It’s pretty amazing to think that only 20 years separate the 1984 GTI I looked at the other day and today’s 2003 Audi RS6. The development of car design, technology and performance over that time took a greater leap forward during that period than any other, I believe. Sure, new cars are incredible and do more every day. But when the RS6 launched, that GTI felt, looked and drove positively like an old car. When you factor in that roughly the same amount of time that separates those two models has passed since the introduction of Audi’s C5 platform to today, it draws into sharper focus that it’s been more of a progression of steps recently rather than a great leap.
The pinnacle of the C5 was, of course, the twin-turbocharged all-wheel drive version you see here built by Audi’s skunkworks, quattro GmbH. With assistance from Cosworth Engineering, the resulting BCY motor cranked out a peak 444 horsepower at 5,700 rpms and an impressive 415 lb.ft of torque between 1,950 rpms and 5,600 revs. The body, brakes, wheels and suspension were all upgraded by quattro GmbH too, with plenty of technology incorporated to transfer the power to the ground and keep the RS6 planted. Though it was saddled with an automatic transmission only and tipped the scales at a massive 4,050 lbs, the tenacious all-wheel drive, computer programming and massive power resulted in a 4.4 second 0-60 sprint, besting both the contemporary M5 and E55 AMG. The RS6 had 14.4” front brakes, dynamic ride control, and meaty 255-section Pirelli P-Zeros to control that speed. Lowered ride height, flared sills and fenders and giant gaping intakes and exhaust along with signature honeycomb grills set the stage for how these cars have looked since.
The first RS model imported to the U.S., Audi expected to sell 860 at nearly $80,000 a pop. But they didn’t. They sold more, such was the demand, with an estimated 1,200 making the journey to North America. But as with basically all complicated, fast older German cars, they’re not worth what they were new, making them very tempting in the used marketplace. You just have to find a good one…
Update 12/15/2017: This RS6 remains available with 400 more miles and a further $6,000 price reduction to $41,999 – down substantially from the original $59,000 ask.
If yesterday’s post on the Audi 4000CS quattro represented the genesis of my love for the brand, if I’m honest the C5 RS6 was the start of where I started to question the choices of Ingolstadt’s design. It wasn’t that the RS6 wasn’t a hugely impressive car; though they seem pretty new still, this amazing ride is over halfway towards being considered “vintage” in some states. 14 years has passed since the original owner plunked down the heady $80,000 for what was briefly the world’s fastest production sedan. Audi brought two turbochargers to the Cosworth-built 4.2 liter V8 party, offering 450 horsepower, sub-5 second 0-60 times and a car that would easily bump into its 155 mph regulated top speed – and it came to America!
Consider, for a moment, that in 2002 when this car was ready for launch, the car that had existed 15 years before that was the very 1987 4000CS quattro I wrote up yesterday.
It was a monumental leap for the company into the throes of the top-tier performance sedans, but alas, it was a war of escalation that hasn’t stopped since. Audi has already announced that the new RS6 will have a gazillion horsepower and may even come here. In response, BMW has promised to up the new M5’s power to no less than whatever Audi produces, plus 50. To me, though the newest and biggest and baddest sedans are certainly mind-boggling, none of them really appeal to me in the same way the 4000CS quattro did. The 4000CS quattro had been a car I could conceptualize owning downstream of the original owner (maybe I’d even be the second owner?), but the RS6? It’d have to be many years and many ownerships before I could even hope to own one. And then, did I really want a seriously complicated car that hadn’t been well maintained?
Of course, if you’re not like me (a blessing for you, I’m sure!), maybe you love the RS6 and have always wanted one. And, I assure you, there is not a better example than this one for sale. The only problem is, if you have to ask….
Just the other day on one of the internet chat groups I probably spend far too much time looking at, someone posed the question “Should I buy an Allroad?”
There are two camps of thought on the Allroad. On the one side is the group of individuals, many of whom still own them, for which Audi’s light-off-roader is the best vehicle ever designed. Quickly in speaking with them you realize few of them remain stock, which points towards the cause of the other side of the story.
For those who aren’t fully in love with the Allroad, they’re one of the least reliable, most unnecessarily complicated Audis ever built. And from a company that likes unnecessarily complicated designs, that’s saying something. The electrics fail. The suspensions fail. The turbos (count ’em, two!) fail. Look, I’m a huge Audi fan, but I can acknowledge that you have to really, really want an Allroad to buy into the kind of maintenance you need to perform to keep it going. My mechanic bought my parent’s 6-speed example, and now he’s afraid to drive it because every time he does it breaks. All he talks about is how expensive it is to fix. An ex-Master Audi mechanic. Think about that.
What was interesting to me as this discussion quickly devolved into “It’s the best car ever! (but here’s the laundry list of how to make it the best car ever…)” versus “You can’t afford to own one, because you have to own three so that at any given time one is theoretically working” was that no one brought up the S6. To me, the S6 is the perfect solution for wanting an Allroad. It looks better. It’s got a nicer interior. It’s got more power, and exactly zero turbos that blow. And it’s got an all-steel suspension that doesn’t fail. But as S6 Avants were quite expensive at $60,000 in 2002 after gas guzzler tax but without options, it (as the other expensive wagons in period) sold slowly. Only around 1,200 were imported over the brief two year period, compared to exactly 3.2 million Allroads if I calculate correctly based on the number that turn up at sleazy second-hand dealers in the greater Providence area. They wander the streets of Rhode Island, three wheels in the air and one on the ground, a winky Xenon vibrating up and down as the bumpstops are tested to the extreme. So let’s look at one of the nicest alternatives to the certain suspension failure:
You want power? When Cosworth slapped a few turbos onto Audi’s venerable 4.2 liter V8 for the C5 RS6, that’s what you got. 450 stampeding horsepower and 428 lb ft. of torque meant that in the early 2000s it was the model to beat. But AMG and BMW M quickly caught up and surged past the C5’s power output – even when Audi upped it with the “Plus” model to 469 hp.
The launch of a new RS6 based upon the C6 platform allowed Audi some room to expand the model’s engine output by literally expanding the engine: now 10 cylinders displaced 5.0 liters. Straddled by two turbochargers again, the second generation RS6’s power output leapt into a new league, with an almost unfathomable 571 horsepower and 479 ft. of torque. The C6 is a heavy car, but it was capable of 911-scaring 0-60 runs and could top 170 mph with ease.
What’s amazing is that Audi’s replacement for this car, the C7, moved to the new twin-turbo V8 4.0T motor. More power right? Well, not so fast; it actually produces about 11 horsepower less than the peak performance of the V10, though I’ll grant that the additional gears and greater torque mean it’s a functionally quicker car (as if it needed to be). Well, quicker than a stock one, at least, because this particular RS6 Avant has been ‘slightly’ upgraded to north of 700 horsepower.
Interesting and diverse additions to our Hammertime value guide for this week include some head scratchers, some values and some breathtaking numbers. Leading the charge was the recent sale of the 2016 911R at RM Auctions at nearly $550,000. Yet there was value to be found in the Volkswagen world, as two VR6 modded VW hatches hit $5,200 (1977) and $10,600 (1991). The salvage title Corrado SLC VR6 was presumably cheap at only $3,601, making for a good driver candidate. Bidders failed to show up for the 2003 RS6, and the no reserve auction fell silent at only $8,000 – perhaps a great value, while the 300SEL 4.5 nearly tripped $5,000 despite major concerns. At the higher end of the collector market for each was the W126 560SEL at $21,000 and the B2 Audi 4000S quattro at nearly $8,000. Finally, a 912 tipped the scales at $28,100, leaving us wondering where the 912 market is heading.
Link to the page HERE!
2016 Porsche 911R – E.515,200 ($547,521)
1977 Volkswagen Rabbit VR6 24V – $5,200
1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL – $21,000
2003 Audi RS6 – $8,000
1972 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 4.5 – $4,950
1968 Porsche 912 Targa – $28,100
1993 Volkswagen Corrado SLC – $3,601
1985 Audi 4000S quattro – $7,999
1991 Volkswagen GTi 3.2 VR6 – $10,600
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?
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?
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:
For me, the great appeal of the early ’00s era super sedans has always been their relatively restrained styling. Unlike contemporary offerings from M, AMG and quattro GmbH, which are nakedly aggressive and loud, the cars from this period don’t look too different from the underlying models on which they were based. The RS6 is a good example. The C5 platform A6 underpinning the car typifies Audi styling of the time: good looking and functional but a bit staid. I’d be willing to admit that some of the Bauhaus-esque curves and lines give it a little edginess, especially when when viewed from the rear quarter panel, but you have to squint hard to see them. Indeed, Regular Car Review Guy has a bit about the styling of the A4 of the same era being “the future by way of the past,” and I think that the same could equally be said about the A6. This conservatism continues into the RS6, but the deeper front spoiler, flared fenders, 18″ wheels and double exhaust make for a far more muscular look and hint at the extraordinary power that lies beneath. While enthusiasts will know what it is, most other people will mistake it for an ordinary executive saloon. And that’s a good thing. There’s something seriously cool about a car that blends into the crowd, but is nonetheless capable of cracking nearly 200 MPH on the autobahn.
In many ways, to me the D2 S8 is the last of the great 1980s Audis. But wait, you say – it wasn’t built in the 1980s. It may have shared little design with the original Quattro other than the drivetrain layout and the Vier Ringe on the grill, but at its heart the S8 was the culmination of the mission of the original car – to cover ground at high speed in a luxurious 4-seater regardless of the weather conditions. Now, truth told newer Audis are bigger, badder and faster. Some even look better, though not many in my eyes. They have more technology, power and luxury than ever. So, it would be natural to say that they, too, accomplish the mission of the Quattro – and they do. But, the essence of what was Audi somehow was lost along the way. The D2 S8 didn’t sell in great numbers, but that wasn’t because it was the most expensive option and it certainly wasn’t because it was unattractive or slow. Perhaps it lacked the raw driver connection of cars like the contemporary E39 M5 and the physical grunt of the AMG E55 and S55 models. But as an all around package, the S8 is surely one of the best Audis produced. It’s quick, driver oriented, supremely comfortable, all-weather capable and even (dare I say) reliable relative to other VAG packages. It’s not so tech-heavy that it feels outdated the moment you step in the cabin; rather, it feels like the most up-to-date version of the C4 chassis and that’s generally a good thing. It sounds great, too, thanks to the silky smooth V8 under the hood. The only downside is that with low residuals, locating a really nice one any day of the week is not nearly as easy as finding a clean M5: