Following up on the A8 3.7 front-driver oddity I posted last week, today I’m going to look at a few of the cars that put Audi back on the map. 1996 was the year Audi brought the brand-new A4 model in to replace the aging B4 90. So successful was the A4, and so ubiquitous in the small German executive market today that you’d assume the early examples were far more prolific than they were, in reality.
Still, the A4 is credited with saving the company, at the very least for the U.S. market share. Is it true? Take this into consideration; Audi sold 18,960 A4s from the launch in late 1995 until the end of 1996. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Toyota, after all sells about 400,000 Camrys every year for the last half-decade – and that’s in a market that very much no longer values the sedan. But in 1995, Audi sold a total of 18,124 cars including those early A4s. Go back a year, and the number was substantially lower; 12,575. Entering into the 2000 model year, Audi crested 100,000 A4s sold in the U.S. market. The proof was in the pudding. By the time the new C5 A6 launched, Audi’s sales had crested 65,000 units a year and they haven’t looked back. 1994’s sale figures represented 0.08 of the marketplace; today, Audi sells a still modest but sustainable 1.3%.
But while Audi and “quattro” are synonymous, like the A8 I looked at, a fair chunk of the early A4s avoided the extra cost of all-wheel drive and came configured as FronTrak models. About 7,000 of those nearly 19,000 1996 A4s were so ordered. The prolific nature of these cars, coupled with typical low Audi residual value, has meant that they’re hard to find in clean condition.…
It’s often difficult for a second act to follow a legend, and that’s just what the C4 S4 had to do when it launched for U.S. customers in 1992. The Type 44 was already a fan favorite before the 20V version appeared here briefly for the 1991 model year, with wider flared track, bigger brakes, and more power. To answer fans, Audi introduced an even more potent version with the S4; even bigger wheels, lower suspension, and a few more horses were encased in a thoroughly modern shape, yet one that was easily recognizable to fans of the brand. With a reputation for smooth power delivery and still the market cornered on all-wheel drive performance luxury vehicles, Audi’s new S4 sold out almost immediately in a period when the European makes had difficulty moving their expensive wares.
But the Type 44 still held one advantage over its replacement; an optional fifth door. While the Avant version of the new 100 was available immediately, there was no range-topping S4 wagon brought here. That was finally remedied with the relaunch of the now renamed S6 Avant for 1995. With smoothed out bumpers, revised passenger mirror, rolling changes such as new Speedline Avus 6-spoke wheels replaced the Fuchs that the S4 wore, and headrests became closed. There were more changes with the ‘95.5’ model; the infrared remote locking became radio frequency and the B-pillar receiver disappeared; so, too, did the option to lock the rear differential yourself, as Audi opted to work in an electronic differential lock utilizing the ABS speed sensors rather than a physically locking rear end.
These were really only minor changes to the recipe, which at its roots remained a fan fantasy. The traditional inline-5 that had hung out of the nose of the high-end Audis was still there, with its dual-cam head augmented by electronic fuel injection and electronic boost control.…
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!
One of the more
captivating baffling options in the used performance wagon market must surely be the C5 Audi. Despite the reputation for 100% metaphysical certitude that they’ll fail – probably catastrophically, they’re fan favorites. Often as a retort to internet commentaries that they’re not reliable, actual owners will chime in, demanding respect and steadfastly assuring the audience that the Allroad’s reputation is undeserved.
‘It’s been 100% reliable!’ they’ll insist.
Of course, the recipe to actually make it reliable involves major reworking of the engine and suspension. And, sometimes the electronics, too. On top of that, it turns out that various people’s definition of ‘reliable’ varies greatly – especially for Audi owners. Basically, to be deemed ‘unreliable’, an Audi must first assassinate a major public figure, then make a Star Wars reboot featuring only Jar-Jar Binks, then kneel during the National Anthem (easy to do, as most have failed suspension on at least one corner), and finally when you turn the key the engine does the action sequence out of a Michael Bay Transformer movie. If, and only if, those conditions are met will fanatics finally fail to reply to the assertion that the Allroad just isn’t a reliable car.
But, it’s cool. And so you probably want one, even though you know it’ll bankrupt you. So the smart way to buy an Allroad is to not buy an Allroad:
Why not kick off the New Year with a few fantastic wagons? Sounds like a good idea to me!
A few years ago, I looked at a pretty tempting bit of forbidden fruit – a C6 Audi S6 Avant. Loaded up with enough tech to employ half of Palo Alto, the C6 moved the concept of the C5 S6 Avant a few notches ahead. The jump from C4 to C5 was 113 horsepower strong, and the next generation nearly matched that. With 95 more horses to net 435, the new C6 had one more gear, more space and even more luxury than the car it replaced. But thanks to very slow sales of the prior generation in the U.S. market, it never came here. Although they’re at least twelve years old now, that means we’re still a solid teenager away from seeing an easily legal import here.
Or are we?
I’ve previously made fun to the term “Unicorn” as it relates to selling…well, pretty much any of the cars we feature on these pages. Truth told, as special as you think your car is, it’s really just one of probably a fairly large number of cars just like it out in the wild. Yet that doesn’t stop the P.T. Barnum’s of the used-car market from touting how unusual it is to see their particular circus attraction. In fact, many times it seems to be considered the main selling point:
Salesman: Now that you’ve selected all your other options, I’m going to tell you about one final “dealer special” option we can offer you – but it’s only for select, and discerning customers!
Rich Plebian: Uh, okay, what is it?
S: It’s the not offered to public “Unicorn” option
RP: “Unicorn”? Like, horned mythological beast?
S: Yes, exactly. The Unicorn Package is option code 785.
RP: Okay, what does it get me?
S: You get to tell everyone how unique your mass-produced car is.
RP: Wait, it gives me special powers?
S: No, you just get to say that your car is more special than the other cars that are exactly like it.
RP: Well, people have always told me how special I am, so sign me up!
So here we are again. In the sales pitch for this 2006 Audi S4 Avant, “Unicorns are real” appears. The question is – is this really something you never see, and is it the horned mythological beast you’ve been looking for?
While ostensibly the S4 Avant was the top-trump in the A4 lineup for both the B6 and B7 series, there were two limited models which each have found a niche in the marketplace of people who might desire them even more than the bellowing V8 beast. While performance on the turbocharged models was much more sedate than the S4 out of the box, the ability to tune these cars up without the impending doom threat of the chain-failure-prone BBK 4.2 means there are a bunch of individuals specifically seeking out the early Ultra Sport or later S-Line Titanium Package models. Today we’ve got one of each – which would you choose?
Just the other day on one of the internet chat groups I probably spend far too much time looking at, someone posed the question “Should I buy an Allroad?”
There are two camps of thought on the Allroad. On the one side is the group of individuals, many of whom still own them, for which Audi’s light-off-roader is the best vehicle ever designed. Quickly in speaking with them you realize few of them remain stock, which points towards the cause of the other side of the story.
For those who aren’t fully in love with the Allroad, they’re one of the least reliable, most unnecessarily complicated Audis ever built. And from a company that likes unnecessarily complicated designs, that’s saying something. The electrics fail. The suspensions fail. The turbos (count ’em, two!) fail. Look, I’m a huge Audi fan, but I can acknowledge that you have to really, really want an Allroad to buy into the kind of maintenance you need to perform to keep it going. My mechanic bought my parent’s 6-speed example, and now he’s afraid to drive it because every time he does it breaks. All he talks about is how expensive it is to fix. An ex-Master Audi mechanic. Think about that.
What was interesting to me as this discussion quickly devolved into “It’s the best car ever! (but here’s the laundry list of how to make it the best car ever…)” versus “You can’t afford to own one, because you have to own three so that at any given time one is theoretically working” was that no one brought up the S6. To me, the S6 is the perfect solution for wanting an Allroad. It looks better. It’s got a nicer interior. It’s got more power, and exactly zero turbos that blow. And it’s got an all-steel suspension that doesn’t fail.…
You want power? When Cosworth slapped a few turbos onto Audi’s venerable 4.2 liter V8 for the C5 RS6, that’s what you got. 450 stampeding horsepower and 428 lb ft. of torque meant that in the early 2000s it was the model to beat. But AMG and BMW M quickly caught up and surged past the C5’s power output – even when Audi upped it with the “Plus” model to 469 hp.
The launch of a new RS6 based upon the C6 platform allowed Audi some room to expand the model’s engine output by literally expanding the engine: now 10 cylinders displaced 5.0 liters. Straddled by two turbochargers again, the second generation RS6’s power output leapt into a new league, with an almost unfathomable 571 horsepower and 479 ft. of torque. The C6 is a heavy car, but it was capable of 911-scaring 0-60 runs and could top 170 mph with ease.
What’s amazing is that Audi’s replacement for this car, the C7, moved to the new twin-turbo V8 4.0T motor. More power right? Well, not so fast; it actually produces about 11 horsepower less than the peak performance of the V10, though I’ll grant that the additional gears and greater torque mean it’s a functionally quicker car (as if it needed to be). Well, quicker than a stock one, at least, because this particular RS6 Avant has been ‘slightly’ upgraded to north of 700 horsepower.
Okay, enough obscure Audi crap, Carter. You want the real deal. You want what Audi fans look towards der Vaterland for.
You want RS Audis.
Can I blame you? Since 1994, Audi’s RS moniker has stood for performance in all weather, and is usually paired with their signature Avant model for best consumer consumption. While this conversation and most of the internet would immediately turn towards the RS2 as the defacto signature, a model still unsurpassed in its execution, that’s not where I’ll start. There are reasons for this, but for both the RS2 and B5 RS4, Audi had to utilize outside help to make the car they wanted to between Porsche and Cosworth. So, in some ways, today’s model is the first real all-Audi effort.
Instead of the icon we’re going to look at Audi’s mega-impressive B7 RS4. Audi went to great lengths to revise the all-wheel drive system in this car to make it a better competitor to the M3. With a naturally-aspirated Fuel Stratified Injection 4.2-liter V8 chucking out 414 horsepower, it had the motivation to move it around quite a bit too. And the best part? For U.S. fans, it actually was sold over here and remains a great performance value (if you can afford the repairs). So why look to Europe to get one?
Well, there are a few reasons. First, Avant. We only got the sedan version of the RS4 here, so if you really want street cred, importation of one of these bad boys will certainly gain you that, though nearly every conversation will include a “Yes, it’s real…” exchange. But perhaps an even better reason to consider Europe for your RS experience? The price. These cars haven’t hit the collector market yet, but they’re moving outside of normal consumption for daily drivers. So while an 85,000 mile RS4 sedan hits eBay in the $27,000 – $30,000 range, this clean Avant can be yours for a discount: