Saying that you like the Audi Cabriolet is like saying you thought Jar Jar Binks was the best developed character in the Star Wars pre-boot.
Put aside the typical top-down motoring bias and stereotype. There were more reasons to single out the Cabriolet. They were soft. They came to the U.S. in automatic only. They were powered exclusively by the yawn-a-minute 2.8 V6. Inherently it’s not a bad motor, and it had more punch than the inline-5s did (barely). But inspired it’s not. And to top it all off? Perhaps that could have been remedied if they were available with quattro, right? No, FrontTrak only. That was Audi’s lame attempt to make the basic front-drivers sound like they had some cool system. Nope, this was a one-wheel drive wonder. So that’s lame-on-lame action when you’re considering an Audi.
So this is Rocky V, or The Sum of All Fears, or that horrible ninth season of the X-Files. But I have a guilty pleasure. No, I still haven’t watched ‘X-hibit C’ above because why on Earth would I do that? But I do really like the Audi Cabriolet. I can logically admit its many shortcomings, and yet every time I see one I’m drawn to the shape. To me, it’s just a pretty car, even if I can’t fully describe why it’s a pretty car. But above and beyond my visual stimulation, this particular listing has some fun stuff to go along with it and is worth the click alone:
While the C6 RS6 Avant and B7 RS4 Avant have been nice to dream about, the reality is that both are pretty unlikely in the near future to be making the trip ‘across the pond’ anytime soon. So let’s consider something which both could, and might.
The B5 RS4 was a legend right when it launched, but for some reason it seems overlooked in the marketplace today. Not as exotic as the RS2, nor as fast as the newer crew of turbocharged Audis, the B5 generation somehow feels lost. It doesn’t help that it was insanely popular to mimic the model’s gaping grills and signature widened flares here, nor that the RS4 engine upgrades are fairly common among enthusiasts. But when you see a real RS4, it’s easy to see why this car was so highly regarded at the time.
First, it’s a very sharp looking car. Nogaro Blue was the defining color for fast Audis in this period, but boy does Imola Yellow stand out. The stance, wheels, flares and bumper covers along with more pronounced exhaust all pull together to make the RS4 feel much more special than a normal S4 Avant. And with 375 horsepower on tap from the Cosworth-developed version of the 2.7 liter twin-turbo V6, it’s not exactly like the B5 RS4 was pokey. In fact, the power-to-weight and performance is nearly identical to the later B7 RS4.
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:
Circuit Paul Armagnac probably isn’t a name which is familiar with you. It’s not even a particularly famous race track, if I’m honest. But the city where that track is located will be suddenly make sense in the context of this post – Nogaro, France. It was the name of that small city in Southwestern France that was made famous when it replaced the moniker “RS Blue” in Audi’s go-faster lineup. The result was a color synonymous with speed, though few fans of the shade know the origination of the name. Blue was, of course, the racing color of France, so in a departure from the typical country-color orientation, Audi popped the obscure name onto its purpley-blue missiles starting with the B5.
That the tone had previously been assigned only to Audi’s skunkwork quattro GmbH (recently renamed Audi Sport) S6 Plus and RS2 was an indication of the sporting potential of the new S4. Power came from not one, but two KKK turbochargers feeding a 250 horsepower 2.7 liter V6. That power was delivered via a 6-speed manual transmission through all four wheels utilizing a center Torsen differential and rear electronic locking unit. Though the new S4 was neither the first fast Audi nor the first to wear the “S4” badge, it was a departure in that it was the company’s first attempt to really take on the M3 head-to-head. It was comfortable, quiet, and quick in all conditions, and while it may not have been a huge threat to BMWs on the track, in the real world the S4 was arguably a superior car:
I remember a time not that long ago when everyone basically swore off the B5 as being too complicated, too prone to failure, and without enough pizazz. The funny thing was that these judgements were all levied in comparison to the B5’s replacement, the B6. Sure, the BBK 4.2 V8 stuck under the hood was a sonorous revelation of sorts. Gone was the timing belt and the “you’re going to have to replace them at some point” not one, but two turbos stuck in back of the motor that basically necessitated dropping the engine for replacement. The BBK brought nearly 100 more lag-free horses to the party, too, and better-looking interior bits with the promise of more build quality.
Well, the reality is that Audi just punted the ball down field. The transition between B5 and B6 marked the real death toll in the long-term Audi for many, as complicated electronic systems really began to outweigh lifetime engineering designs. I love Audis. I really, really do. But it seems like every single system on every single Audi produced after 2002 is so unnecessarily complicated that I can’t imagine how anyone with even a minuscule amount of sense could look at the design and say “Yup, that’ll never go wrong”. They’re engineer’s wet dreams. In the case of the BBK, in addition to eating starters and prodigious amounts of expensive synthetic oil, there is the notorious timing chain guide issue. Since Audi opted to move the timing devices from the front to the back of the motor to fit into the snug B6 engine compartment, pulling the engine apart means taking it out. Finally get it out of the car and pop the covers off, and it looks like a Swiss clock underneath. And there’s one more secret about the B6 4.2 – sure, it’s fast and it feels shouty. But it’s not really that fast for having a 340 horsepower V8 because it weighs two tons unladen. And, turning them up a notch is pretty difficult – you’re basically limited to slapping a supercharger on the motor. As a result, quite a few have turned back a page on history and view the B5 in a much better light today:
Along with the switch in nomenclature that came with the 1995 A6, there were visible changes. New headlights, all-red tailights and a revised grill stood over smoothed, monotone bumper covers. Gone were the wide black plastic rub strips that had been the signature of Audi products for more than a decade, and in their place were more discrete color-coded units. New wheels from Speedline were the standard 15″ option for both quattro and front-drive models. Outside of that, there were few mechanical changes to either drive configuration and the interiors remained unaffected. Despite this, Audi rolled out one more new name for its lineup that most have forgotten; FrontTrak. What did the fancy name get you? Well, perhaps when being sold it sounded more special than just saying “Oh, you’re not opting to buy a quattro-equipped model? Well, the consolation prize is FrontTrak, so everyone leaves a winner!” The reality is that it was still basically just an open differential front-drive sedan, and so ubiquitous was the name Audi with quattro that many have forgotten the popularity of their front-drive models even into the 1990s.
For enthusiasts, the removal of the Coupe Quattro – even if it was a bit slower and softer than it could have been – and replacement with a front-drive, automatic-only convertible was a bit of a sad commentary. But it looked pretty nice, keeping the Coupe’s profile and opening the top on Audi’s foray into convertibles. Audi sold a little over 1,000 per a year for the end of the B4 run, extending the life of the model to an impressive 13 years into 1998. End of the run Cabriolet models also offered some sport options including rarely seen seats and more often sported 16″ Votex/Ronal wheels, such as this ’97 wears:
Audi’s priorities in the mid 1990s in regards to the U.S. market shifted, as they concentrated their efforts on reestablishing any semblance of market share with what would prove to be the very successful A4. The A4 itself was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, as it incorporated most of its technology from the existing platforms. Similarly, Audi backed away from its venerable turbocharged inline-5 platform; a new V6 had become the go-to option choice in both B4 and C4 platforms in 1992. It was far from sporty, but the combination of moderate V6 power, updated looks with the 1995 refresh of the chassis and legendary build quality resulted in what I consider the most Mercedes-Benz like car Audi built. THe A6 2.8 quattro was luxurious in a Spartan way; just enough power options, but not tech-heavy. It was quiet, comfortable, handsome and capable in a time when it still held the monopoly on all-wheel drive wagons – remember, this was the time when the widespread popularity of SUVs was still a generation away. You could even squeeze seven passengers in to a A6 thanks to the optional rear bench seat. They became vogue with the ski-set, and as a result few appear in the condition of today’s example:
Every semester at the culmination of my teaching experience with the college students who have selected my course rather innocently, I let them in on my super-secret double agent identity as your author here. Having suffered through a few too many of my lectures already, most treat the news with about the same amount of enthusiasm and interest as they do when I tell them about the Sudanese Kush Pharaohs – which is to say, none (seriously, it’s a very interesting topic. Egypt basically denies they existed!). But occasionally I get a student who is much more interested in my double-life than in my lecture notes. One such student passed through was perhaps as unexpected to me as I was to him. He nonchalantly aced the class with seeming little difficulty, but upon seeing my announcement regarding German Cars For Sale Blog, he excitedly emailed me about his shared love of Audis. He revealed that he owned a ’97 Cabriolet, which proves two things: first, smart people buy Audis, and second, Audis turn up where you least expect them. And the Cabriolet might be the least expected Audi Audi made – coming from a manufacturer renowned for turbocharged inline-5, manual all-wheel drive coupes, sedans and wagons came a front-wheel drive, automatic only (in the U.S.) V6 2-door convertible. Expensive, a bit slow and soft compared to the competition, the Cabriolet sold slowly with only around 1,000 units moved per a year during its availability here with a total of 5,439 imported through 1998. I think a fair amount of fans view the B4 Cabriolet as the least interesting of the Audi lineup in the 1990s, but to me it’s always been a very pretty and underrated car. In particular, the rear 3/4 view is very attractive and the shape changed little with its progeny. But the unusual nature of the Cabriolet has generally meant that it’s been a pretty big bargain in the used convertible market for the past few years – if you can find a good one:
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?