- Available from £20,000
- 2.7 litre petrol V6 twin turbo
- Compact estate with a four-second 0-60 time
- Strong build in both body and drivetrain
- Rare when new, values rising
- Cars in the market will usually have been well looked after
A few weeks back we did a Buyer's Guide on the Audi B8 RS4. Much thumb-sucking was done then on the comparison between the B8 and the preceding B7 RS4. At the end of the piece we bravely ventured a classic fence-sitter's view that both cars were brilliant, and that it was a win-win choice between two sorts of magnificent - which is never a bad position to be coming from.
This time round we're going to be going further back in the RS4 story, not to the B6 RS4 because there wasn't one, but to the daddy B5, the 2.7 litre bi-turbo V6 that was the Galileo sire of the whole RS4 line. It was introduced in late 1999, but the production line didn't fire up until early 2000. Then, almost as soon as it started, it stopped in 2001 with a little over 6,000 vehicles built, 532 of which found UK owners, 400 of them being right-hand drive.
So, as a used purchase the first RS4 starts off with the tick of rarity appeal. Then we see that another five years passed after its demise before the B7 successor came out. In the great void of time and space, the B5 RS4 looks like a lonely footnote rather than a proper chapter. This all adds to the mystique, but does the B5 deserve legendary status? Does its combination of heritage, rarity and ability make it the best RS4? Or, on account of it being the oldest and least techy, is it the worst? Will this story end up with another fence-sitting conclusion?
We'll sit on the fence on that question for now, but one thing's for sure: to reach a conclusion, you've got to make a start. Let's begin with what might be perceived as a slight negative, which is that the RS4 B5 was only available in one body format. It's not really a negative in fact because the format Audi chose was the Avant estate, a versatile and handsome bodystyle that is now the first shape most folk think of whenever the RS4 name is mentioned.
There's method in that body choice. We've had the invasion of the SUVs, which was fine up to a point, but now these lofty beasts have barged into a performance world in which many believe they do not belong. When moving a mahogany wardrobe along an A-road at an un-nautical rate of knots, does a 'low to the ground' (sic) estate seems like a more sensible option to you? If it does, an RS4 of any kind should definitely be on your short list.
What about that first B5 though? RS cars generally have always been rolling shop windows for the best Audi technologies, and the first B5 RS4 was no exception. The engine was the 2.7 90-degree V6 from the established S4, but with its 30 valves in an aluminium alloy head developed by Cosworth Technology (aka Mahle) alongside bigger intake and exhaust systems, beefed-up conrods and a pair of BorgWarner K04 turbos with side-mounted intercoolers.
Today's 2.9 bi-turboed B9 model RS4 dishes up 444hp and 443lb ft of torque. The equivalent figures for the B5 were 375hp and 325lb ft, but the key difference between the two was in the engine speeds require to attain those peaks. In the B5 you had to be in the 6,100-7,000rpm zone for your 375hp, and in the 2,500-6,000rpm range for the 325lb ft. The numbers for today's RS4 are 5,700-6,700rpm for the power and, most tellingly, 1,900-5,000rpm for the torque. That's a big advantage for the modern car, but considering the amount of time that's passed between the B5 and the B9, the first RS4's numbers are still massively impressive not just for the age but by any 20th century production car standards.
Tying the B5 down to the road was Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system based on a Torsen (torque-sensing) centre diff that automatically shuffled torque between the front and rear axles to best suit the conditions. That first T-1 quattro arrangement had a nominal 50/50 front/rear split and, for optimistic Luddites, none of the potentially fritzing wheel speed sensors that Haldex systems depended on.
Performance on tap? An exotica-shaming 0-62mph time of 4.9sec and an easily-reached 155mph restricted maximum. The price at the pumps was an official combined figure of 24mpg which will drop to the mid-teens in town. Road tax for cars registered before 1 March 2001 will be £265. For post-March 2001 cars it's £325.
Ok, that's the B5's bare bones laid out, let's get into the meat.
SPECIFICATION | AUDI RS4 (B5/8D)
Engine: 2,671cc, V6, 30v, twin turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@6,100-7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 325@2,500-6,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.9 secs
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 24 (official combined)
Wheels: 8.5x18 9-spoke
On sale: 2000 - 2001
Price new: £46,500
Price now: £20,000-£37,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
You might notice some turbo lag if you step into a B5 straight after a stint in a modern turbocharged car, but not so much as you might think, and remarkably little if you apply a mental 'wow, I can't believe this is a 20-year-old car' filter to your experience.
Urban myth suggests that the B7 RS4 under-delivers on quoted power, but that the B5 put out more power than advertised. Turbo thrunge really starts to flow in an 'ooh where's me Mum' manner above 3,000rpm, with any hesitancy below that being nicely filled in by the big V6's own efforts.
What goes wrong? Not that much. These are tough engines that will go up to 600hp. In the used market you'd be better advised to resist the hopped-up motors and go instead for a standard car with a nice service history. With a solid base beneath you, you can then look at spending money on getting the basics right. Simply by doing that on a 20-year-old car you'll be taking up all the slack that comes from age and mileage, and at the end of it you'll be able to marvel at what the first owners felt when their B5s were new. In this context a tighten-up is as good as a tune-up, and if you paid the right money for the car, investing in its mechanical wellbeing will be a sound plan for both enjoyment and future value.
Cambelt and water pump changes for lesser A4s can be on a replacement schedule as long as 100,000 miles, but the B5 RS4's should be done on a 40k basis. A dealer will charge you over £800 for this work, which requires a cam locking tool and a crank locking pin, but you should be able to find a non-specialist to do the job for half that. It's a good idea to change the thermostat at the same time.
Although the internet is full of horror stories about plastic impellers on German water pumps the one on the Audi 2.7 has a good reputation so this needn't be a major source of angst. Some owners don't bother to change the aux belt tensioner at cambelt time on the 'they never break and it's only an aux belt anyway' sort of basis. You'll make your own decisions on that, but given that it will be there for the changing when all the covers are off it might feel like false economy to leave the old one in place on such a potentially valuable car.
The age of the B5 can mean that faults arising might have different, more old-school causes to the tabletty diagnostic ones you might be more familiar with. If there's a misfire on one cylinder, for example, you might want to consider draining the oil. If you find small pieces of metal in what comes out, that could be residue from scoring on the sidewalls of the hydraulic tappets. Polishing those scratches out, polishing the buckets and recutting the valves has a good chance of restoring your motor to rude health.
Other issues that can afflict a B5 include perished hoses to the intercoolers and oil cooler, failed MAF & EGT sensors and llamdas, and tired turbos. If you can hear a whistle under power from the K04 turbos it's a fair bet that they're leaking boost and will almost certainly benefit from a rebuild. Changing one is an engine out job that can cost up to £2,500 in labour alone. The original Bosch diverter (blow-off) valves fail. More efficient recirculating DVs are available on the aftermarket from firms like Forge.
Early doors, a small number of B5s suffered from excessive camshaft wear. Nobody really pinned down the cause and there was no way of conveniently ascribing it to early or late cars: it could happen to any of them. Again that was a £2,500 fix. Familiarise yourself with the meaning of the various dash warning lights as they might be trying to warn you of problems with the secondary air pump or exhaust gas temperature.
The six-speed gearbox functions with an oily precision and will take abuse but you should use your test drive to check for clutch clip or notchy changes resulting from worn synchros. We've thrown a couple of scary numbers at you in this section but these are worst-case scenarios. Generally speaking these drivetrains are very strong.
Installing the quattro system in a longitudinal powertrain like the B5's came with compromises. It required the engine to be mounted more towards the front than would normally be thought desirable in a car designed to deliver driving enjoyment. The AWD chassis tech keeps everything super-tidy, but realistically the B5 RS4 is a bit too posh and a bit too heavy to be shoehorned into a trackday calendar.
If you do track it, you're likely to be more impressed by the RS4's steadfast refusal to be unstuck from the road surface than you are by the delicacy of its steering feedback. Even so, if you get the opportunity to try one back to back against a more recent RS4 like (say) a B8 you may be pleasantly surprised by the handling and roadholding mix on offer in this old wagon.
Time has actually been kind to the B5's ride, which on launch in 2000 with its then-outrageous 18-inch wheels was perceived as being very much on the hard side of sporty. These days though even the unsportiest of cars will jangle your bones when you hit a pothole. With a B5 it's all about expectations. Go into one with the right attitude and all will be well.
If the suspension is noisy and there's no evidence in the car's service history of anything having been done to refresh it, maybe you should be the one to put that right. New bushes for the upper and lower arms will help to reinvigorate the car, as will new dampers, springs, track rod ends and ARB links.
Sorting the brakes can be quite expensive. Conversion to a B7 setup is popular. VW Phaeton discs fit and are relatively cheap. Buckling alloys was an issue in the early days, but as they were replaced under warranty you're extremely unlikely to come across this problem in 2020.
Stying-wise, the B5/8D body that launched the new A4 in early 1995 was a quantum leap forward on the worthy, well-built but quite matronly looking Audi 80. The B5 shape still looks fresh today and the RS4 evolution still looks mean and moody more than 20 years after its release.
As ever, Nogaro 'Noggy' Blue is a popular hue, but if you really wanted to make a statement you could cast around for an Imola Yellow one. Misano Red was another strong colour. You could also get green or black, but silver was by far the most common pick, covering around half of all RS4s.
It's still an A4 at the end of the day, so RS4s are not huge inside, but you can always get a roof box. Other A4 afflictions that RS4s don't always escape include failing rear wipers, driver's door switches and headlight washer pumps.
Saying that Audi interiors are a benchmark for design and material quality is a cliché, but like all clichés that's because it's true. Hard springs put the integrity of the RS4's construction to quite a test, but the cars were generally up to it and the Recaro seats were heated so if you were prone to a dodgy back it would at least be warm pain.
Many aficionados claim the B5's seats to be superior to the B7s in terms of comfort. Leather was an option, standard fare being a material called HiTech. Again many fans claim that these non-moo perches are the ultimate B5 seats for both wear and comfort.
Rare features for the turn of the century like curtain airbags and xenon HID headlamps were standard on the B5 RS4. The spec also included aircon, but if you wanted a sunroof or an Amstrad-level (compared to today's gear) satnav you had to pay for them.
The first RS4's contemporary rivals were the BMW E46 M3 and the Merc-AMG C55, both fine cars in their own right, but there's something 'extra' about the B5. It was next in line to the RS2, which has been very expensive for many years, and the supply of RS4s on the used market is extremely limited. In 2017, which is the latest data we can find, of the 532 cars brought into the UK some 348 cars were still registered for the road with another 80 or so SORN'd. Although the attrition rate won't be as high for these cars as it will be for more common or garden fare, those numbers will obviously have dropped since then.
The point is that B5 RS4s were rare when new and they're getting rarer every year. Add a healthy dose of Audi resilience to that rarity, plus the often fastidious ownership demographic and the fact that they are superb multipurpose performance cars and you'll soon understand why bargains are getting increasingly hard to find.
The good news is that the ones that do go on sale will generally be coming from owners who have looked after them assiduously and who might only be using them as weekend or occasional use cars. As long as you don't pay over the odds for a car, rising values mean that putting cash into getting an RS4 up together is money well spent. The bad news is that RS4s generally are very attractive to thieves, so you'll probably be wanting to install more security than Audi provided back in 2000/01.
Well-used and/or modified B5s can be had from around £20k. Looking in PH Classifieds we found a small group of nicer B5s at prices ranging from £23,000 to £37,000. Three years ago, that range would have been more like £18,000-£23,000. Ten years ago you could snag a B5 for £13,000. This should all be telling you where values are headed.
The most affordable car on PH at the time of writing was this £22,995 private sale in Avus Grey with black leather and Bose stereo. It's slightly leggy at 94,500 miles and it has had a gentle remap taking it just over the 400hp mark but it does come with a model-relevant reg number and an 'incredibly extensive' service history.
The dearest B5 on PH Classifieds was this 26,000-miler in Nogaro Blue with silver leather. Eight stamps in the book, and as clean as you'd expect for the mileage and the £36,995 price. Slap in the middle of those two, how about this 48,000-mile Noggy with FASH at £29,750? It hasn't been used for a year, but it has been stored in that time.
If you like the idea of RS4 ownership but need to be reassured before taking the plunge you should go on to one of the dedicated RS websites to find out about an upcoming event. Pitch up there and someone will undoubtedly be happy to take you for a spin. Not literally, you hope. AudiSRS.com is a good one as is RS246.com.
Once you're in the B5 pool, assuming you've sensibly bought an unmodified car with under 100,000 miles on it and have ideally had it checked over by a specialist, it's very much worth your while investigating the idea of an Audi extended warranty. As a rough indication, all-components cover for a standard 2001 48,000 mile RS4 with a £250 excess and doing up to 10,000 miles annually will cost you in the region of £730 a year.