Perspective is an interesting thing. Just a few days ago, I looked at an S6 4.2 Avant – a car that never came to the U.S.. It was certainly potent, with 285 stomping V8 horsepower. Even more potent was the Plus version linked in the article, with enough power to match rivals from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. But here in America, we bemoaned the lack of importation of these models; worse still, Audi’s U.S. lineup went decidedly soft following the discontinuation of the 20V turbocharged inline-5 S6 in 1995. Indeed, another S model wouldn’t appear here until 2000.
But only a half decade after the most potent S-car had launched out of quattro GmbH, Audi gave us a reason to celebrate. The S6 Avant returned to U.S. shores, and it was even more powerful than the Plus model had been. Now with 5V technology, the BBD 4.2 V8 cranked out 340 horsepower. Like the 4.2 sedan we just looked at, the flares were widened and door blades made the stance more aggressive. Special interior details abounded; sport seats and steering wheel (comfort seats were a no-cost option), Alcantara headliner, and carbon fiber trim let the driver know they were at the wheel of a special model. Audi’s signature Avus wheel design appeared in 17″, but uniquely 8″ wide and in lower offset than either the S8 or S4 models’ wheels. The 1BE sport suspension was 20mm lower and 30% stiffer than the standard models. And though it looked like the rest of the subdued, understated early 2000s lineup, the Avant scooted; 0-60 was gone in 6.5 seconds, the standing quarter mile in 14.5, and the S6 could pretty effortlessly brush against its electronically limited 155 mph top speed. Reviews and owners alike chime in with the same song: like the E39 M5, this is a car that does everything, and does everything well.
So why the hell didn’t we buy them?
Ah, the used car market in Europe. It’s the stuff of dreams for U.S. fans. First off, you get cars that were never available to our market. Often, those cars come with colors or options that weren’t offered here. They are usually closer to original specification. Europeans seem to drive less and value their expensive cars more, too – so they turn up with lower than normal mileage and in better than average condition. And, as if to top it off, they’re dangled in front of us at cut-rate pricing. Because of the cost of keeping these cars down stream in Europe with taxes, insurance, and – most importantly for most – the space to keep multiple cars, older cars are often offered at prices that would immediately have several fans on U.S. shores throwing money at the sellers.
Today’s S6 4.2 Avant combines all of those things into one package:
Seriously, what’s the deal? Almost immediately after completing expensive 6-speed manual swaps, both S6 and S8s come up for sale. Today’s example, having covered about 9,000 miles since its swap, might be one of the most traveled examples with a manual swap that I’ve seen. Are the results not what people were expecting? That the manual was combined with the S4’s similar V8 in a package that many enthusiasts love would tend to be an indication that the output of this equation should be quite good. Yet, it’s frankly not all that uncommon to run across a manual swapped C5 or D2 that, after several thousand dollars worth of work and programming, is now up for sale. There’s even one near me for under $4,000 – complete!
So what do you think the deal is?
The S4 Avant is no stranger to these pages, offering enthusiasts a “have-your-cake-and-throw-it-squarely-at-that-M3-owner’s-face-too” package which combined functionality and sport in a very discrete wrapper. Well, for the most part they were discrete; most were ordered in shades of gray because a fair amount of people ponying up new were conservative with everything but the money they were paying for this small executive wagon. Lightly optioned, an S4 Avant was north of $50,000 in 2004, a price today that would having you knocking on the A7 and S6’s base price. That sticker shock masks that the B6 and B7 represented a huge price increase over the B5 generation; out the door, the cost on average about 20% – 30% more only 3 years later – but then, they offered a full 90 horsepower advantage over the twin-turbocharged V6 with that awesome 4.2 V8, which of course could still be combined with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Subtle though the exterior colors may be, the performance on tap was anything but.
But some enterprising individuals chose the vivid colors which had become the signature of the model in B5 form. Nogaro Blue Pearl Effect was, of course, the go-to for all things fast Audi since it was originally called RS Blue on the original super Avant RS2. But a nearly equal amount were requested in Imola Yellow, a staggering, retina-burning banana-toned shade that seems initially out of character with a family wagon, yet raises the cool-bus level to 11. Though Nogaro was replaced in the B7 chassis refresh with Sprint Blue Pearl Effect, Imola carried over for the end of the V8s.
Today, I have one of each – so which is your style?
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:
We’ve gone through a kick of Pearlescent White Metallic Audis over the past few days. And while they’ve all been lovely examples that are well built, well maintained and well presented, they’ve all been missing one thing: a turbo.
You could argue that the value of a $5,000 Audi in pristine condition but without a turbo is still relatively good compared to some other contemporaries. But the immediate counterpoint is the turbocharged variant of the C4; the S4/S6. Even if you accept one in worse condition, the possible longevity of the package coupled with the performance potential on tap simply outweighs other considerations. Sure, these Audis have faults – they all do. The inline-5 models have the same problems as the non-turbo models, but they have no real further drawbacks. And since you can get a pretty decent S4/S6 for about the same asking price as some of the other Audis we look at, those cars are effectively viewed immediately as overpriced in the eyes of the market (rightly, or wrongly).
But what about a really nice S4 or S6? It would have to be in good condition, and pretty close to stock. If it was modified, the add-ons would have to be good quality or ideally factory items. Miles would need to be in check, condition would need to be great, and maintenance up to date. If we’re getting picky, an Avant would be preferable, and if really pedantic, the early ’95s that kept the locking rear differential rather than the later EDL.
The C5 platform S6 Avant offered a considerable amount more power and performance than the A6 on which it was based. Packing a 4.2 liter, 40v all-aluminum V8 that developed a meaty 335 hp and a hefty 310 ft-lb of torque, the S6 was capable of sprinting to 60 in around 6 seconds. Those numbers might not seem as impressive as they once did, but back in the late 90s/early 00s that was no mean feat for a healthily sized family hauler that tipped the scales at just over 2 tons. To keep the tires firmly planted on the road, the S6 utilized a Torsen-based Quattro system that split power evenly between the front and rear wheels. Unlike the Allroad, these steel-suspended Avants ran the 1BE sport suspension, while aluminum body bits helped (marginally) to keep weight in check. Exterior styling cues separating the car from its more humble siblings were kept rather subtle, limited to slightly wider fender flares, chunky S6 specific Avus alloys, door blades, a slightly redesigned bumper and aluminum caps on the wing mirrors. This was a car that might go unnoticed in the school parking lot, but could hit (a limited) 155 MPH on the highway on the way home.
I always thought of the B6 as the compact executive sedan for people a little too quirky to buy a 3-series or a C-class (a bit like a Saab). The handsome, turn-of-the-millennium design has aged well and continues to exude a note of well-heeled class even today. While humdrum four and six cylinder examples can be picked up very cheaply for everyday commuting duties, it’s the high-performance S4 version that really gets the pulse racing. Wearing some sporting exterior upgrades – door blades, redesigned bumpers, chromed wing mirror covers and, usually, 18″ Avus wheels – it remains a rather understated car in outward appearance. But squeezed under the hood is a thumping 4.2 liter V8, good for nearly 340 hp and 155 MPH on the Autobahn. Rev it hard and this thing pulls like a freight train. While the drawback of the B6 was always its questionable reliability and build quality, that motor, combined here with a six speed manual gearbox in a wagon bodystyle, might just be enough to make up for it.
Just last week I was baffled by a C5 chassis swap. The seller took a 2.7T twin-turbo motor, a 6-speed transmission, and an Audi A6 Avant to create a unique package. However, in some ways its mission was lost to me; why not just buy an Allroad manual for half the price, or get the nicer S6 Avant with more and better go-faster bits? To answer my question, our reader Andre posted a response with the link to this car. Again, we have a C5 Avant with a 2.7T 6-speed swap. The price is pretty similar. But the base vehicle this time is the S6, with lightweight aluminum panels, flared fenders and bladed doors, great interior and a host of RS6 bits. Does this one accomplish being desirable and justifying the swap better?
Generally, when an engine and transmission swap is undertaken it’s something that wasn’t offered from the factory. S52 in an E30, V8 in a 944, VR6 in a Mk.2; you’re making a performance version of a car that wasn’t offered from the factory. But then there are other swaps that, frankly, leave me scratching my head, and this one is certainly high on the list. It’s not that the result wasn’t neat – the finished product looks like a clean A6 Avant, but the lowered stance and big wheels hint at some serious changes under the skin. So let’s take a peek at what’s been done: