Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
There are those who accuse modern Audis of being a tad boring and formulaic. If that’s the case we only have ourselves to blame. Because when it did make interesting cars nobody bought them.
When Audi realised this it stopped living the Vorsprung Durch Technik dream and instead created a Russian doll range of near-identical cars of slightly varying size few can actually tell apart from each other. Case in point – I was at the Frankfurt Motor Show recently and tasked with reporting on the newly unveiled S8. It was only later I realised the car I photographed was in fact an A4 2.0 TDI on S Line wheels. It had been a long day.
The late 90s and early 2000s were a bit of a golden era for Audi though – confidence and ambition inspiring some admirably creative engineering, design and experimentation. Some paid off – the original A8’s aluminium spaceframe is only now being emulated by BMW and Mercedes and the downsized but hard-hitting twin-turbo V6s and V8s of the S and RS cars were way ahead of the game. And you can’t ignore the influence of the TT, style over substance maybe but brilliantly executed.
Others deserved better but never quite took off. I’m thinking of the brilliantly designed and elegantly engineered A2. And this week’s unrequited crush, the original A6 Allroad Quattro.
I love this vehicle because it’s the exact opposite of the crossovers and SUVs many predict will soon kill off the family estate car entirely. Where the modern 4×4 compromises space, visibility and dynamics in the name of on-road presence the original A6 Allroad did exactly the opposite. The stylised mix of a utilitarian, plastic-clad exterior with a luxurious and practical interior is one that really appeals to me. It’s a car that devotes its attention to its occupants, not what people on the outside might think of them.
Forget the lifestyle pretence. The A6 Allroad IS the kind of car you’d fit with a Thule top box and drive overnight for a weekend on the slopes, be they in Glenshee or St Moritz. A normal A6 estate for the drive down – but when the going gets trickier the Allroad can jack itself up on its air suspension from a standard ride height of 142mm to a lofty 208mm, the Quattro four-wheel-drive getting you to the door of your boutique mountain-top hotel. In off-road ability it’s the equal of anything this side of a Range Rover. Yet day-to-day as practical and sensible as any other A6 Avant.
The second generation was toned down to the point of anonymity but the original, sold in the UK from 2000 to 2006, is the purist’s choice. They’re thin on the ground though. The V6 petrol, a 250bhp, 2.7-litre twin-turbo unit related to that in the contemporary S4, sounds more my thing than the undoubtedly muscular 180bhp 2.5-litre V6 TDI. Find a manual and it might even have the optional low-range gearbox. Of course, what I’d really like is the 300bhp 4.2-litre petrol V8, launched in 2003. Rocking horse manure would appear to be easier to score but, among the diesels, I did find an early V6 petrol for just £3K (above). Given the mechanical complexity you’d need a sturdy contigency fund (or sense of denial) to take the plunge but I’d be game, if only to preserve an example of what Audi was capable of before it realised we didn’t actually need it to build interesting cars.
Photography courtesy of Audi and pistonheads.com