soon. Or ever, likely.
With some disdain, then, I consider an A4 2.0T quattro sedan. To me, there’s but one reason to consider an A4, and that was that (until recently) you could get an Avant. Obviously this isn’t one. And the ad for this particular example has some issues. By some, I mean they mis-list the year, color and trim levels. Yet it has some redeeming qualities. It’s a manual, first off, unlike about 90% of the A4 sedans produced. It’s got lower mileage, too, with only 65,000 miles covered in ten years. But what most interested me was the color of this part this model. It’s certainly not the Deep Sea Blue Metallic the seller claims. I’m also pretty sure it’s not the other blue from 2007 – Ocean Blue Pearl Effect. That would make this particular A4 a special order car, and I believe it to be Sprint Blue Pearl Effect:
A couple of years ago I toyed with the idea of buying a B6 A4 for use as a daily driver. That’s pretty remarkable since I’m not a huge Audi fan (though I do love the D2 S8). I admire these cars for their restrained, modernist styling, which has stood the test of time pretty well. The problem was, I only wanted one particular trim level, the Ultrasport, and I couldn’t find one in my price range that I was happy with. The Ultrasport (“USP”) package was available as an $2,950 option on A4s produced between 2004 and 2005. It added Audi’s 1BE sport suspension, 18″ “Celebration” RS4-style rims and a bodykit that included revised front and rear lower valences, door blades aluminum trim, a special perforated leather steering wheel and a subtle decklid spoiler. The USP package made the plain A4 look a bit more like an S4, and for me that was the major attraction. But ultimately, I decided to go in a different direction. I bought my E34 BMW instead, and in nearly 30k miles of driving I have had nothing go wrong with it. I’m not sure I could say the same, had I bought the A4. Still, these cars continue to grab my attention. I think a well-chosen example could make a stylish commuter for those prepared to put up with the servicing costs associated with Audis of this era.
Time does funny things to how you view cars. In 2001, I couldn’t have been less excited to see an A4 1.8T, especially in Tiptronic form. It was the car that finally made Audi solvent, granted – and as an Audi enthusiast, that should have made me happy. But it also brought a group of Johnny-come-latelys to the brand, steering BMW 3-Series buyers away from their tried and trusted steeds. I don’t know why this should have bothered me, but it did.
As a result, I sort of swore off the A4 for a long time. It was too heavy, too underpowered, too round. The 1.8T, even rated at an upgraded 170 horsepower later in the run, felt pretty underwhelming to drive even compared to the glacier-slow inline-5s I grew up with. The seats and interior felt cheap even though they looked more modern than the E36 and certainly more so than the B4 and B3 generation. In short, the A4 felt like a gimmick, and while the market bought it, I didn’t.
Fast forward now 21 years since the launch of the B5, and I have a much greater appreciation for the model. It’s on the verge of being vintage in some states (or already may be, depending on your local laws) which is about as boggling to the mind as considering a billionaire a “populist”. The popularity of the A4 led it to be the first “disposable” Audi, so finding a clean and lower mile A4 has become difficult. But they’re out there if you look, and even the ‘lowly’ 1.8T model has its appeal:
If you walked in to your Audi dealer a little under a decade ago, an A4 sedan started at $31,000. That sounds like a lot, but consider for a moment that all these years later, the base price is still under $35,000. Click the S-Line package on your order form, as many did, and you snuck an extra $2,000 out of your bank account. That got you a black-only leather interior, the 1BE sport suspension, brushed aluminum trim, a S-Line 3-spoke multifunction steering wheel, 18-Inch 5-Arm quattro GmbH Wheels with 235/40 All-Season Tires, S-Line door entry plates, and aluminum optic pedals. Considering what Porsche charges you just to take a radio out of a car, that’s not a bad deal, all in all. You then had the option to click the special package on the special package: the Titanium Package. This gave you the special Ronal-made 15 spoke quattro GmbH wheels in 18″, blacked out trim inside and out, and a black headliner. That would have cost you only $500 more, but the residual value of this package would have made it quite a good investment, indeed. With perhaps the best looking aesthetic of any A4 produced yet, the Titanium cars have taken on a life of their own, often asking near double what an equivalent S-Line would come to market for. That’s especially true of manuals, and the market really loves the look of Ibis White. Ticking all of these boxes plus a few more, let’s see if this particular example is worth the hefty premium:
We don’t spend a lot of time on these pages talking about the Audi TT, and that’s a disservice to what is a great car. It’s often called a pretend sports car, but dismiss for a moment that it’s not a Porsche 911 and consider what it is. Starting as a show car in 1995 (hard to believe!), most thought it would never come to market like the futuristic look of the concept. But surprisingly the look was almost identical; the slinky exterior and modern looking interior managing to well mask the Golf underpinnings. The turbocharged motor packed 180 horsepower to start, but the promise of more in the future sounded great because of the Haldex-differential “quattro” drivetrain. In many ways, it was always the promise of more power and special editions that somewhat overshadowed the 180 horsepower model, but today we have a lovely example of the lower power Coupe:
One car that sticks in my mind which I have yet to try on for size is the Mk3 Volkswagen GTI VR6. Having owned a 1998 GTI 2.0, I yearned for the increased power of the six cylinder variant at times but knew it was all but out of reach for a younger motorist like myself at the time. The VR6 really took the hot hatchback formula and kicked it up a notch, transforming an otherwise sedate looking Mk3 Golf into a performer that could run with the big dogs. It also paved the way for more refined hatchbacks, such as the MINI Cooper S, Mercedes C-Class Sportcoupe and CLC and the BMW 1 series hatchback. This 1996 GTI VR6 for sale in Georgia is about to crest 70,000 miles and is quite unmolested, which is rare for a car that was an object of desire of the Fast and Furious set.
I see B6 platform A4s all the time in DC, often driven by young people in their mid to late twenties. I tend to assume that many of them are hand-me-downs from wealthy parents who live in the affluent suburbs. When equipped with all-wheel drive, these cars make for competent year-round daily drivers ideal for the mid-Atlantic climate, and they still give off that expensive, German vibe even though by now they are relatively inexpensive to buy. But while the overall design remains attractive, I think the standard models can look a bit plain. If, like me, you prefer the sportier looks of the S4, but don’t want to deal with the possibility of the $8k timing chain job that afflicts the 4.2 V8 motor, the next best thing is a regular A4 equipped with the Ultrasport package. Available as a factory option, this added S4-style door blades, revised front and rear bumpers, sports suspension and 18″ multispoke “celebration” RS4-style wheels. So equipped, the ordinary looking A4 is instantly transformed into a sportier, more aggressively styled car. The USP package was available on both sedan and wagon models, and for today’s post I’ve written up one of each.
If yesterday’s mellow yellow 323Ci wasn’t the sunshine you’d like to see, how about something a bit more brilliant in design and presentation? I have to say the fascination with BMW wagons and their ensuing high prices sometimes perplexes me, as Audi offered a sporty, manual, all-wheel drive Avant that is great looking, reliable and long-lived and will make you feel pretty special. That’s especially so when it’s optioned in one of the more rare shades available on the B5; in this case, LY1B Brilliant Yellow. I’m sure there will be claims that, like Pelican Blue and Tropical Green, these Easter colors make the jelly bean shaped A4 a bit too festive, but personally I love the look of this Avant: