V8? Check. Wagon? Check. Manual transmission? You bet!
Car enthusiasts are a bit of an odd breed. While most car buyers are obsessed with the latest technology and having a commanding view over traffic in a high-riding SUV, enthusiasts have very different requirements. Instead of an SUV, we prefer wagons due to their perfect combination of practicality and driving dynamics. Unlike SUVs, which are tall and compromised on handling, wagons are low to the ground and feel just like a sedan from behind the wheel. What enthusiasts really crave is a performance station wagon.
Unfortunately, very few performance wagons are still sold in the United States. The Mercedes E63 S is possibly the greatest wagon ever produced, but few people can afford its nearly $107,000 base price. Ideally, enthusiasts want a station wagon with a V8 engine, a manual transmission (if possible), and an affordable purchase price. While the current crop of wagon models in the US may be dwindling, there are a few models on the used market which could be perfect to satisfy the needs of us crazy enthusiasts. We have found three cars, all from the same make and model family, that are now great values on the used market: three generations of the excellent Audi S4 wagon.
The newest S4 wagon that was available in the US was the B7 generation (sold from 2005 to 2009). Even back then, the S4 was powered by a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 producing 340 horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque. That's only about 14 hp less than the current S4 produces from its modern twin-turbocharged V6. All of that power went out to Quattro AWD through a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. 0-60 mph (in the manual car) took just 5.3 seconds. This is, admittedly, much slower than a modern S4 at around 4.2 seconds (thanks to its quick-shifting automatic). For many enthusiasts, the pleasure of rowing our own gears trumps any advantage in speed.
Although the old S4 is slower than the new car, it makes up for this shortcoming with its wonderful V8 soundtrack. Based on our search, you can expect to find a B7 S4 wagon ranging from around $10,000 on the low end, to around $30,000 for a low mileage collector example. We recommend the B7 because it is the most stylish of the available S4 wagons in the US and will likely be the most reliable due to its younger age. The similar B6 S4 is even more affordable, with used prices ranging from around $6,000 to $12,000 depending on mileage and condition. It may have a slightly older interior, but the 4.2-liter V8 produces the same amount of power.
The older B5 generation S4 is much more obscure, and is now a difficult car to find especially in the wagon body style. Audi sold the B5 until 2002 with a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 producing 250 hp. This engine was highly tunable, and a simple chip and exhaust could bump the power up to 350 hp. Power went out to all four wheels through either a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual. While they are difficult to find, we managed to track down three examples ranging from $6,000 to $13,000. Unfortunately, there is a reason why the B5 S4 is difficult to find: reliability. These cars where highly prone to turbo failure, which is why so few remain on the road today.
So what about the newer B6 and B7 S4, are they any better? Well, as we mentioned in our analysis of the Audi S5 coupe, the 4.2-liter V8 has its own share of gremlins. In Audi's infinite wisdom, it replaced the troublesome timing belt found in the older twin-turbo V6 with a more robust timing chain. Thinking that the chain would never need to be replaced, the brilliant engineers at Audi placed the timing chain at the back of the engine against the fire wall. Though the chain itself never had any issues, the tensioners and cam adjusters that kept the chain rotating were prone to failure. This meant an engine out service to replace them at the cost of around $8,000.
If the issue isn't caught in time, the engine can be completely destroyed. So if you are brave enough to buy one of these cars even after hearing this story, be sure to find one that has had the timing chain service completed at a reputable shop with receipts for the work. Do some homework to find one that has already had the timing chain fixed, and you could end up with the ultimate enthusiast's car.