Clever Money Cars: Audi RS4 B7. Rampant V8 thrust, four-wheel drive and fun too – this is an Audi on the cusp of collectability. The RS4 B7 reframed Audi’s performance car reputation, and is now set for collector car status. Words Nathan Chadwick. Photography Jordan Butters.
Audi RS4 Avant V8 family fun wagon that’s poised to appreciate like it accelerates
Why now’s the time to scratch that Audi RS4 itch
WHAT TO PAY Audi RS4 B7
Think you know fast Audis? If you love them, you adore them – they’re often the quickest way to cross country thanks to prodigious thrust and all-conquering four-wheel drive.
If you don’t, they’re just epically fast machines that lack the entertainment value of a BMW M-car. Alternatively, their uncompromising ride will leave you dreaming of the softer environs of an AMG. For a long time, it was a debate that raged in binary – you were either for or against. However, there are a few Audis that have opened the four rings up to all sides – a couple of issues ago we featured the R8 supercar. Now we bring you the RS4 B7, which is now starting to appreciate in value.
‘ENGINEERS CHASED PINNACLES, RATHER THAN BEING PULLED BACK BY LEGISLATION’
This compact executive was aimed at E46 M3 man, who by the time of the RS4’s 2006 launch – in all likelihood – needed four doors, and probably a big boot for offspring or dogs. The RS4 promised all that – and it delivered driving satisfaction beyond the usual Audi ultra-competency. We’ll come to that in a moment, but there’s another reason why turning your head towards Ingolstadt might be worthwhile. The RS4 (B5) and RS2 have made big value gains over the past few years, and even now the B7 is starting to creep up for the unmolested, low-mileage examples. We believe there’s still more to come.
It doesn’t take long for the Audi RS4 to captivate. There’s the way it looks, for starters – like the chiselled jaw of an F1 driver towards the end of the season, when many hours being the fleshy bit in the car’s ongoing battle with physics means there’s little to see but bone and muscle.
The RS4 has its own battle with physics, of course – which we’ll come to soon – but on visuals alone it looks more than up to the fight. The wide arches, the sharpened bodykit and the pointy front splitter – it looks lean, mean and fighting fit, the 19in alloy wheels catching the eye like stripes on a mixed-martial arts fighter’s glove.
Much like that fighter, the Audi can deliver its attack to all four ‘limbs’. In the past, this has been a bit of a problem. Yes, the Ur-quattro is an icon, but it’s one you really have to love to enjoy. For years, Audi believed the best option for heavy, front-engined cars was an equal torque split.
This led to a numb, understeery experience. A devastatingly fast one, yes, but one that felt like you were merely along for the ride rather than involved.
This all changed with the RS4. It starts with the torque split – 60/40 in favour of the rear, rather than the normal 50/50 you’d find in previous fast Audis.
That’s important, because this was the car Audi needed to go M3-hunting; the BMW had a very different philosophy to the four rings, being rear-wheel drive. Audi couldn’t just ditch four-wheel drive – the Quattro brand is as integral to Audi as dodgy kebabs are to the average British night out. Happily, the RS4 is rather more palatable to drivers than a tepid Doner.
‘IT’S A BASS-HEAVY ASSAULT ON THE SENSES’
There’s nothing tepid about the 4.2-litre engine, a development of the B6 S4’s V8, with a new cylinder block, increased crankcase breathing and a magnesium intake manifold. Previous RS engines had been turbocharged, which was great for in-gear shove and 0-60mph bragging, but didn’t provide that spine-sizzling excitement you get when a n/a motor lights up the far side of the rev counter. That’s where the turbo-less RS4 comes in.
The needle easily wangs around to 8250rpm, delivering a thud that sounds like the sickening fall of hammers into flesh and bone, a distinctly Germanic war cry, never howling or shrieking like a Brit or Italian. It’s a bass-heavy assault on the senses that almost makes you want to wimp out and change up at six grand – but keep going to eight and you’ll be rewarded with what sounds like a rocket breaking free of the earth.
‘THIS IS ABOUT AS IN YOUR FACE AN EXPERIENCE AS REAL-WORLD PACE GETS’
You’ll be going almost as quickly, as long as you stir the pot – this is a phenomenally quick car. Its torque figure might not be huge by today’s turbo-power standards but allied to the four-wheel drive system, it can pretty much tear holes in the tarmac in front of just about anything, and leave them cowering in fractured bitumen. But then that’s nothing new – that’s the fast Audi way. There’s just so much grip it often feels like only a landslide would trouble it. The big difference comes when you set it up for some corners.
You really can feel that extra thump to the rear wheels; there’s no shortage of positivity to the way the RS4 turns on its haunches, a fluid motion that feels much more playful than any Audi saloon you’ve ever driven before.
Not that the 60/40 split makes it a tail-out superhero – far from it; you’ll still feel the nose edge wide under duress; push too much too early and understeer will creep in. However, keep the throttle measured until you’re just about to crest the apex and bam – you really can feel the Torsen diff working, channeling its energies to slingshot you through the bend, ready to unleash that stunning engine again – and again, and again.
You feel part of the action too. Unlike almost any Audi before, there’s genuine communication through the steering wheel. It’s initially a little light on feel, but it’s direct – and as you start to ask more searching questions of the front axle, unlike those previous Audis, the RS4 talks back. It’s not the sharpest of racks, but you feel content to push harder. At this point you’re covering ground at a pace that might be familiar to fast Audi drivers, but with a wide-eyed grin that might be a new experience to said Ingolstadt aficionados. The engine’s sheer responsiveness, allied to the chassis’ pliability, means that this is about as in your face an experience as real world, point-to-point pace gets.
Is it as much fun as an M3? That really depends on your driving style. If you’re the kind of person for whom wipers on the side windows are a serious consideration, then probably not; an M3 in either E46 or E90 guise might be up your strasse. But if you like threading a car through the bends accurately, then the RS4 offers grins aplenty. If all else fails, you can switch the stability control off and try your four-wheel drift skills…
Settle down a bit and there’s still much to enjoy – the gear shift is smooth, quick and accurate, and the cabin feels as if it could survive a nuclear war. There’s lashings of carbon fibre to please the eye and the bucket seats hold you in firmly.
The brakes – cross-drilled and vented items purloined from Lamborghini’s Gallardo – are sharp, with good pedal feel. Sounds rather good, doesn’t it? There are some caveats, mind. The RS4 is not the easiest nor the cheapest car to run (see Need To Know), and most RS4s do not put out the claimed 414bhp. In truth, without a remap, you’re looking at anything as low as 360bhp, thanks largely to carbon build up. Then there’s the ride. The second car to use Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control, it initially betrays that poor Audi ride cliché.
Body roll and pitch is almost non-existent, and though it’s noticeably firm, it initially doesn’t seem to assault – or be assaulted by – the road. Problems arise when you approach the outer limits of the car’s capability. Truly push the RS4 and the composure starts to ebb away, upsetting the car under braking and proving unruly over mid-corner bumps. In fairness you’ll have to be getting to the level where a track might be a more suitable playground, but compared to an M3, the RS4 seems to get sweatier under the pressure.
Most of the time, you’re unlikely to experience that – the ragged edge is not quite what the RS4 is about. Point-to-point poise – that’s its game. On that basis, this side of an Evo or Impreza, it’s peerless.
The Modern Classics view
The RS4 B7 is part of a golden era for Audi – around this time the R8 first started appearing in the motoring press, and the RS6 V10 was waiting in the wings. While newer Audis might be faster, there’s a certain magic about this time – a time seemingly when engineers chased pinnacles, rather than being pulled back by legislation or budgets.
We’ll never see the likes of the B7 again – turbocharging, hybridisation and EVs mean that a naturally aspirated V8 in an estate stands as something to be cherished. As I type, Audi has taken its S models down the hybrid-diesel route – the RS4 B7 really is a moment in time.
A short time, at that. The RS4 B7 was with us for only two years, but it certainly made its mark – it really helped Audimake great strides against BMW in the compact executive performance car stakes, and is regarded as one of the best-ever Audis. That appeal is already seeing RS4s being cherished, and we can see its skillset keeping interest high. It may have some flaws – and it’s hardly inexpensive to look after – but it rewards with its sheer, irrepressible pace.
You’ll need some of that. With the cult of Audi now making its way into collector circles, the RS4 B7 is one of the leading lights. Best get a move on, then.
AUDI RS4 AVANT (B7)
Engine 4163cc, 8-cyl, DOHC
Transmission 4WD, 6-speed manual
Max Power 414bhp @ 7800rpm
Max Torque 317lb-ft @ 5500rpm
Top speed 155mph
Thanks to DD Classics, who are retailing this RS4 (ddclassics.com).
THE FINER POINTS
1 Carbonfibre is key to the Audi RS4 mixture – there’s lashings of the stuff in the interior and under the bonnet.
2 Steering wheel purloined from a Lambo Gallardo.
3 All the control interfaces are so solid, they feel as if they’ll last until the end of the Earth.
4 Plenty of room for everyday detritus.
5 Brake discs, also From a Lamborghini Gallardo, clean themselves in heavy rain.
6 A reminder you’ll probably be early. 7 Deep grumbling roars are common from here…
NEED TO KNOW
We spoke to John Mitchell of John Mitchell Racing (johnmitchellracing.co.uk). ‘Obstensibly they’re a strong, Reliable machine,’ he says.
‘The biggest problem is that previous owners may have bought in cheaply, but won’t have had the money to maintain them properly. Parts prices don’t depreciate at the same rate as the car. Invest in a quality inspection from a specialist, and if it’s just been serviced at Audi dealers – who only tick off things on a sheet, rather than get into the nitty gritty of the machine like a specialist – then walk away.’
1 Going into specifics, the DRC suspension is weak, says John. ‘As it weakens, it leaks. Most of our customers fit KW Variant III suspension, which offers no compromises.’ You’re looking at £1895 for the kit from kwsuspensions.co.uk
2 Thanks to direct injection, ‘Audi black lung’ is common, and often results in far less than the 414bhp claimed by Audi when on the dyno. The RS4 is particularly susceptible because unlike four pots, it doesn’t get revved out often, so the carbonisation isn’t blown out. To clear the inlet manifold of carbon buildup, you’re looking at a £400 fix.
3 There are big bills awaiting – check that the brakes have been recently overhauled, as you’re looking at £1500 per axle to replace discs and pads. Aftermarket items are available, but the jury is out whether they’re effective.
4 We’re getting to the stage where electrical issues and mechanical corrosion are starting tomake their presence felt. The electric seat bolsters can fail and the oil cooler pipes can corrode – some specialists can replace the pipes alone.
DEALER VIEW FS PERFORMANCE
Sol Ahmed, owner of fast VAG specialist FS Performance, is a big fan of the RS4 B7 and runs two himself. ‘Good, low mileage examples are going to go up in value,’ he says. ‘The very best are up at £35,000 already. It’s the last of the saloon RS4s, and the last of the manual gearboxes, which adds to the appeal. Watch out for rare colours (such as yellow), as these hold a premium over more common colours.’ fsperformance.co.uk