Although my recent experience with a BMW wagon wasn’t the most endearing of my automotive life, I have to admit I still keep an ear to the street every time an interesting one comes up. If nothing else, the promise of what BMW offered in their wagons was compelling – at least, until very recently. That’s because in addition to the 5-doors from the 3- and 5-series appearing on these shores in the E34, E39 and E46 generation, so too came all-wheel drive. “BUT, AUDI!” the internet insists. And right they’d be. Except that as the 2000s drew to a close, so too did the performance versions of Audi’s Avants – and with it went the manual option. So if you wanted to row-your-own, you had to turn to BMW to get what we see here – an all-weather faithful 5-door companion. While the “M” versions of the wagons didn’t come this way, what we did get was what you see here – the option to have the classic inline-6 mated to a manual transmission with near perfect weight distribution. Equip the package with the Sport option, and you got some nice alloy wheels and fantastic seats too. Even 17 years later and with a not insignificant amount of miles accrued, this is a package which stirs the soul:
Update 9/26/18: This A4 Avant sold for $6,986.
Even though for my the B5 chassis A4 was the beginning of the dilution of the Audi brand, I admit I have always had a soft spot for nice examples. And the first A4 had plenty of things to celebrate. First off, it effectively saved and resurrected the brand in the U.S. from near extinction; consider for a moment Audi sold a total of 18,124 cars in 1995, the same year that the A4 was introduced as a 1996. By 1997, Audi sold 16,333 of just the A4 quattro model alone. As a success, that subsequently meant that there were a plethora of options to be had in the new chassis as production opened up. Soon we had the 1.8T turbo model joining the V6, the V6 was soon revised to have 30 valves, there was a light refresh in ’98 as well and another in ’01, the Avant joined the lineup for ’98, and of course we got a new S4 in 2000.
Considering that for some time there had only been one way per a year to get the small chassis in quattro form, this relatively dizzying array of chassis configurations meant that there are still quite a few nice ones out there to be had. But unlike other cars that have skyrocketing asking prices, a very clean B5 quattro can still be had for a song:
Perhaps 2019 will be the year of the E21? Along with the early 7-series E23, these relatively unloved BMWs remain solid values in the classic car world. Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. The E21 didn’t have the spunk of its E10 predecessor, nor the looks, power or handling of its E30 replacement. Even without those bookmarks, if you’re looking at late 70s to early 80s BMWs, the star power still is firmly planted in the E24 while the E12 and early E28s are more classic and practical. That leaves the E21 in a strange limbo of value, making it hard to justify restoration or keep miles off a clean chassis.
So herein lies this comparison; both Henna Red 1982 BMW 320is, I found a pretty clean light restoration candidate and a reasonably clean high mileage “S” package. Traditionally, the Sport package has always been the star in this Washington Generals lineup, so will that hold true today?
Back in November of 2017, I looked at an early special-order 540i Sport Package. It ticked many of the right boxes; while the later cars gained the shouty M5 exterior bits, the early cars are understated in a nice way, yet still potent. I’ve especially always been a fan of the Style 19 BBS wheels on the early Sport cars, but the follow up wasn’t bad, either. The turbine Style 32s mimicked Alpina’s signature style, but looked right at home and as if they were always intended for the E39.
But this car has some other items going for it that the first didn’t. While both are M62/TU 6-speeds and carried the M-Sport suspension, this one also has the M-Sport steering wheel and sport seats. The downside?
Update 5/28/18 – further price reduction from $14,950 to $12,995.
Update 3/23/18 – The asking price of this 540i has dropped from $15,995 in November to $14,950.
By the early 1990s, even though the S38 was an incredible engine there was no denying that it was from another era. BMW’s new lineup of V8s – all-aluminum, quad-cam units were cheaper and easier to build, run and nearly as powerful – especially so in everyday use. As a result, BMW phased the S38 M5 out of production for the North American market. Yet there were still cadres of M-devotees who wanted to fly the 5-series flag here. The result was two special models for Canada and the U.S..
The more rare of the two was the Canadian market M540i. For all intents and purposes, it was a European-specification M5 without the inline-6 – they even moved production of them from Dingolfing to M’s home base of Garching. In total, they built 32 of them – making them one of the least-frequently seen M products out there. It’s no surprise that it’s been quite a while since we last saw one for sale.
The U.S. market got a slightly de-tuned version of the M540i. Known as the 540i M-Sport, unlike the M540i it was available as either a manual or automatic and didn’t carry quite as much M-content as the Canadian car. But you did get M5 looks, M5 suspension and M5 wheels – in this case, the M-system II “Throwing Stars” found on later U.S. production cars opposed to the M-Parallels found on the M540i. They were also not finished at Garching, but alongside normal E34 production. A reported total of 205 were produced for the U.S. market and we last saw one about a year ago.
So when today’s car popped into my recent searches, I was immediately pretty excited as it appeared at first glance to be one of the elusive examples of the M-Sport. And it was certainly priced like one, as asks are usually in M5-territory. But was it love at first sight?
Following on the lineup of 540is I’ve featured recently, I ran across this early production 540i Sport package car. It’s interesting for a few reasons. First, I’ve always really liked the clean look of the early sport package cars with either the turbine Style 32 wheels or the multi-piece BBS Style 19s as shown on this example. Something really worked for me about this wheel on this body style. An early 540i Sport, it’s missing some of the later additions I covered last time around, but still carries the aforementioned 17″ wheels and M-Sport suspension. However, this car is a bit different than the usual one that you’ll come across.
Having covered only 65,500 miles in its life, the seller claims the car was special ordered for European delivery. It also doesn’t have the standard sport seats that would have accompanied the sport package. It was ordered in fetching Canyon Red Metallic (343), too. And, of course, it’s got the all-important 6-speed manual transmission. Here, the pre-facelift orange directionals and less fussy taillight design work in harmony with the lack of body kit and beautiful exterior hue. Is it a winning combination?
As I covered in my last 90 quattro 20V post, while the sedan version of the small chassis mated with the 7A dual-cam EFI inline-5 may not have looked quite as sexy and evocative as the Coupe version, it was a bit quicker and more rare. That’s carried over to today; with such a small pool to begin with at only around an estimate of 1,000 imported here over the short 2-year production cycle, it bears to reason 25 plus years later there won’t be many in good shape. Factor in the typical Audi depreciation and lack of careful ownership downstream, and coming across a 90 quattro 20V like today’s 23,000 mile example is just to the left of impossible:
“Too expensive” shouted a few Facebook comments on yesterday’s 330xi Feature Listing. “It’s 11 years old with 130K. WTF!”
He wasn’t alone, and I find that strange. Because, well, here’s a 14 year old 325xi. It’s got 159,000 miles. And, the asking price is a latte away from $8,000. There’s no maintenance disclosed, nor the careful care shown to our Feature Listing car, either.
But my guess is no one will be complaining that this particular all-wheel drive BMW is overpriced. That is simply because of the configuration in this case. While it’s certainly very rare to come across the E90 sedan in the specification of the Feature Listing from yesterday, I’ve never seen an E46 in this spec – nor are you likely to see another. That’s because this particular car is claimed to be one of one – the sole BMW Individual spec’d Dakar Yellow 325xi Touring 5-speed Sport Package.
Emerging from the sales slump brought on by the recession and actual fake news, Audi solidified its position in the small executive luxury market with its brand new A4 model in 1996. While in truth the car heavily borrowed from the evolution of the B3/4 series and started life with the same flaccid 12 valve V6 that had replaced the sonorous 7A inline-5 for 1993, the A4 was exactly the model Audi needed to redefine its image.
And redefine it did, going from near zero to hero in just a year’s time.
Car and Driver immediately named the A4 one of its “10 Best” cars, a position it would repeat in 1997 and 1998. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the perennial favorite as the BMW 3-series was for the magazine, but still, that it was mentioned in the same breath was impressive. New sheetmetal was smooth and tight, full of great angles and well-placed curves. The bumper covers were finally integrated well again – something the U.S. specification B4 had inexplicably failed miserably at. Inside was evolution rather than revolution, but the cabin looked and felt upscale and modern. And the market responded to this instant hit; consider, in 1994 Audi sold 12,575 cars in total. In 1996, some 15,288 of just the A4 models were sold. That was before the many variations and improvements Audi rolled out in the B5, too.
Seemingly every year new changes offered refreshment and redesign to the A4. In late 1995 and 1996, you could only get one specification – the 2.8 either with or without quattro. But ’97 saw the introduction of the 1.8T, while ’98 gave us the Avant and more potent 30V V6. Okay, it didn’t pack a knockout punch, but new wheels and a sport package, along with a subtle refresh to the tail lights, gave the model a more sporty look:
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: