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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:
After the legendary run of turbocharged inline-5 motors ended for U.S. customers in 1995, Audi would not deliver another S6 to these shores until 2002. When it arrived, it came in only one form – the popular Avant package. While many rejoiced that this was at the very least an option, it was still pretty expensive and not everyone loves the fast five doors (crazy though it may seem!). But Audi came very close to offering S performance in the special package which was the A6 4.2 quattro. There were many variants of the C5, and ostensibly the 6-speed manual 2.7T was the “sport” option for the chassis. But the top of the heap 4.2 40V offered you the ART/AWN V8’s torque and 300 horsepower with instant throttle response starting in 2000. Underneath the 4.2 carried a special aluminum subframe. Additionally, the all-aluminum engine was joined by specially flared fenders and hood in aluminum, “door blades” that would later be seen on S models, plus optional 17″ x 8″ Speedline (later changed to forged and polished “Fat Fives”) wheels and upgraded brakes and pads. Suspension was lowered and stiffened with the 1BE sport springs and struts in the optional Sport Package; a 20mm drop was accompanied by 30% stiffer springs, 40% stiffer shocks and larger sway bars. The combination gave a menacing appearance to the C5 that wasn’t really present in the narrow-body 2.7T. Today, the argument over which is the better chassis still rages in multiple fora, and while tuners usually love the twin turbo manual option, many others prefer the velvet hammer 4.2 which really was a defacto S6 sedan Audi never brought here:
Along with the switch in nomenclature that came with the 1995 A6, there were visible changes. New headlights, all-red tailights and a revised grill stood over smoothed, monotone bumper covers. Gone were the wide black plastic rub strips that had been the signature of Audi products for more than a decade, and in their place were more discrete color-coded units. New wheels from Speedline were the standard 15″ option for both quattro and front-drive models. Outside of that, there were few mechanical changes to either drive configuration and the interiors remained unaffected. Despite this, Audi rolled out one more new name for its lineup that most have forgotten; FrontTrak. What did the fancy name get you? Well, perhaps when being sold it sounded more special than just saying “Oh, you’re not opting to buy a quattro-equipped model? Well, the consolation prize is FrontTrak, so everyone leaves a winner!” The reality is that it was still basically just an open differential front-drive sedan, and so ubiquitous was the name Audi with quattro that many have forgotten the popularity of their front-drive models even into the 1990s.
Audi’s priorities in the mid 1990s in regards to the U.S. market shifted, as they concentrated their efforts on reestablishing any semblance of market share with what would prove to be the very successful A4. The A4 itself was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, as it incorporated most of its technology from the existing platforms. Similarly, Audi backed away from its venerable turbocharged inline-5 platform; a new V6 had become the go-to option choice in both B4 and C4 platforms in 1992. It was far from sporty, but the combination of moderate V6 power, updated looks with the 1995 refresh of the chassis and legendary build quality resulted in what I consider the most Mercedes-Benz like car Audi built. THe A6 2.8 quattro was luxurious in a Spartan way; just enough power options, but not tech-heavy. It was quiet, comfortable, handsome and capable in a time when it still held the monopoly on all-wheel drive wagons – remember, this was the time when the widespread popularity of SUVs was still a generation away. You could even squeeze seven passengers in to a A6 thanks to the optional rear bench seat. They became vogue with the ski-set, and as a result few appear in the condition of today’s example: