Andrew’s been on quite a romp of modern Porsche 911s. But there’s a really compelling alternative, I think – for about the same money as most of the modern Porsche range, you can jump into near supercar-level performance and exotic looks with the Audi R8.
The ‘regular’ V10 cranked out 540 horsepower, and hooked to the S-Tronic 7-speed gearbox is good for 3.5 second blasts to 60. And that speed is linked to all-four wheels with a gorgeous body and interior full of the most modern electronics. Sure, this isn’t a ‘Plus’ model, but there are a few reasons to like this one…mostly, for me, it’s the color combination. But it’s got a few hidden mods to help out with the perceived lack of go:
The Audi and Volkswagen crowds can be pretty finicky. Instead of cheering on high sales of models similar to their cars, they instead tend to resort to denigrating lofty asking prices. Truth told, I’ve been guilty of it myself – but, then, there are owner’s who “know what they’ve got” and it’s easy to point towards another example that is equivalent for a better deal.
Then there’s this S6.
Look, far be it from me to say that the S6 isn’t a very special car. It is. And I certainly feel that it should be held in equal esteem to its contemporaries, the M5 and ‘E500E’. I’ve said as much many times. But here we have a very clean-looking example of a 95.5 S6…and, well, the elephant in the room has to be not the condition, not that the C4 is overlooked, not that the mods can make crazy power; no, the headline here is the $32,900 asking price:
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been well over a decade since I bid farewell to my Audi 200. It was never meant to be; I had always admired the turbocharged Avants and so when one came up for sale for an incredibly low asking price, I jumped.
Turned out it was more than just me that needed a jump. And it turned out that the 200 needed a lot more than just a jump; the clutch was thoroughly fried, as were the brakes, and the fuel system, and a few other odds and ends. I patched it together and we enjoyed a memorable run of events. Of all my automotive calamity stories, about 50% revolve around both of my big body Audis. The V8 created more hair-raising events (such as the time the throttle stuck wide open and in an effort to stop it I managed to set the brakes on fire), but the 200 wasn’t to be outdone.
There was the time I left the tollbooth on the Mass Pike. The car was running particularly well that day, so I gave it the beans leaving the gate. First to second and the nose was pointed at the sky! Surely, everyone must be saying “WOOOOOOOW!!!“, and it turns out they were because I had blown an oil cooler line and was crop dusting Sturbridge with a thick coat of atomized 10W-40. Another time the voltage regulator died, leaving me to switch various electrical items on and off to balance the charge between 11.5 and 14 volts throughout the 2 hour ride home from Cape Cod. It blew several tires while on the road, which admittedly probably wasn’t its fault but was exciting nonetheless. I found out that the ABS worked – well – in an ice storm on 95 one time as I passed a braking BMW on the hard shoulder. The coolant lines froze one day – a major feat, since there was at least theoretically antifreeze in them. It twice threw alternator belts, leaving me to drive home the length of Rt. 24 at 5am with no lights on. The air conditioner didn’t work. Actually, basically everything electronic didn’t work particularly well if I’m honest. The radio’s blown speakers weren’t enough to overcome the wind noise created by the necessity to have the windows down at all times if the outside temp was over 60. But the kicker? The kicker was that the brake lines collapsed, leaving the calipers to randomly seize partially closed. As a result, you had to go full throttle to maintain 50 mph which, as you read at the beginning of this passage, occasionally presented an explosive problem. I gave up eventually, unable to stomach this car consuming more of my money.
Sound charming? It was. But most of my issues probably would have been remedied if I simply had bought a better example:
Audi’s C5 allroad wasn’t the first tall all-wheel drive wagon to hit the market; AMC claimed that crown with the Eagle well before Audi’s Quattro even hit the market. But it somehow defined the luxury do-anything segment and was unique in the German marques; Audi brought massive amounts of computational power, height-adjustable air suspension, a wide-body flare kit, twin-turbocharged power and even a manual gearbox. It was awesome. It was popular. But, it broke so much that even MacGyver was left stranded..
So when it came to the original allroad’s replacement for the B8 chassis, Audi dropped pretty much all the cool stuff. Gone was the manual, gone was the V6, gone too were the twin turbos and height-adjustable suspension. Audi simplified the recipe and based the newer allroad on the A4 Avant. Power came from the same 2.0T TFSI inline-4 mated solely to an 8-speed automatic found in the regular A4, pumped up the ride height slightly and added matte black fender lips and Voila! Miffy had a new ride to get to Nordstrom. Worse for some enthusiasts, the advent of the allroad came at the expense of the regular (and attractive) A4 Avant. Disappointed? Me too. But hey, every once in a while a good-looking one comes around…
Throngs of U.S. Audi fans rejoiced when the news came that not only was the RS6 returning to this side of the Atlantic, it would be coming for the first time as an Avant. With nearly 600 hybrid horsepower on tap, it promises to be exactly the rocketship full of 5-door tech you’d expect from the company. But it will be interesting to see actual sales numbers after all the internet buzz dies down, because herein lies the problem with the RS6 Avant; if it is competing with the E63 S AMG Wagon (how could it not be?), it will sticker somewhere between $120,000 and $140,000 depending on options. Let’s just say that it’s safe to assume that’s out of the reach of most of the people chastising Audi all over the Internet for not bringing it here to this point.
So is there a solution? Absolutely. There was already a perfectly good RS6 offered here two generations ago. And if you’re willing to pony up roughly $40,000, you can have an Avant here. But today we’re looking at a sedan, because 1) they’re much more plentiful, 2) they’re much more affordable, and 3) this one is turned up and should offer close to the performance of the inbound model. The seller claims this car produces 620 horsepower and 750 lb.ft of torque. Oh, and I almost forgot quattro) it’s a 6-speed manual swap, too:
Why would anyone even contemplate paying $65,000 for a 25 year old, complicated and turbocharged Audi wagon? Because of the badge that adorns the front – the magical “Renn” added to the S2 badge, along with the legendary name Porsche scripted below. That meant that this relatively unassuming Audi 80 quattro Avant had been produced in Zuffenhausen on the 959 production line rather than Ingolstadt or Neckarsulm and had added a healthy dose of even more “Sport” to the small chassis. Ostensibly, though the Sport Quattro was the first RS vehicle, the RS2 was the first to wear the badge which has become synonymous with Audi’s speed department. For many Audi aficionados, though the RS vehicles have become much faster and more luxurious, just like the with W124 500E and the E30 M3 Audi has never made a car better in its overall execution than the original. Not that it was slow by any means; Porsche’s massaging of the ADU inline-5 resulted in 311 horsepower – even more than the Sport Quattro had from essentially a very similar motor.
So despite being much heavier than the Sport had been, the RS2 wasn’t much slower; sub-5 seconds to 60 and a top speed north of 160 mph. Along the way, it was capable of bullying everything outside of a supercar; yet this car also established the move from Audi’s 2-door halo vehicle to a long line of fast five doors. Porsche also upgraded the brakes and wheels with Brembo units and 17″ ‘Cup 1’ wheels creating a signature look, and tacked on 911 mirrors for good measure. So, too, was the color signature; original called RS Blue rather than the color name it’s often mistaken for – the later Nogaro – bright blue is still the go-to shade for Audi’s fastest. Even within its fast contemporaries, this car was legendary, and the upgrades to the motors and wheels spawned an entire generation of enthusiasts to turn up their inline-5s stateside. Now that these cars are legal for importation, it’s pretty tempting to turn to Europe to see what’s available.
As the E34 M5 and W124 500E/E500 creep up in value, if you search you can still find excellent examples of the odd-ball turbocharged inline-5 all-wheel drive wonder from Ingolstadt. While both of those cars are legends and fan favorites in their own right, I’d like to suggest that most underappreciated yet most capable of that generation was the C4 Audi S4. Out of the box, it was at a disadvantage to the other two; it’s small displacement cast-iron inline-5 hung fully in front of the forward axle line and was at a distinct power disadvantage. With 227 horsepower on tap, it was some 84 horsepower shy of the S38B36 and nearly a hundred down on the M119. But it was turbocharged, so torque was over 250 lb.ft – close to the BMW’s level. Still, they were fairly heavy and if you wanted to shuffle with the Municher and Stuttgarter, you had to keep that AAN on boil and on boost. But the trump card that Audi presented in the market at that point was all-wheel drive, and coupled with the tunable nature of the AAN, it meant there was a lot of potential in the chassis of the C4. That was met with excellent build quality to create what was perhaps the zenith of Audi’s production in the inline-5. Despite that, they have remained far more affordable than either of the competition, though finding a good one today can be difficult. One of just 399 ’94s sold in the U.S., this Brilliant Black example is one of 50 sold with black leather:
Update 11/17/19: This Quattro sold for $18,600
Though the basis for what made the Quattro legendary; inspired racey styling, boxflares, turbocharging and all-wheel drive with a near-luxury interior seems almost trite, the Quattro really was a revolution in design. Some ten times more dear than an E30 M3, in recent years the Audi has gained a lot more respect in the marketplace. There are those that say you can’t really compare the Quattro to the M3, or even the 911 – though the pricing was quite similar. But isn’t that the point? In period, the other car you could have bought for the same money was a basic 911. And the market spoke: in 1983, Audi sold some 240 Quattros in the U.S.. Porsche, on the other hand, traded 5,707 911SCs between the Coupe, Targa and new Cabriolet models. There was basically no market overlap with the other two major contenders – the 944 Turbo and the M3. Both those cars, and the 911, were finished to a higher level of quality with better components, arguably, but the real difference was the type of owner who bought the Quattro versus the 911. These cars were built to be used and abused, and many were.
With only 664 brought here in total, and just 240 from the first model year, you’re going to have a pretty hard time finding one for sale at any given time – unlike the other three cars mentioned. That’s why it’s worth taking a look at one of the earliest U.S. chassis, even if it does come with a long list of needs. But that strong potential of heavy needs isn’t slowing bids down…
Update 11/13/19: Despite showing as sold for over $34,000, this RS4 clone was relisted with a $32,500 Buy It Now.
On the other end of the spectrum from Audi’s U.S. spec B5 S4 was the monster which left me, and most fans of the marque, frustrated. That’s because Audi skunkworks quattro GmbH partnered with corporate acquisition Cosworth Engineering to create the legendary RS4. The same 2.7T motor from the S4 suddenly developed not 250 horsepower, but 375. Arches flared. Mouth was firmly agape. Seats were huggier. Wheels were bigger. Suspension was lower. It was wagonier. It was all around a better car in virtually every way.
So it should come as no surprise that its lack of importation didn’t stop enthusiasts from trying their own hand at the mods. And because of the turbocharged nature of the B5 S4, it was a little bit easier to achieve similar results to Audi. So here we have a B5 RS4 ‘Tribute’, but one that not only added the OEM body pieces and turned up the motor. Because under the hood hides not 375 horsepower, but punched-out 3 liter V6 churning 700 horsepower – at the wheels, mind you. Welcome to ‘The White Beast’:
The B5 S4. On paper, it’s a car that I should like a lot. Coming from the modest 4000 quattro, Audi produced what should have been a monster on paper; a 2.7 liter twin-turbocharged V6 rated at over twice the power of the old inline-5s mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. 6-spoke “Avus” wheels carried on the late 90s design in 17″ form, with deeper but still subdued body additions and more grills hinting at the better performance of this A4-based creation. Twin polished exhaust tips, Xenon headlights, deeply bolstered sport seats and plenty of technology also came along from the ride, too.
But for me the B5 S4 sedan was never super exciting. Perhaps that was because it was instantly popular. What I remember annoying me more, though, was that it really seemed like Audi could have produced stronger performance. After all, it generated only a few more horsepower than the last favorite – at launch, the already out-of-production E36 M3 was the match for the performance of the S4 due to its lighter weight. And that was in turned-down U.S. spec! More sharply notable was the launch at the same time of the S8, and the S4 was some 90 horsepower down on that model. Yet get behind the wheel of one, and suddenly it wasn’t a lack of grunt you were noticing. It was how well the package pulled together. It rode well, it had a glut of usable torque thanks to the small twin turbos’ ability to spin up so quickly, and the fit and finish inside was leagues better than the E36 was. And while you could stick snow snows on an E36 and make it through winter just fine, as a year-round commuter car the S4 made a lot more sense while simultaneously being a much better sleeper. It was a ‘Q-Ship’; admittedly, not the biggest or fastest one out there, but certainly an undercover speed agent. These cars developed a cult following, so it’s still possible to find nice examples, such as this Casablanca White over Onyx 6-speed: