Audi A1 quattro and, oooh ooh, a blue car! (RS4 Avant) Click image to enlarge
Review by Brendan McAleer, photos Brendan McAleer and courtesy of manufacturers
At the recent 2014 Audi A3 launch in Hungary, I got distracted almost immediately, “Wow! A blue car!”
Wandering around the corner of the building, I stumbled upon an array of machinery that had the car geek in me salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs during a handbell concert. A sprint-blue RS4 Avant! An A1 Quattro with an “Approved by Stig Blomqvist” bumper sticker! A stick-shift diesel VW van! I gotta’ drive these things – how about it, Audi?
Sad to say, my hosts responded by pretending not to hear me and then promptly sent all the cars back to base to prevent grubby fingerprints and/or window-licking on the part of yours truly. Drat. Upon repeated enquiry, I was later informed that the cars were there for testing. I’m sure they meant to say “teasing”.
It’s always like this with the hot Euro stuff: you see all this glorious machinery on Top Gear, and then it emerges that the Federalized Canadian version either has only about 75 percent of the power or doesn’t exist at all. Rather than aluminium und shteel, these vehicles are built from purest unobtainium, and you can’t have one.
Except, of course, if you’re just a wee bit patient. And Canadian.
Welcome to the joys of the Grey Market, where the really cool stuff we never got can, in fact, be got. It’s not necessarily as easy as wandering down to the fluttering flags and hairy sport coats of Big Ted’s Used Car Emporiem (sic), but under Canada’s laws it’s possible to import a fifteen-year-old vehicle – or older – as long as you can get it through safety and emissions testing.
With companies like ICBC trying to close the border by increasing the age gap to twenty-five years, now is the time to act before it’s too late. Here’s a list of five of the coolest Euro-stars you can get your hands on.
Audi RS2 & BMW M5 Touring. Click image to enlarge
1994-1995 Audi RS2
Right off the bat, this is a toughie. With only around 2,800 built, the RS2 is a very limited-edition machine, and has a huge cult following. Finding a decent one is going to be the hard part.
When you do, you’ll have something very special. The RS2 is a bizarre hybrid of forced induction Quattro excellence and Porsche lineage. Built by Porsche at the same factory as the legendary 959, the RS2 has all kinds of 911 DNA making itself evident: the wheels, brakes, signal lights and even the badges all bear Porsche’s fingerprints.
So, too, do things underhood, where a turbocharged, 315-hp five-cylinder powerplant nestles tightly in the engine bay. Despite being a trifle on the heavy side and having a touch of turbo-lag, the RS2 blasts off the line with an aplomb that’s still respectable now and for its day was astounding. Show it a curving road and all that Porsche fiddling really starts shining through.
1992-1995 BMW M5 Touring
The current-generation M5 is a great big panzer tank of a thing, astoundingly fast and, between you and me, maybe just a tad too show-offish. I mean, they have to pipe in the engine noise – how silly is that?
Not so with this, the last of the straight-six, hand-built M5s. Yes, we got a few of these E34-chassis cars here, but all were slightly down on power (3.6L and 310 hp instead of the European 3.8L and 340 hp). We also never got a wagon.
Sorry, that’s “Touring”. While I’d maintain that the 1997-2003 5 Series is the best-looking four-door that BMW ever made, the E39 Touring is sure a looker. It’s also quite practical, at least from a cargo-carrying perspective, and the driving dynamics are superb.
Reliability? Well, you should probably make friends with a specialist mechanic. However, as many parts are shared with both our domestic-market 535i and M5, it’s not impossible to use as a daily driver.