I’ll be honest. There are only two reasons I’m looking at these 2003 Audi S6 Avants – their colors. Seemingly 90% of the S6 Avants that came to the United States were Silver, Silverer, or Black. As a result, it’s somewhat of a celebration to look at the more inspired tones. And there were a few; you could, for example, opt for Amulet Red, a striking deep crimson. You could get Audi’s signature Pearlescent White Metallic, one of the few extra-cost options on the S6. Or you could go with one of today’s two tones: LY5X Aqua Blue Pearl Effect or LZ6X Goodwood Green Pearl Effect.
Both are pretty stunning colors in their own right, but in each case here the transform the S6 Avant to another level of desirability. And in both cases here, the condition is outstanding and well documented; both sellers claim theirs to be one of the best in the U.S., and both are probably right. So which is the one to get?
Typically, our ‘Roll the Dice’ features have been cars that are a bit of a gamble; little history is disclosed, there are no photos to show the car’s condition or no description, something’s odd about the example, it’s got a million miles…you get the point. Today’s S6 Avant is a bit of a different gamble, though.
To be fair, jumping in to any 15-odd year old German car today is somewhat of a leap into the unknown. You’re entering territory where the complicated electronics begin to fail, oil seeps from every joint of the motor and rattles permeate the body structure. Often, you’re left chasing the ghosts of deferred maintenance. Add up the number of things that could potentially go wrong on an older car and then cross reference the part costs, and you’ll quickly see the problem.
So what does that look like when we consider today’s S6 Avant? Well, if the seller is to be believed, in the past year they’ve spent $14,079 fixing this Audi. The last nice S6 Avant that I looked at sold for $13,000. You don’t have to be a math wiz to figure out that’s a bad deal. And that last nice S6 Avant was in much better condition than today’s model with only 50,000 miles on the clock.
So if you’re getting in to today’s car, you’re rolling the dice a bit that the $14,000 “invested” in this one has resolved all the problems. But there are positives, because the seller has opted for a no reserve auction format, and…oh yeah, it’s supercharged.
Audi’s interesting sales plan of S-cars in the early 2000s was, for U.S. fans, both good and disappointing at the same time. Mega models like the RS4 continued to be withheld from this side of the Atlantic just as the S2, RS2 and S6 Plus had been. The new generation of V8 powered S cars had yet to arrive, too; movies teased us of the slithering, nitrous oxide-boosted battering ram S8, and though the C5 chassis now sported the V8 in 2000, we had yet to see the S6.
But there were bright points. The B5 S4 was available as a sedan or Avant here, for the first time, in 2001 the flagship S8 arrived and after a wait until 2002, the S6 arrived in Avant form. And, only in Avant form, and only in automatic. You could complain about that for sure, but then the introduction at long last of an RS model – the twin-turbocharged RS6 – assuaged the loss of the regular S6 sedan for nearly everyone.
Once in a while, though, a S6 sedan pops up on this side of the Atlantic:
Update 2/12/18: A year after we originally featured it, this ultra-rare S6 Plus is back with 1,000 more miles for $500 less. It’s still a steep price for one of these super-S models, but it’s pretty hard to find them at all, never mind like this.
Audi’s sleeper sedan squared up against some seriously stiff competition in the early 1990s, and to be frank, though it was innovative it came up a bit short in the power department. In turbocharged 20 valve form, the 2.2 liter inline-5 cranked out 227 horsepower and 258 lb.ft of torque. That was impressive by 1980s standards, but in the early 90s you needed to carry a bigger stick. BMW’s E34 M5 brought nearly 100 horsepower more to the party at 311 with the revised 3.6 (and yes, it had more torque than the AAN, too), but Mercedes-Benz really crashed the party with the E500, whose M119 held a full 100 horsepower and 100 lb.ft of torque advantage over the Audi. You could be as clever as you wanted, but a 50% power disadvantage was a bridge too far to cross for the legendary 5 pot no matter how many wheels were driven.
The writing was on the wall, and Audi decided to offer an upgraded V8 model alongside the S4 in the rest of the world. Starting in October 1992, you could select the same ABH 276 horsepower 32V 4.2 liter all-aluminum V8 in the S4. The switch to S6 saw the introduction of the revised AEC, which gained 10 horsepower for the 1995 model year and would continue to be the standard V8 in the S6 until production ended. But the big new was the 1996 introduction from Audi’s skunkworks quattro GmbH of the Plus model.
The Plus upped the ante quite a bit with the reworked AHK V8. Though it displaced the same 4.2 liters and had the same 32 valves, the breathed on motor had 322 horsepower and 302 lb.ft of torque. Power was matched with upgraded suspension, brakes, wheels and some small “Plus” badge details – this was still the decade of stealthy performance, after all. Few who look at this model would see anything other than a C4 sitting on slightly larger wheels. But for those in the know, this was one of the most potent super sedans (and wagons!) of the 1990s:
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. The turbo spun up quickly and had an overboost function, giving drivers 227 horsepower and 258 lb.ft of torque to be mastered solely by a manual transmission with Torsen center differential. Form-fitting electric sport seats kept front passengers firmly planted in place through the prodigious grip generated by the meaty 225 section tires. Combined with the prodigious space the Avant offered families and the ability of these cars to eat up highway miles with aplomb regardless of weather, not to mention the incredible tuning potential of the AAN 20V turbo, they’ve become highly sought steeds with a very limited pool of around 300 originally imported:
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?
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. But as S6 Avants were quite expensive at $60,000 in 2002 after gas guzzler tax but without options, it (as the other expensive wagons in period) sold slowly. Only around 1,200 were imported over the brief two year period, compared to exactly 3.2 million Allroads if I calculate correctly based on the number that turn up at sleazy second-hand dealers in the greater Providence area. They wander the streets of Rhode Island, three wheels in the air and one on the ground, a winky Xenon vibrating up and down as the bumpstops are tested to the extreme. So let’s look at one of the nicest alternatives to the certain suspension failure:
Watching the Goodwood Festival of Speed feed live this weekend yielded a bit of aural and visual treat for Audi fans as the quite rare S4 GTO took to the famous hill. As esoteric Audi racers go, it’s pretty high on the list – especially given the performance on tap. Basically, the defunct 90 IMSA GTO was selected to head to South Africa to race and replace some also defunct 200 quattros. But since the 80/90 weren’t sold in South Africa, instead of the B4 Audi utilized a C4 chassis. Prepared by Voldi and raced in the hands of Hans Stuck, the 700 horsepower all-wheel drive monsters were immediately successful and were run for several years. Although the car running at Goodwood was in the later Rothmans livery (it’s worth watching the clip here!), the original model was in Audi’s adopted racing silver of the early 1990s. This S6 immediately reminded me of it:
In my last C4 S6 post, I mentioned how the mid-year changes of the short run for the re-badged C4 made each one feel a little bit bespoke given that so few were sold. That’s certainly the case here, as the running changes manifest themselves in interesting ways on this particular 1995.
The most obvious of the items that can be seen is that this car wears the earlier 16″ Fuchs-made forged wheels more traditionally associated with the S4. These were replaced later in the run by the Avus design Speedline wheels the S6 (and most S models for the next few generations) wore, but early production S6s were delivered with the leftover Fuchs wheels. Which is more desirable varies by preference, but in this case I think the Fuchs work really well. Early cars also retained the infrared locking system (denoted by a receiver at the base of the B pillar) and the manual locking rear differential button in the center console. These were replaced later by a radio locking system and electronic rear differential, respectively, in the 1995.5 S6 refresh. But what also is interesting to me, and perhaps one other Audiphile, is that this car has the later closed headrests, unlike the S6 we saw last week.
At the end of the day, these minor differences matter little in what was otherwise a very desirable package no matter what parts Hans grabbed to install that groggy Monday morgen. Presented in semi-ignominious yet signature Emerald Green Mica with Ecru leather, this one nonetheless looks like a keeper: