What is the price of obscurity?
Here we have a 2001 Audi S3. While the S3 has been a recent addition to the Audi lineup to bolster affordable performance options and compete against Merc’s CLA and BMW’s 2-series, the model has a long history which dates back to the nomenclature change for Audi. The first A3 was launched alongside the then-new A4, and while the visual similarities were strong, the two models shared little. That’s because the A3 was based heavily on the Mk.4 Golf platform with transverse mounted engines. Just like the original Audi 50, though, the A3’s arrival predated the Mk.4 Golf by a year.
As I’ve already covered in previous articles, while the U.S. had to wait until the 2004 launch of the Golf R32 to get all-wheel drive performance, Europe had enjoyed Golfs with four wheels driven since 1986. So it was a relative cinch to stick the Haldex-based all-wheel drive system into the A3 chassis where, like the TT, it would be called “quattro”. And just like the TT, a high performance variant of the 1.8T would be included and become the S3 in 1999.
Again, some of the styling cues were shared with the big-brother S4, including 17″ Avus wheels and deeper, smooth bumper covers. The S3 was the first model to utilize the ‘door blades’ that would become signature S bits soon after. Performance was about what you’d expect from a near twin of the TT – meaning, virtually identical. But what you did get was slightly more subtle styling and slightly more practicality, with a bit more storage space and a roomier cabin. Despite the relatively negligible gains, because the 8L S3 never came here, they’re a bit of a hot commodity when they do arrive. How hot?
That a clean first generation TT still looks new some 15 years later is rather miraculous. Perhaps it points to a change in car designs; less revolution, more evolution. Consider for a moment that the TT concept (which went into production largely unchanged) toured the car show circuit in 1995 – only 6 years after the move to the 964 model by Porsche. Of course, it’s easy to see why Audi would only evolve the design of the TT. It was a hit off the bat, as pretty much everyone liked the snappy performance, the unique looks, the economic practicality of a 2+2 hatchback, the available all-wheel drive. So park a 2004 TT next to a 2014 TT, and though the design moved into a new decade, it didn’t change direction.
Because the TT has been ubiquitous over the past nearly twenty years in the marketplace, it’s often taken for granted that you can get one pretty much any time you want. News flash: you can get an air-cooled 911 of any variant, an E30 M3, a Bugatti EB110 – whatever – anytime you want, too. The difference? You and I can afford the TT.
For the last few years, Volkswagen has perpetually teased us with the hottest Clubsport and Clubsport S version of the GTI, promising they “may” come to the United States but never following through. While this is no doubt disappointing to the twelve people who actually would have bought them and the 1.8 million who claim on the internet they would if given the option, it follows a long tradition in German motoring of leaving the best of the breed in the homeland. When it came to the GTI, not only did we have to wait several years before we got the original hot Golf, but indeed it was a bit watered down and heavier when it did arrive. The same continued in the next two generations; more weight, less power. Both in the second and third generations we also lost out on supercharging, all-wheel drive and special body kits available in the European market.
Once again in 2001, a neat Golf was launched that â€“ of course â€“ wasnâ€™t coming to the United States. But of all of the special editions that werenâ€™t sold here, perhaps this one made the most sense to be excluded. It was called the 25th Anniversary Edition and you didnâ€™t need to be good at math to realize that there was no GTI sold here 25 years before 2001. Since the â€œ18 year Anniversary Editionâ€ didnâ€™t make much sense from a marketing perspective even in spite of Volkswagenâ€™s continual spotty judgement in that regard, it was no surprise that it wasnâ€™t offered. That was too bad, as it had a lowered suspension, better brakes, a bit more power, fantastic Recaro seats and the best looking BBS wheels fit to any Volkswagen, ever. Volkswagen enthusiasts in America drool inwardly and shouted openly, so in 2002 Volkswagen finally did bring the special edition here. Again, since â€œ19th Anniversaryâ€ didnâ€™t make any sense, we instead got the â€œ337â€ Edition. This was, for all intents and purposes, an exact copy of the 25th Anniversary model, but instead the 337 referenced the internal project code for the original GTI. But they were quite limited, with only 1,250 sold in the U.S. and 250 sold in Canada. So, you probably missed out on your chance to own one, right? Well, wrong, because in 2003 Volkswagen re-released the 337 edition. Conveniently, there was now a round number that they could actually commemorate the GTIâ€™s longevity with as it had been 20 years since the A1 GTI rolled out of Westmoreland. Again, it was a greatest hits edition; the 337 upgraded 12.3 inch vented brakes with go-faster red calipers carried over, as did the upgraded suspension. Though they sported different fabric, inside was the same Recaro interior with deep bolsters. The golf ball shift knob also returned, though it now was mated to a new 6-speed transmission (MQ350) which in turn were connected to R32 Aristo wheels in place of the BBS RCs. Deeper front and rear valances matched the previous two models, and the 20th AE got blacked headlights more similar to the 25th AE. The AWP 1.8T turbo’s boost was cranked up a bit, delivering 180 horsepower through the front wheels and tied to an electronic differential. A final homage to the original model were subtle rabbits adorning the rear and vintage inspired GTi badging. But the biggest change was that the 20th AE was available in three colors unlike the silver-only prior cars; Black Magic Pearl, Imola Yellow and Jazz Blue :
Update 2/17/19: It what’s probably no surprise to most, this A4 remains available with only a $500 price decrease to $9,300 now
A few of us sat baffled several months ago as we watched auction results come in. The model in question was the E46 330i – in particular, the “ZHP” performance package. The ZHP was basically halfway between the regular Sport package and the M3, utilizing unique body bits and wheels, a slightly hotter motor, and the transmission borrowed from its bigger brother. Your only option for a 4-door performance 3-series in this generation, not many bought the over-$40,000 price tag. What’s interesting is that while these cars were sold alongside the M3 for far less money when new, today they can actually command a premium over the real-deal M.
Case in point – a 33,000 mile Coupe traded for $26,000 earlier this year, and it wasn’t alone. It’s been labeled the “ZHP tax”. There are reasons why a proper ZHP brings M3 money, mind you – they’re cheaper to run and they’re quite a bit more rare than the M, especially in good shape. And BMW wasn’t alone offering them.
Audi, too, had a “Diet S4”. Dubbed the Ultrasport Package, for $3,000 it included RS-inspired “Celebration” 18″ wheels with summer tires, the lowered 1BE suspension that was part of the normal Sport package, a unique quattro GmbH/Votex body kit, and a nicely wrapped leather steering wheel and shift knob. It also limited your interior option to black, and a fair chunk of them appear in Light Silver Metallic – also a popular choice on the S4. Unlike the 330i, the USP A4’s engine choices weren’t upgraded, but you did at least have two – the AWM 1.8T rated at 170 horsepower, or the AVK 3.0 30V V6 good for 220 horsepower. Both were available with choice of 6-speed manual (*5-speed for the FWD models) or automatic, and the basic 1.8T model was about $10,000 less than the 330i. While there was no convertible/coupe USP to compare to the 330i, Audi maintained its trump card on sporty wagons. Just like the ZHP, today the USP A4s command a strong premium in the used market, especially as Avants:
Update 9/26/18: This A4 Avant sold for $6,986.
Even though for my the B5 chassis A4 was the beginning of the dilution of the Audi brand, I admit I have always had a soft spot for nice examples. And the first A4 had plenty of things to celebrate. First off, it effectively saved and resurrected the brand in the U.S. from near extinction; consider for a moment Audi sold a total of 18,124 cars in 1995, the same year that the A4 was introduced as a 1996. By 1997, Audi sold 16,333 of just the A4 quattro model alone. As a success, that subsequently meant that there were a plethora of options to be had in the new chassis as production opened up. Soon we had the 1.8T turbo model joining the V6, the V6 was soon revised to have 30 valves, there was a light refresh in ’98 as well and another in ’01, the Avant joined the lineup for ’98, and of course we got a new S4 in 2000.
Considering that for some time there had only been one way per a year to get the small chassis in quattro form, this relatively dizzying array of chassis configurations meant that there are still quite a few nice ones out there to be had. But unlike other cars that have skyrocketing asking prices, a very clean B5 quattro can still be had for a song:
Although I’ve espoused my love of wagons and their do-everything nature, the reality is that I live in the suburbs and there are certainly some times (read: pretty often, actually) that I could use a pickup truck. But, if I’m completely honest, I’ve previously owned a big Chevrolet 2500HD pickup and I’m still not convinced that I’m a pickup kind of guy. Worse still, have you priced a pickup out lately? HOLY MACKEREL. A base Silverado starts at almost $30,000 and if you want things like…seats, and/or wheels, you’ll quickly need more than $40,000. When I see $40,000 asks on a pickup which a) I know will be rusting in 5 years no matter what I do and b) because it’s a GM, will almost certainly break, I get pretty annoyed. Worse still, the “Heartbeat of America” isn’t built in America. I know. I live right by the port where they all come in on a boat. Beside the steady stream of Fiats, Volkswagens, Porsches and Alfa Romeos, there’s a long line of Chevrolet and GMC pickups being driven into the United States for the first time.
So how about a pickup that’s a bit more my speed? Built in America with tons of European flare by utilizing recycled Audi/Volkswagen products, there’s always the Smyth Pickup:
When the second generation Cabriolet finally launched for 1995, Volkswagen had waited so long to replace the A1 chassis that it completely bypassed the A2. What appeared then was a A3 chassis, and compared to the outgoing model it was bigger, rounder, softer and not appreciably sportier. Motivation was from the same ABA 2.0 inline-4 found in the standard Golf rated at 115 horsepower, so to make it ‘hipper’ Volkswagen dropped the “let” from the name.
It was, however, instantly recognizable as the new go-to affordable 4-seater drop-top, but sales were slow in the mid-90s. Volkswagen sold just over 5,800 1996s, for example. They were pretty expensive for a Golf at nearly $20,000 MSRP and over with some options, but then this was the cheapest German convertible you could buy. The big problem was that for less money you could get the much more entertaining (and reliable) Miata. The combination of low production numbers, the classic styling of the original and lack of enthusiast appeal mean we just about never feature them. I last wrote up a Cabriolet in July 2017, and the last Cabrio was a year earlier. So there’s nothing to see here? Not with this turned up and built one, that’s for sure!
Obviously, this post comes to you from someone who likes Volkswagens – and, in particular, 5-door VWs. I’m not sure exactly what the attraction is for me, but the last two Volkswagens I’ve had – both Passat GLS 1.8T Variants – have been faithful and fun-to-drive companions. Despite their relative popularity (VW sold nearly 110,000 wagons in North America – 20% of production overall), they somehow manage to stand apart from the crowd. And for about ten years VW enthusiasts got to choose not only from the Passat’s fairly robust lineup of wagons which featured everything from luxurious automatic V6 all-wheel drivers to thrifty diesels and outrageous W8s, but there was also the slightly smaller Jetta Wagon as well. Like the Passat, several options were available, from a basic 2.0, the turbo 1.8, the TDI and the crazy VR6 model.
Today I’ve got two examples to consider; in this case, both are front-drive 1.8T 5-speed manual GLSs. Despite what should be a very similar basis, these two take on remarkably different character. Pricing is pretty similar but presentation and mileage are quite different. Which is the one to buy? Let’s start with the Jetta:
Where to start….where to start….
So, in the realm of ‘Least Desirable Volkswagen Products’ enthusiasts bemoan, the New Beetle must surely rank very high on the list. But every once in a while one pops up that is worthy of consideration. Maybe they have low mileage or are a neat color. Sometimes they’re turbocharged, making them pretty quick, too – all attributes of this 1999 example. Presented in L9L9 Cyber Green Metallic, it’s traveled only 23,000 miles in its life and its the more macho 1.8T speedbug. Though it’s clearly not stock, we’ve recently looked at a well modified Beetle that pulled off big-dollar mods at a budget price.
Tuner Tuesday GCFSB Alumnus: 2002 Ruf Volkswagen Beetle Turbo S Concept
So when I first caught the gallery shot, it looked as though the owner of this car tried to replicate the super-sweet Beetle RSI – not a bad thing, if it was pulled off correctly.
This one is not pulled off correctly.
However, if you’d like a few chuckles, read on.
While I spend most of my early 2000s Volkswagen attention on Passats and GTIs, there was another pretty compelling package in that period. The Jetta Wagon launched in 2002 and brought with it a myriad of engines and transmission options. Finally, the United States had access to the ‘Golf Variant’ that the rest of the world had enjoyed through the 1990s. And, you could have a TDi, a VR6 or even the 1.8T hooked up to a manual. Aside from it being called a Jetta and therefore you had the same car as all of the ‘Jenna’s from ‘Jersey (‘Cause, like, it’s like almost the same like spelling as like my name is like OMG!!!), there weren’t many drawbacks to the small wagon.
Judging from the number of Mk.4 Jetta Wagons that I still see on the road, the TDi was the most successful model sold in this area. Neat – in theory – is the VR6 model with a 5-speed manual, though finding one can be a bit of a trick. And they were pricey; you’d assume the Jetta would be cheaper than the more upscale Passat, right? Not always. While my 1.8T GLS Passat went out the door around $26,000 in 2002, if you opted for a modestly equipped VR6 Jetta you’d pay over $27,000. And while the VR6 may have seemed to be the best bet, I’d argue that the 1.8T was better value.
That’s because for the 2002 model year, Volkswagen reprogrammed the 1.8T to make a bit more twist. The resulting AWW was seen in the GTI and GLI cars, but also carried over unchanged in the Jetta. Rated at 180 horsepower, it produced 10 horsepower more than the Passat and 6 more than the 2.8 liter SOHC 12V VR6. While the GLI package didn’t carry to the wagons, you could still get 17″ wheels, leather interior, a 5-speed manual and some pretty colors, too: