Perspective is an interesting thing. Just a few days ago, I looked at an S6 4.2 Avant – a car that never came to the U.S.. It was certainly potent, with 285 stomping V8 horsepower. Even more potent was the Plus version linked in the article, with enough power to match rivals from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. But here in America, we bemoaned the lack of importation of these models; worse still, Audi’s U.S. lineup went decidedly soft following the discontinuation of the 20V turbocharged inline-5 S6 in 1995. Indeed, another S model wouldn’t appear here until 2000.
But only a half decade after the most potent S-car had launched out of quattro GmbH, Audi gave us a reason to celebrate. The S6 Avant returned to U.S. shores, and it was even more powerful than the Plus model had been. Now with 5V technology, the BBD 4.2 V8 cranked out 340 horsepower. Like the 4.2 sedan we just looked at, the flares were widened and door blades made the stance more aggressive. Special interior details abounded; sport seats and steering wheel (comfort seats were a no-cost option), Alcantara headliner, and carbon fiber trim let the driver know they were at the wheel of a special model. Audi’s signature Avus wheel design appeared in 17″, but uniquely 8″ wide and in lower offset than either the S8 or S4 models’ wheels. The 1BE sport suspension was 20mm lower and 30% stiffer than the standard models. And though it looked like the rest of the subdued, understated early 2000s lineup, the Avant scooted; 0-60 was gone in 6.5 seconds, the standing quarter mile in 14.5, and the S6 could pretty effortlessly brush against its electronically limited 155 mph top speed. Reviews and owners alike chime in with the same song: like the E39 M5, this is a car that does everything, and does everything well.
So why the hell didn’t we buy them?
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:
The Audi C5 chassis was a unique time when the American market got virtually all of the options that were available in other parts of the world. There were many different engine configurations; starting with 2.8 liters and working its way to 3 liters was the naturally aspirated V6 in either sedan or wagon form. Stepping up a notch got you twin turbos on the V6, which could be had with either a manual or automatic gearbox, again in either sedan or wagon form (albeit only in Allroad configuration). The Allroad introduced a concept pioneered by Volvo and Subaru and was hugely successful if hugely complicated, with an adjustable air suspension meeting a host of other electronic gizmos. V8s were optional as well, in the widened and lightened near-S-specification A6 4.2 sedan, or as we see here the full fat S6 Avant. Turn it up a notch further and you could twin turbocharge the V8 and get your 450 horsepower jollies in a RS6, though we only received the 4-door. Granted, we did miss out on some great TDi configurations and the V8s came as automatic only, but simply the option to have the 340 horsepower wagon was a novelty at the time. I, like most die-hard Audi fans, was both mystified and disappointed by the C5 S6 Avant. With no manual option and the much hotter RS6 only coming in a sedan, it felt like even with the plethora of options available that the top-of-the-heap Avant wasn’t really all that could be offered. Expensive and overshadowed by options cheaper that were nearly as quick but more gimmicky (and basically looked the same), they didn’t sell particularly well – but most were coveted by those that bought them, and when they do arrive to market they’re usually a far cry from the tired look most C5 Avants have assumed:
Whereas the C4 S6 Avant had been the only high performance wagon in the Audi line in 1995, when it came to the early 2000s Audi had gone hog wild with options. In the both the A4 and A6 lineup, you could get the then potent 3.0 V6 and it could be opted with a 6-speed manual in the small chassis. While long term that engine has proven quite problematic, at the time it offered 60 horsepower more than the V6 had only a generation earlier – a substantial bump. Then there was the much loved B5 S4 Avant, with its twin-turbocharged V6 which again could be mated to a 6-speed manual. That same setup was available in the large chassis Allroad as well, though more often than not the C5 was equipped with the 5-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox – the transmission that was the only option for the 3.0. If that wasn’t a stout enough lineup, Audi also launched a revised S6 in 2002. Borrowing some of the aluminum elements from the A6 4.2, the S6 featured flared lightweight fenders and hood, larger 17×8″ Avus wheels with a wider offset than the B5 chassis wheels (though visually there was no change), lower door blades, a revised grill and polished aluminum mirrors and roof rails which had become the signature of the S-series cars. All of these elements would later be incorporated into the B6 S4 Avant. With 340 horsepower, the C5 S6 was capable of sub-6 second runs to 60 m.p.h. and could cruise effortlessly at triple digit speeds. Though it didn’t look much different than the rest of the C5 Avant lineup, it was most certainly the Alpha in the Audi wagon lineup in 2002-2003: