Wednesday, April 24, 2013

5k Face-Off: Clash Of The Teutonic Titans: 1997 BMW 540i 6spd vs 2001 Audi A6 2.7T 6spd

The Daily Turismo is proud to introduce a new kind of post, the Face-Off, where we compare and contrast two similarly priced cars.  Today we offer you 6 speeds for 6 thousand dollars, a fantastic speeds/dollar ratio and each transmission is wrapped with German steel, style and luxury.  The contender on my left is a 2001 Audi A6 2.7T 6spd from San Mateo, California weighing in at 3750 lbs and wearing blue coat for the asking price of $6200 via craigslist. The challenger on my right is a 1997 BMW E39 540i 6spd from Austin, Texas weighing in at 3748 lbs, wearing a silver coat for the asking price of $6,800 via craigslist. Thanks to tip from Kaibeezy on the A6 and OneFish TwoFish for the 540i.

Let's start with the basics; when new the A6 cost $40k out the door and the 540i cost $52k, so right away we can say that the BMW has offered up more of its soul to the depreciation gods.  We already covered the remarkable similarity in curb weight, but dimensionally the A6 and 540i are within a few inches of each other in length, width and height - the A6's bubbly styling translating to a few inches bigger in every dimension.

A peek inside reveals comfy leather, fancy woodgrain trim and lots of buttons, but no navigation or other 'really expensive to fix' gadgets.  Each car is also equipped with the rare Do-It-Yourself shifter, 6 forward speeds of automotive nirvana.  The power-train similarities end here, as the Audi transmission is connected to a 2.7 liter twin turbocharged 30-valve (that's 5 valves per cylinder!) V6 that puts out 250 horsepower and 248 ft-lbs of torque into all four wheels.  The BMW is powered by a 4.4 liter V8 that puts out 282 horsepower and 324 ft-lbs of torque and is connected only to the rear wheels.

Even the interior dimensions are similar, with the Audi offering just a few millimeters more leg/head room front and rear.  Now, used and broken in, both of these 150k mile cruisers are offered for about $6,000...that is only $1k per forward-gear.  Can't decide?  Buy both - you will need to drive the BMW while the Audi is getting its coil-packs and turbos overhauled...and then drive the Audi when the BMW is getting its cooling system, head-gaskets, & electrical smoke replaced.

Want to see another face-off?  Send use your face-off requests along with some candidate cars:


  1. ~ good match up. two very respectable rides.

  2. Head gaskets aren't a big issues on the BMW M62 V8. Timing chain guides are around this mileage (but more so on the later 2001+ M62TU). They won't grenade the motor, and don't cost much, but do require that you disassemble the whole front of the engine. Fun. Not.

  3. Tough call. The BMW is going to be more reliable and cheaper to maintain, also the BMW has better road manners (IMO). Also, who doesn't love a 4.4L V8?

    But the wheels on the BMW are unfortunate, so you'd have to throw down some extra money to buy some decent wheels (I'd buy some used BMW wheels off of CL for around $500). Also custom exhaust which might need replacing depending on how obnoxious it is. The Audi is claimed to be one owner, whereas the BMW is being sold by it current owner after only 6 months, so those are all points for the Audi.

    Questionable mods + short duration of ownership = very likely abused.

    If I was really serious about buying either of these cars it would come down to getting them inspected and seeing the results. All things being equal though, I would take the BMW.

    The 6 speeds in the BMW are uncommon, but not all that rare, however a manual transmission in an A6 is very rare indeed. (I base this on compulsively perusing craigslist postings for both BMW and Audis).

  4. As noted, these were direct competitors when new, and not surprisingly, are very similarly spec'd. The key differences are those typical of the brands. If the quattro is a must-have where you live, your decision is made. If your top priority is sports sedan, again, your decision is made.

    Here's why I'd be cautious of either one: at 150K miles, there is a plethora of expensive stuff that has been - and will continue to - go wrong. It's be that much harder to enjoy the driving experience in between trips to you mechanic.

  5. I bought a 98 audi A8 in december for $2400... of course it had/has issues, like the timing belt that needs to be changed SOON!!!, but with all that, I'll have spent maybe $5K and it should be good for a couple years at least (fingers crossed)...

  6. The wheels on the BMW are OEM style 19s.

    Both of these cars scare me. I'd rather have a $6k 325i or 328i.

  7. Audi = fail. I wouldn't touch another used (or new) Audi after having a 1.8t A4 with 70K miles send 12 of it's 20 valves through the cylinder head after the timing belt tensioner failed. Audi treated me like a liar and thief, denying all my claims and calling me an outright liar on the phone (true story!). In my 5 months of ownership I was plagued by lights burning out, interior trim falling off and mystery phantom electrical problems like a sunroof that opened on it's own in the rain on occasion.

    rant over, sorry!

    Go with the Beemer!

    1. Sorry, but I will have to point out it's Bimmer not Beemer. Beemers are BMW motorcycles. Bimmers are BMW cars.

  8. Why not find a similar 2001 BMW? Price perhaps?

    You're in California, go with the Bimmer.

    Have you ever seen an Audi timing chain needing to be replaced? It's a nightmare!

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