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?
The A6 4.2 quattro falls into an unappreciated middle ground of typically unappreciated Audis. Unappreciated, that is, for everyone outside of the Vier Ringe, because the C5 has gone down as one of the most devoted fanbase Audi models I can remember, perhaps rivaled only by the B5. But while the cheap speed of the B5 attracted the Volkswagen and BMW crowd, the C5 fans seem to be more traditional Audi folk; offbeat, eclectic and fiercely loyal to their particular model.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the 4.2 gets so thoroughly overlooked by the market in general is due to the depth of the C5 lineup. On the performance end, you had the cool S6 Avant and the outrageous twin-turbocharged RS6. On the practicality end, the standard A6 2.8 and 3.0 models provided Mercedes-Benz like quality and adequate stateliness in both sedan and Avant bodylines. Outdoor adventures and tech-geeks loved the Allroad, which could be had with either a twin-turbocharged 6-speed or the subdued and upscale silky smooth 4.2 V8. And finally, for secret performance lovers, the twin-turbo’d V6 could be mated in narrow-body sedan with a 6-speed manual in the A6 2.7T quattro.
Frankly, it was hard for the 4.2 sedan to stand out in this crowd, yet it managed to appear quite special at the same time. This was the defacto S6 sedan, with aluminum front end and engine, along with wide flares and shark-fin door blades. It was longer, too, to accommodate the V8 tucked in the nose, giving a more menacing appearance overall. Special wider track was met with unique Speedline wheels (later replaced by the forged “Fat Fives”) and meaty 255-40 section tires as an option. And with 300 horsepower, out of the box the 4.2 was the top trump for the 2000 model year in the C5 lineup and would remain so until the 2002 introduction of the S6.
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?
Audi’s interesting sales plan of S-cars in the early 2000s was, for U.S. fans, both good and disappointing at the same time. Mega models like the RS4 continued to be withheld from this side of the Atlantic just as the S2, RS2 and S6 Plus had been. The new generation of V8 powered S cars had yet to arrive, too; movies teased us of the slithering, nitrous oxide-boosted battering ram S8, and though the C5 chassis now sported the V8 in 2000, we had yet to see the S6.
But there were bright points. The B5 S4 was available as a sedan or Avant here, for the first time, in 2001 the flagship S8 arrived and after a wait until 2002, the S6 arrived in Avant form. And, only in Avant form, and only in automatic. You could complain about that for sure, but then the introduction at long last of an RS model – the twin-turbocharged RS6 – assuaged the loss of the regular S6 sedan for nearly everyone.
But, once in a while, someone has an appetite for something else, and so one enterprising individual in Canada has imported a European-specification S6 sedan, now for sale in Vancouver, CA:
While BMW’s M5 has been the benchmark for performance sedans since its inception in 1985, there have been plenty of challengers along the way that have really pushed the limits of sedans to new levels. The Lotus Carlton, for example, completely changed what going fast with 4-doors meant in the early 1990s. With twin turbochargers slapped on an otherwise unassuming inline-6, the bespoilered and wide-wheeled Opel packed 377 horsepower and could hit 180 m.p.h. flat out in 1990.
That meant the next generation of super-sedans would have to up their game, and constant brinkmanship ensued; the 3.8 upgrade to the E34 M5 hit 335 horsepower. The 500E packed 322, and Audi’s C4 S6 Plus matched that amount. They were still short of the Lotus, though, and playing catch up. Moving into the late 90s, power levels started to go crazy.
The C5 S6 launched in 1999, now with 335 horsepower. The same year, Mercedes-Benz entered with the E55 AMG at 349 horsepower. But both paled in comparison to the new E39 M5 with 400 horsepower – the undisputed king of super-sedans at the time. That would change in 2002 when Audi’s quattro GmbH launched its newest creation. With help from Cosworth Technologies, the new RS6 sported two turbos on the 4.2 liter V8 seen in the S6. The result was an impressive 450 horsepower driven through all four wheels. Giant wheels filled massive flares, at the front huge gulping intakes fed the intercoolers, and special exhaust and gills popped up everywhere. It was the new super-hero sedan and the result was…well, fast. The limited nature and performance potential of these RS6s have meant they’ve retained greater value than the normal C5 range, though they’ve been in steady decline. Today, we get to test the market on a well used example – where do these C5s sit today?
The C5 platform S6 Avant offered a considerable amount more power and performance than the A6 on which it was based. Packing a 4.2 liter, 40v all-aluminum V8 that developed a meaty 335 hp and a hefty 310 ft-lb of torque, the S6 was capable of sprinting to 60 in around 6 seconds. Those numbers might not seem as impressive as they once did, but back in the late 90s/early 00s that was no mean feat for a healthily sized family hauler that tipped the scales at just over 2 tons. To keep the tires firmly planted on the road, the S6 utilized a Torsen-based Quattro system that split power evenly between the front and rear wheels. Unlike the Allroad, these steel-suspended Avants ran the 1BE sport suspension, while aluminum body bits helped (marginally) to keep weight in check. Exterior styling cues separating the car from its more humble siblings were kept rather subtle, limited to slightly wider fender flares, chunky S6 specific Avus alloys, door blades, a slightly redesigned bumper and aluminum caps on the wing mirrors. This was a car that might go unnoticed in the school parking lot, but could hit (a limited) 155 MPH on the highway on the way home.
Just last week I was baffled by a C5 chassis swap. The seller took a 2.7T twin-turbo motor, a 6-speed transmission, and an Audi A6 Avant to create a unique package. However, in some ways its mission was lost to me; why not just buy an Allroad manual for half the price, or get the nicer S6 Avant with more and better go-faster bits? To answer my question, our reader Andre posted a response with the link to this car. Again, we have a C5 Avant with a 2.7T 6-speed swap. The price is pretty similar. But the base vehicle this time is the S6, with lightweight aluminum panels, flared fenders and bladed doors, great interior and a host of RS6 bits. Does this one accomplish being desirable and justifying the swap better?
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:
Outside of some with virtually limitless resources, you can’t go back in time when it comes to cars. Many enthusiasts try, and a few really devoted individuals succeed, in recreating the youth of a car’s life. But to do so, especially on newer cars, is pretty hard. Outside of the material costs of paint, leather and in some cases wood replacement parts, there is the Achilles’ heel of our modern society in general – plastics. New cars have become so heavily reliant on plastics because they’re strong, easily formed to special shapes, and lightweight relative to other products. But, as with the rest of the car, they get old; wear items in the interior of the car are often the most recognizable signs of use and time, but under the hood there’s a plethora of plastic heating up and cooling down. Top that with modern motors with turbochargers and extreme heat load as well as the increasing amount of refinement (read: sound deadening) buyers demand, and the time bomb of slowly decomposing plastic in your super sedan means that reconstructing a heavily used example may ultimately be impossible, but is certainly at least improbable.
That means that if you want what was a top-flight super sedan from a generation ago, you’d be looking for the lightest use possible. And when considering an Audi RS6, few if any come to the market with less use in miles than this one: