As I’ve mentioned before, the success of the Audi A4 really opened the U.S. market to a whole lineup of cars we might otherwise not have been privy to. Undoubtedly the best way to consider that is by looking at the C5 A6 lineup. But first you need to remember that prior to its 1998 launch, the C4 reigned in 1996 at the top of the Audi sales ladder for the U.S.. However, the number of configurations you could get was shockingly small. You had the choice between front-wheel drive and quattro, and again between sedan and Avant. That’s it. Following the drop of the 2.2 liter turbocharged S6 for our market in 1995 and the 5-speed manual from the A6 lineup for 1996, your only “choice” if you wanted a mid-sized Audi was to begrugdingly select the rather stale 2.8 liter V6 rated at 172 horsepower and mated solely to a 4-speed automatic. It was competent, but boring. Actually, that sentence sums up the end of the C4 run here pretty well – and the market recognized that, snapping up only around 10,000 of the models each year.
Turn your attention to the C5 lineup and you suddenly see the array of options opened by sales success. First to launch was the heavily revised sedan for 1998. Now with the 30 valve V6, horsepower was up to a more respectable 200 and the transmission gained a gear, though it was still automatic-only. The Avant carried over from the C4 lineup unchanged for ’98, but the new sedan was enough to double sales of the A6. ’99 launched the new Avant and with it, again a surge in sales by 50%. That allowed Audi to bring over some more exciting options:
Only a week ago, I looked at a great example of an Audi S8. Granted, it was not perfect; but, the maintenance and ownership ticked the right boxes for proper consideration. Still, the unique Cashmere Pearl paint coupled with the Ecru interior weren’t most people’s favorite, nor were the C6 Speedline wheels the best match for the design. Does the cost of ownership mean you have to accept a good maintenance history at the expense of the color you want? Not necessarily, as witnessed by this Brilliant Black 2001:
Back to wagons!
One of the more
captivating baffling options in the used performance wagon market must surely be the C5 Audi. Despite the reputation for 100% metaphysical certitude that they’ll fail – probably catastrophically, they’re fan favorites. Often as a retort to internet commentaries that they’re not reliable, actual owners will chime in, demanding respect and steadfastly assuring the audience that the Allroad’s reputation is undeserved.
‘It’s been 100% reliable!’ they’ll insist.
Of course, the recipe to actually make it reliable involves major reworking of the engine and suspension. And, sometimes the electronics, too. On top of that, it turns out that various people’s definition of ‘reliable’ varies greatly – especially for Audi owners. Basically, to be deemed ‘unreliable’, an Audi must first assassinate a major public figure, then make a Star Wars reboot featuring only Jar-Jar Binks, then kneel during the National Anthem (easy to do, as most have failed suspension on at least one corner), and finally when you turn the key the engine does the action sequence out of a Michael Bay Transformer movie. If, and only if, those conditions are met will fanatics finally fail to reply to the assertion that the Allroad just isn’t a reliable car.
But, it’s cool. And so you probably want one, even though you know it’ll bankrupt you. So the smart way to buy an Allroad is to not buy an Allroad:
A few months ago I checked out a really unique 2000 Mercedes-Benz SL500 with the Designo interior package. Outside of the garish red and black leather, there was one major thing would chase me away from this car: the giant crack in the carbon fiber trim. It wasn’t so much as there couldn’t be anything done about it, but rather it would cost $3,000 to replace that piece of trim that surrounded the shifter. Much to my surprise, this same car is back up for sale many states away with an increased price tag of almost $3,000 and that same crack is still there, although hidden really well with some clever photography angles. Honestly, at first I thought this was a different car and it didn’t have any flaws in the carbon fiber. Then I compared the mileage and knew it wasn’t just dumb luck to find two nearly identical cars. While it might have been in the right market range at the original $11,900 ask, good luck trying to sell it for $15,000. I just don’t think the market is there for this odd ball with a wart.
The below post originally appeared on our site September 4, 2017:
The Audi S8. Still, this car ranks as one of my favorite automotive designs from the company, from the 1990s and 2000s – heck, maybe even overall. While I’m not a huge sedan fan in general, there was just something so right about the proportions and presence of the D2 S8. Did it help that it was in a movie I also loved? Sure, without a doubt. But even without that aspect I think this car, and specifically the 2003 model year, are my favorite U.S. bound Audi.
I especially like the 2003 model year because of the limited Audi Exclusive package. Special colors and interiors were fit to the car, along with updated “RS” design wheels. Limited to only 100 copies each. my favorite for the past decade and a half has been the Avus Silver Pearl with Burgundy interior and I think I’ve pointed that out…well, more than a few times. However, at nearly 15 years old, these cars are far from new and we’re deep into a territory were plenty of neglected examples are coming to market. As a result, rather than just find one in the color you want, with the D2 S8 in today’s market condition and history needs to trump other considerations like location and color.
Time does funny things to how you view cars. In 2001, I couldn’t have been less excited to see an A4 1.8T, especially in Tiptronic form. It was the car that finally made Audi solvent, granted – and as an Audi enthusiast, that should have made me happy. But it also brought a group of Johnny-come-latelys to the brand, steering BMW 3-Series buyers away from their tried and trusted steeds. I don’t know why this should have bothered me, but it did.
As a result, I sort of swore off the A4 for a long time. It was too heavy, too underpowered, too round. The 1.8T, even rated at an upgraded 170 horsepower later in the run, felt pretty underwhelming to drive even compared to the glacier-slow inline-5s I grew up with. The seats and interior felt cheap even though they looked more modern than the E36 and certainly more so than the B4 and B3 generation. In short, the A4 felt like a gimmick, and while the market bought it, I didn’t.
Fast forward now 21 years since the launch of the B5, and I have a much greater appreciation for the model. It’s on the verge of being vintage in some states (or already may be, depending on your local laws) which is about as boggling to the mind as considering a billionaire a “populist”. The popularity of the A4 led it to be the first “disposable” Audi, so finding a clean and lower mile A4 has become difficult. But they’re out there if you look, and even the ‘lowly’ 1.8T model has its appeal:
With recent looks at both B7 and C4 S-cars, it was time to take a look at the middle child of the run – the much loved B5. For some time these were considered too heavy and complicated for long-term enjoyment, but a resurgence of interest in the model has been driven by a very active aftermarket that supports them. In the U.S., the most loved models are the 6-speed Avants and we have two to consider here today for a double dose of forced induction family fun. Which would be the 5-door you’d choose?
Recently I was reminiscing while looking through old magazine photos and came across the Car and Driver comparison of the Mercedes-Benz 500E, the BMW M5, and the then new Audi S4. I still remember reading that article; the Audi placed last and seemed seriously outclassed in terms of horsepower, acceleration even curb appeal. If you wanted the race car dressed as a sedan, the M5 was the natural choice. If you wanted a muscle car with room for four executives, then the 500E couldn’t be beaten. And on paper, the S4 was really a poor comparison to those cars. C&D did point out that the Audi was technically more advanced than the other two; it was the only turbocharged one, and the all-wheel drive system was already legendary even in 1992. But people that opted to buy the S4 were doing so not for the technology, but for the capability of the understated Audi. Several generations of each model on, these are still the cars that many longingly remember as the height of their respective marque’s build quality and driver involvement – and certainly that’s the case for the Audi. While it was underpowered out of the box compared to its countrymen, the stout drivetrain and engine easily accepted higher levels of boost. It was the first Audi that really got aftermarket support – a group of enthusiasts who still boast that this is the best car that Audi ever made. The workhorses of the ski-set, few have led pampered lives and not many remain in good shape – making it a treat to find a clean one. Despite growing acknowledgement that this car was one of the great sport sedans, prices on even very clean examples of the C4 S4 remain much more affordable than the BMW and Mercedes-Benz competition today:
In last week’s 10K Practical Performance Edition, a question arose of what was the best ‘Bahn burner for under $15,000. My immediate answer was the Audi S8. It might not be as powerful as the E39 M5 or a slew of Mercs that are available for around the same amount, but the combination of the all-aluminum engine and space frame gives the large executive a smaller feel on the road – and with 360 horsepower, it’s no slouch. It’s also got a great all-wheel drive system; quattro purists don’t love the electronic differentials, but truth told on the fly they work reasonably well and you don’t have to muss and fuss. This isn’t a rally car, anyway. But it is a great looker – the interior and exterior are a beautiful combination of style and presence that few others match. There just aren’t any awkward angles on the D2 in my mind. So, today I’ve rounded up a few examples with the help of our reader, John. Ranging from a first run 6-speed through a last of the D2 2003 model, which would be your color?
I’ll admit that I probably have rose-colored glasses on when I look back at my V8 quattro ownership. I had enough issues with it that my wife refers to most catastrophic failures in life as “like your Audi V8” incidents. Sure, it tried to kill me a few times; but then, look at it. It’s a great looking car. And that was what kept me going as I dumped money into an example that I paid far too little for initially. Today, I find myself looking back and saying “Next time, spend a little more and get the right one”. This is something that really should extend to the rest of my car purchases, frankly – and when the opportunity to purchase a replacement Passat, I didn’t cheap out. I found a 1 owner, lower mile and fully maintained model, and I paid a premium for it. Could I have gotten one for less money with a more dubious history? Absolutely, but learn from my experiences – buying a budget Audi/Volkswagen product with the intentions of fixing it along the way as things break will certainly cost you as much as buying the nice model would have cost you. I continue to longingly look at D2 S8s with the same balance; pay for a lower mile, nice example with maintenance history versus the many that pop up for budget prices. One Ming Blue example just surfaced near me for $4,000 with the check engine light on; another for $2,500 with 200,000 miles with a blown transmission. I could get one of those, but it’s probably smarter to spend more than double that for an example with less question marks: