The 1-Series sought to return BMW to its more affordable small car roots by shrinking the swollen 3-Series down substantially. What BMW unintentionally did was to create an E46 successor. The E82s are similarly sized, similarly equipped and were similarly priced to the E46. And in its most basic, most sporty form, the early 135i Sport is on paper a close match for the performance of the third generation M3. Okay, there’s no doubt that the 135i isn’t a M3 when you get behind the wheel. But is it a special car? Yes. And does it move? The N54/55 are rated at 300 horsepower – about 10% shy of the S54. But they’ve got 300 lb.ft of torque, almost about 15% more than the M3 had. And because they’re a turbo motor and they were able to tune that torque curve in, it’s about as flat as the Makgadikgadi Pan. That means roll-on performance, and the 135i rewards you any time you want in any gear you’re in. The strange thing is, it really doesn’t drive like it is a turbo motor. There’s no lag, no flat spots, no real woosh. It just feels like a very strong high-compression inline-6. It ALWAYS has power. And though it won’t corner like a E46 M3, it’s not far off in acceleration or driving feel.
So while it’s not quite the visual triumph that is the E46 M3, it’s a very compelling alternative. Better yet, the polarizing looks have meant that these haven’t taken off in value yet compared to full M models. Today, now just over a decade after launch, few come to market looking quite as fresh as this Sedona Red Metallic first-year model:
Though the basis for what made the Quattro legendary; inspired racey styling, boxflares, turbocharging and all-wheel drive with a near-luxury interior seems almost trite, the Quattro really was a revolution in design. Some ten times more dear than an E30 M3, in recent years the Audi has gained a lot more respect in the marketplace. There are those that say you can’t really compare the Quattro to the M3, or even the 911 – though the pricing was quite similar. But isn’t that the point? In period, the other car you could have bought for the same money was a basic 911. And the market spoke: in 1983, Audi sold some 240 Quattros in the U.S.. Porsche, on the other hand, traded 5,707 911SCs between the Coupe, Targa and new Cabriolet models. There was basically no market overlap with the other two major contenders – the 944 Turbo and the M3. Both those cars, and the 911, were finished to a higher level of quality with better components, arguably, but the real difference was the type of owner who bought the Quattro versus the 911. These cars were built to be used and abused, and many were.
With only 664 brought here in total, and just 240 from the first model year, you’re going to have a pretty hard time finding one for sale at any given time – unlike the other three cars mentioned. That’s why it’s worth taking a look at one of the earliest U.S. chassis, even if it does come with a long list of needs. But that strong potential of heavy needs isn’t slowing bids down…
Earlier this week I just about broke my neck to catch a second glimpse at a car which probably went unnoticed by nearly every other driver out there. It was a new what appeared to be a B8 Passat Variant, and you don’t have to know a lot about Volkswagens to know you haven’t seen one recently – or, probably ever – on these shores since VW dropped the large wagon from its lineup after 2010. Is this an indication they’re coming here? Unlikely, at least according to VW. With the Atlas and Tiguan relatively fresh and still selling like proverbial hotcakes, along with the many iterations of the Golf Sportwagon available, there just is no need. More likely than not, the car I saw was part of a VW testing program which makes sense since I live very close to one of the importation ports.
So that leaves fans of the larger VW wagon to clamor over older examples. So back we go fifteen years to a B5.5 again! This one, like the last, is a silver example from 2004. Also just like the last, it’s a manual and all-wheel drive. But unlike that rare factory 1.8T 4Motion manual, this one is a home brew, mating a 1.9 TDi out of a Jetta, a 6-speed manual from Europe, and a GLX 4Motion chassis into a neat and thrifty all-wheel drive combo that was never offered here:
Update 11/13/19: Despite showing as sold for over $34,000, this RS4 clone was relisted with a $32,500 Buy It Now.
On the other end of the spectrum from Audi’s U.S. spec B5 S4 was the monster which left me, and most fans of the marque, frustrated. That’s because Audi skunkworks quattro GmbH partnered with corporate acquisition Cosworth Engineering to create the legendary RS4. The same 2.7T motor from the S4 suddenly developed not 250 horsepower, but 375. Arches flared. Mouth was firmly agape. Seats were huggier. Wheels were bigger. Suspension was lower. It was wagonier. It was all around a better car in virtually every way.
So it should come as no surprise that its lack of importation didn’t stop enthusiasts from trying their own hand at the mods. And because of the turbocharged nature of the B5 S4, it was a little bit easier to achieve similar results to Audi. So here we have a B5 RS4 ‘Tribute’, but one that not only added the OEM body pieces and turned up the motor. Because under the hood hides not 375 horsepower, but punched-out 3 liter V6 churning 700 horsepower – at the wheels, mind you. Welcome to ‘The White Beast’:
The B5 S4. On paper, it’s a car that I should like a lot. Coming from the modest 4000 quattro, Audi produced what should have been a monster on paper; a 2.7 liter twin-turbocharged V6 rated at over twice the power of the old inline-5s mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. 6-spoke “Avus” wheels carried on the late 90s design in 17″ form, with deeper but still subdued body additions and more grills hinting at the better performance of this A4-based creation. Twin polished exhaust tips, Xenon headlights, deeply bolstered sport seats and plenty of technology also came along from the ride, too.
But for me the B5 S4 sedan was never super exciting. Perhaps that was because it was instantly popular. What I remember annoying me more, though, was that it really seemed like Audi could have produced stronger performance. After all, it generated only a few more horsepower than the last favorite – at launch, the already out-of-production E36 M3 was the match for the performance of the S4 due to its lighter weight. And that was in turned-down U.S. spec! More sharply notable was the launch at the same time of the S8, and the S4 was some 90 horsepower down on that model. Yet get behind the wheel of one, and suddenly it wasn’t a lack of grunt you were noticing. It was how well the package pulled together. It rode well, it had a glut of usable torque thanks to the small twin turbos’ ability to spin up so quickly, and the fit and finish inside was leagues better than the E36 was. And while you could stick snow snows on an E36 and make it through winter just fine, as a year-round commuter car the S4 made a lot more sense while simultaneously being a much better sleeper. It was a ‘Q-Ship’; admittedly, not the biggest or fastest one out there, but certainly an undercover speed agent. These cars developed a cult following, so it’s still possible to find nice examples, such as this Casablanca White over Onyx 6-speed:
One of the reasons that I felt the B4 Passat I just looked at wasn’t a great deal was that there are just a lot of other great models you can get for less. Case in point, today’s 2004 B5.5 1.8T 4Motion Variant 5-speed. Sure, you loose the great growl of the VR6 – but what you gain far outstrips that auditory shortcoming.
Produced only for the 2004-2005 model year, Volkswagen linked the 4Motion all-wheel drive borrowed from Audi to the AWM 1.8T. Rated at 170 horsepower, it was down a few ponies on the 30V V6 GLX 4Motion that preceded it. But while the GLX focused on luxury and was only offered with the Tiptronic transmission (unless you stepped up to the W8), you could opt for the 5-speed manual with the 1.8T. It was something few people did; a scant 2,333 manuals were sold in North America, with just 657 of those being wagons. 516 made it to the United States, and this is one of 16 Stonehenge Gray over Anthracite leatherette 2004s originally sold:
1987 saw some minor changes to the fantastic forced-induction 944 Turbo; most notable was the addition of ABS, which meant no more Fuchs. Instead, higher offset ‘Phone Dials’ were added, with an option for the forged ‘Gullideckel’ polished wheels. The other change was in color combinations available. Azurite Blue replaced Copenhagen Blue in the dark tones, while two new standard colors were introduced – Lemon/Summer Yellow (LMIA) and Malven Red (LY3E). Both of these colors were a one-year only option on the 944, and both are pretty rare to see. I looked at a Lemon/Summer Yellow ’87 Turbo back in 2016:
Summer Dreaming: 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo
But I think this is the first time I’ve seen a Malven Red Turbo, and it looks like a good one to consider:
It’s a bit amazing to consider that two of the most significant halo cars in German motoring history – both homologation models intended to lead their respective marques into the next decade – so closely paralleled each other, yet were so very different. It’s but a 35 minute train ride between Munich and Ingolstadt, and in the late 1970s both BMW and Audi wanted a range-topping model to grab attention. But their approaches were radically different. BMW designed a bespoke mid-engine, tube-frame supercar around a basic engine design it already had. Audi, on the other had, took a basic car design it already had and added a revolutionary drivetrain.
Both were styled by Giugiaro. Both had to be built out-of-house; Baur had a hand in each. Both had legendary engineers – Walter Treser and Roland Gumpert for Audi, Jochen Neerpasch at BMW. Both raced, though the series they were intended for were ultimately cancelled. Both launched a brand name – BMW’s M division, and Audi’s quattro (and later quattro GmbH). And today, both are both legends and highly sought by collectors. So today we have an interesting showdown; two prime examples have come to market and are nearly the exact same price. Of course, for that to occur the Audi entrant is the ‘ultimate’ evolution of the Quattro, the Sport model. So let’s put aside the ridiculous $700,000 plus asking prices of each of these cars for a moment, and consider – all things being equal (which they nearly are!), which one would you choose? Let’s start with the M1:
Back almost exactly three years ago in 2016 I took a look at one of the best ’93 Audi S4s out there for sale. Today, it’s back again for trade – and has hardly changed. The seller has only accrued a hard to fathom 600 miles in that time on this pristine C4, while maintaining the near-perfect presentation. It was no surprise that two of our readers, including the ex-owner, spotted it up for sale and wanted to share it! The following is the original ad copy from October 22, 2016 – still relevant today, and perhaps moreso three years later:
Any time one of our readers sends in a car, I try hard to take notice. It’s not always easy, as we get a lot of emails and as this is really a spare time endeavor, it can be exceedingly hard to stay on top of replying to everyone. However, there was not just one reader who sent this car in. There were three. Almost as if they colluded, my inbox pinged earlier this week with the subject line “S4”. Though they’re getting harder to come across, it’s still relatively simple to find a C4 Audi today. Amazing as it may seem, a lovely black ’95 S6 merged into morning traffic right next to me just yesterday. They’re out there, and while they’re rare, they aren’t unseen completely thanks to religiously devoted followers, stout build quality, and unprecedented longevity. But the reason that three readers sent this car in was that it wasn’t just any C4 Audi – this might be the best one for sale in recent memory:
While traditionally Audi held the reigns in the U.S. fast wagon scene and there’s news that could resume with the return of the RS6, more recently it’s been rival BMW who has offered enthusiasts a dose of quick 5-doors. Like Audi, BMW had two flavors of wagons in the 2000s; the 5-series Sports Wagon was dropped for the U.S. after 2010, but did breifly offer a turbocharged inline-6 that could be mated to a 6-speed manual. The 3-series Sports Wagon still soldiers on in the market today and you can find a few at dealers, but the bad news is that it, too, has been removed from its ever shrinking fan base. On top of that, BMW never offered the top-tier motors with the 3, and more recently even gave up on the signature manual option. These are dark days, my manual-loving friends.
Luckily for us, though, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from saying ‘why not?’ and combining the best attributes of BMW’s sportier Coupes with their versatile wagon: