On its way out of production, Audi graced the ageing B7 with one last parting piece of performance. The RS4 Cabriolet was announced in late 2007 as a 2008-only model and ripped the top of of Ingolstadt’s signature small super sedan. Like the rest of the A4 Cabriolet production, it was soft-top only, 2-door only configuration, and like the RS4, it was 6-speed manual only. Under the hood lay the same BNS 4.2 32 valve V8; Audi dropped the 5 valve technology for the RS4 application, but gained quite a bit of horsepower in the process. Though the engine shared basic construction with the normal S4 V8, it had a unique crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons, cylinder heads and valvetrain, oil and cooling system, intake and exhaust system, and engine management system. Audi also introduced their Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI) system. The result was 420 high-revving horsepower and enough noise to make Pavarotti jealous.
Although the RS4 Cabriolet shared the revised T3 Torsen setup, Dynamic Ride Control and huge 14″ front brakes as the sedan, Audi’s focus for the model was exclusivity rather than sport. The model was fully loaded with only one option – color – and came to market at a substantial $15,000 premium over the 4-door. Only 300 were sold with a sticker price of about $84,500:
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 New Beetle isn’t a car which often featured on these pages. In fact, I can only find three times since we’ve started this site that they’ve come up. Considering that we’ve written up about 1,200 M3s in that same time period, I guess our stance on the Golf-based image car is pretty clear. However, the bones of the New Beetle aren’t really all that bad; based on the Mk.4 chassis, there are plenty of parts available and they’re cheap to buy. They offer a pretty practical hatchback package with some additional style. And, in turbocharged 1.8T form, they even offered a sporty ride.
Introduced in 2002, the Turbo S turned that package up a notch with help from the GTI. Underneath, the AWP-code 1.8T was rated at 180 horsepower at 11.6 lbs of boost, and had matching 173 lb.ft of torque. The transversely-mounted power was channeled through the same 6-speed manual you’d find in VW’s hot hatch and no automatic was available. Volkswagen outfit these cars with standard stability control and loaded them up with Monsoon sound, sunroof, active aerodynamics, leather, aluminum trim, power accessories and keyless entry. They also got special white and black gauges inside and a more pronounced twin-tip exhaust, along with fog lights integrated into new bumper covers. To help manage the speed, Volkswagen’s 1BE lower and stiffer suspension package was fit, along with BBS-made “Delta X” 17″ wheels with 225-45-17 tires. The package was pricey, at nearly $24,000 in 2002 – a not unsubstantial amount, considering that money would get you into the much nicer chassis of the Passat in wagon form at the same time. Unlike the pastel-toned entry colors of the New Beetle, the Turbo S was only available in Black, Silver, Platinum or Red with a total of 5,000 produced. Volkswagen hoped that these sporty changes would re-character the model which had primarily appealed in only one sexual demographic. Did it work?
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?
(Editor’s Correction: Though I originally listed this car as a M-Sport, it’s really a 135is with the Sport package. However, the equipment package on this car was renamed for the 2009 model year to M-Sport. This car does feature the upgrade 740 M-Sport suspension.)
It’s hard to judge the performance value of the BMW 135i M-Sport 6-speed as anything other than very tempting in today’s market. Get beyond the styling for a second and look at what this car comes with; stock, the twin-turbocharged N54 inline-6 pumps out an impressive 302 horsepower and matching torque, giving you E46 M3-strata performance. Equipped with the M-Sport package, you got shadow line trim, a black headliner, sport seats, M steering wheel and shifter, M door sills, and the M-sport M264 5-spoke wheels unique to this model. While performance wasn’t turned up, the 1M was no slouch, capable of sub 5-second 0-60 times. Admittedly, it is not the most beautiful product that BMW produced in period, but in gussied-up M-Sport form it is certainly more purposeful than the standard 128i your boss’s secretary ran out to get the moment it was off-lease.
But the real beauty of the 135i M-Sport is the price. Some dip into the mid-teens or occasionally below, but even a pristine one like today’s example hits the market below $25,000. A generation newer than the E46 M3, it offers plenty of sport, reasonable practicality, more affordable repairs and one could argue that it’s a bit of a sleeper compared to the S-motored cars:
A few weeks ago, I took a look at a trio of Porsche 968 6-speeds. One was a rare 1995 model; only 259 were sold from that model year. As is often the case with 968 Coupe 6-speeds, the asking prices of two of the three were quite high and they still linger on the market, unsurprisingly. Well, today we have another double take of ’95 specific 6-speeds – how do they measure up to the last three we looked at?
The Porsche 968 Coupe 6-speed is a fairly infrequently seen package, but one that is generally considered to be the “ultimate development” of the water-cooled transaxle 4-cylinder models. Only about half of the cars that were imported to the U.S. were Coupes (4,242 sent to North America, 2,234 of which were Coupes), and when equipped with the 6-speed manual the number dwindles to just 1,811. That puts production of these models on par with the E28 M5 in terms of rarity, and the group of enthusiasts who enjoy them are about as avid if not moreso. However, they also often overvalue their cars in the marketplace, making them expensive options relative to the performance on tap.
Today I have a group of no less than three 968 Coupe 6-speeds for sale – a rare Christmas treat to see. Which is the winner of the group?
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:
I remember a time not that long ago when everyone basically swore off the B5 as being too complicated, too prone to failure, and without enough pizazz. The funny thing was that these judgements were all levied in comparison to the B5’s replacement, the B6. Sure, the BBK 4.2 V8 stuck under the hood was a sonorous revelation of sorts. Gone was the timing belt and the “you’re going to have to replace them at some point” not one, but two turbos stuck in back of the motor that basically necessitated dropping the engine for replacement. The BBK brought nearly 100 more lag-free horses to the party, too, and better-looking interior bits with the promise of more build quality.
Well, the reality is that Audi just punted the ball down field. The transition between B5 and B6 marked the real death toll in the long-term Audi for many, as complicated electronic systems really began to outweigh lifetime engineering designs. I love Audis. I really, really do. But it seems like every single system on every single Audi produced after 2002 is so unnecessarily complicated that I can’t imagine how anyone with even a minuscule amount of sense could look at the design and say “Yup, that’ll never go wrong”. They’re engineer’s wet dreams. In the case of the BBK, in addition to eating starters and prodigious amounts of expensive synthetic oil, there is the notorious timing chain guide issue. Since Audi opted to move the timing devices from the front to the back of the motor to fit into the snug B6 engine compartment, pulling the engine apart means taking it out. Finally get it out of the car and pop the covers off, and it looks like a Swiss clock underneath. And there’s one more secret about the B6 4.2 – sure, it’s fast and it feels shouty. But it’s not really that fast for having a 340 horsepower V8 because it weighs two tons unladen. And, turning them up a notch is pretty difficult – you’re basically limited to slapping a supercharger on the motor. As a result, quite a few have turned back a page on history and view the B5 in a much better light today:
I still remember well when the new E60 5-series launched. I was not impressed. It looked modern, sure, but it also looked very heavy and it was full of odd angles. It was expensive, too, and though the M5 came with a massive screaming V10, the rest of the run seemed to be pretty tame. But BMW offered steady upgrades throughout production, and the post-LCI sedans really came into their own with the M-Sport package. A few weeks ago I posted a ’08 550i M-Sport 6-speed on our Facebook page, and its popularity proved that more people are beginning to appreciate the performance value offered in this unique package. Having spent the past half year with a E61 Sport, they are really fantastic cars to drive and ooze quality and you can count me among the converted. Today I have another 550i M-Sport 6-speed, but this one has been turned up a few notches by Dinan: