2006. What happened in that year? Well, a whale swam up the Thames, a swan was diagnosed with bird flu, a bird was found to have whale flu, and the first exciting Audis since the 1980 Ur-Quattro were launched.
That third statement isn't a fact, and RS2 fans might dispute the fourth one, but whichever way you lean, the 2006 Audi RS4 was quite something. Not only did it have a storming 4.2-litre V8 engine and a six-speed manual gearbox, you could actually feel some life in the chassis, cause for celebration in its own right after a succession of mainly soulless models. Better yet, you could have the new B7 as an estate, a saloon or a convertible, whereas the previous 2.7-litre bi-turbo V6 B5 (there was no B6) had only been available as an Avant.
The B7's light only burned for two years, a mere blink in automotive terms, but by gum was it bright. Nobody likes coming on as the headline act when the support band has just done a killer fifteen-minute set, so there was some nervousness in Neckarsulm when the MLP-platformed B8 RS4 was unveiled on the Geneva show stage in 2012. Four years had elapsed since the last B7 had rumbled off the line, but its thundering echo could still be heard. And when it became clear that there would be no manual transmission B8s, you could hear B7 supporters locking and loading.
They packed more ammo into their clips when the expectations of abundant electronic driver aids and considerable extra weight all came to pass in the B8. The internet comes up with a few thoughts as to the weight difference between the B7 and the B8, but the general consensus (taking the Avant comparison) is that the B8 weighed 1,795kg, 85kg more than the B7. That would give the 444hp B8 a power to weight ratio of 4.04kg per hp, against the 4.09kg that each one of the B7's 418hp had to push along.
The B8's superior acceleration - 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, versus 4.9 in the B7 - also points to a mix of more efficient power transmission in the newer car, and to the fast-changing, double-clutch seven-speed auto 'box that made the best use of the RS4's 317lb ft torque figure. Nor did you have to hunt around at 5,500rpm for that torque like you did in the B7. In the B8, peak thrust was on offer from 4,000 to 6,000rpm. To further ease uncertain buyers' minds, and possibly to create good copy, the B8 was let off the electronic leash with the option of a new maximum speed of 174mph, up from 155mph.
The B8 was more efficient in another way. Its official combined fuel consumption figure of 26.4mpg was almost 6mpg better than the B7's. If you did a fair chunk of urban driving you'd be down to low 20s in the B8, but you'd still be doing better than the B7 driver, who in identical circumstances would be recording somewhere in the mid to high teens.
Twelve years after the demise of the B7 in 2008, some still prefer its relative simplicity and its soundtrack over the 2012-2015 B8's extra comfort, cleverness and twiddleability. In truth, both cars were winners, mainly because the resolutely un-turboed 4.2 V8 had a capacity to spin hard. The 4.2's revviness gave it an entirely different character to that of an AMG grunter like the C63. All the Audi's serious power and most of its noise lived above 5,000rpm. The manual B7 power-peaked at 7,800rpm: the dual-clutch B8 did that at a yammering 8,250rpm, redlining at 8,500rpm.
Hunting in these raucous hinterlands is one of motoring's things to do before you die, but before you buy an RS4 you will need to convince yourself that you won't mind making that level of effort - or at the very least, that you won't mind the relative lack of drama at lower revs on those occasions when you can't be bothered. It's really not that much of a sacrifice because, underneath their hard-man performance image, RS4s are at heart highly capable vehicles that will get you, your family, and (if you go for the Avant) most of their tranklements to any given destination in just about any kind of weather.
In this guide, we're focusing on the B8 RS4 (which as mentioned a minute ago was on sale from 2012 to 2015), and sort of unconsciously on the Avant. There are a few things you should factor into any RS4 search. We'll get to those a little later. Up front though we'd home in on two: one, a test drive to ensure that you can put up with a ride that's pretty firm even in Comfort mode and with steering that's less than perfect; and two, the B8's price range.
A late low-mile (under 50k) example from a dealer could dent your account to the tune of £34,000, but an early privately-owned example could be yours from as little as £16,000. Excellent value considering the amount of high-end Audi loveliness you're getting for that. Special edition hunters might want to zero in on the 2014 Nogaro, commemorating the 20th birthday of the ground-breaking RS2 estate. It was £8,000 more expensive than the regular RS4. If you can find one now it will very likely be 'POA' and expensive.
- Bodywork & Interior
Sill extensions, flared arches, meaty wheels, model-unique bumpers, a matt aluminium-style grille, silver mirrors, roof spoiler, twin oval tailpipes, diffuser: it's not hard to differentiate an RS4 from a common or garden A4.
Overall, the B8 model was around 13cm longer than the B7. Crucially for those craving extra leg and luggage space, it was 16cm longer between the axles than its predecessor, too. For better balance, the engine sat further back in the chassis, a beneficial (from a handling point of view) process that began with the transition from the V6 RS4 to the first V8 B7, which had a 60/40 front/back weight distribution. In the B8 a shift of around 90kg of the car's overall weight from the front wheels to the backs changed that ratio to 56/44, impressive for a car with a socking great V8 under the lid. The outcome for the B8 was a pointier front end.
Few would argue with the contention that the B8's cabin was superior to the B7's. Fit and finish are exemplary. It's mainly black, unless you can find a car with the Moon Silver headlining option. Otherwise there's light relief from the luxurious glint of metal pedals, sill plates and air vents, all contrasting smartly with the piano black instrument bezels and carbon-effect trim pieces. It's a beautiful and beautifully equipped environment that's even nicer if it has the panoramic roof. You don't need to open that to benefit from the extra light it brings into the cabin.
The flat-bottomed multi-adjustable steering wheel feels special, and because the RS4 is auto-only it doesn't present you with the sometimes uncomfortable pedal offset of lesser manual models. The leather/Alcantara super sports seats are great, but for driving pleasure the optional race-style buckets were even better, albeit a little harder to climb into. They do eat into the rear space a little however.
With the back seats in place the Avant has a 490-litre boot. With them down that grows to 1,430 litres.
- Engine & Transmission
There's no shortage of drama when you're behind the wheel of an RS4. Launch Control is standard. Lock out the stability system, choose the gearbox's 'Sport' mode, press your feet hard down on the brake and accelerator to dial up 3,000rpm, release the brakes, and laugh. Even in the wet.
Although the quoted 0-62mph was 4.7 seconds, some road testers managed to beat that with the Audi UK press cars, getting them to the 4.4-second mark for the 0-60, which we know is different but you get the picture. These are seriously quick cars. With the B7 there was always a fair bit of discussion as to what proportion of the advertised 414hp was actually making its way to the road once the AWD system had taken its share. Some owners who paid out for expensive induction and exhaust kits were dumbfounded to see under 400hp on their dyno printouts. Others wished that their cars had superchargers, to do away with a feeling that the engine was having to try too hard to move the near-1,800kg car up the road.
Realistically, members of that latter group were probably bashing along at a face-melting rate of knots - fourth gear is particularly impressive, while in third gear it would do the 20-40 in the same three-second slam as it did the 70-90 - but the Audi was brilliantly disguising that with its refined, fuss-free ways.
There were problems with the early Audi direct injection FSI engines (not just the V8s) to do with the fact that fuel no longer sloshed around over the backs of the intake valves like it used to in the old ported engines, thus losing the detergent cleaning effect in that area and causing carbon deposits to accumulate. Funnily enough, the carbon build-up or 'coking' that resulted would cause poor starting, misfiring and the loss of significant amounts of power could, anecdotally at least, be cured by the fitment of a supercharger. The indications are however that the B7's coking curse hasn't knocked on to the B8.
As noted earlier, the B7 had a six-speed manual (by Getrag) but the B8 had a seven-speed dual-clutch S-tronic with paddles and three modes: Drive, Sport and Manual. The B8 also had a newly tweaked quattro system with the same 40/60 front to back torque split as the B7 plus a crown-gear centre differential and a configurable Sport-spec rear diff with torque vectoring. Working in tandem with the responsive V8 and the Audi drive select system - which offered settings for Auto, Comfort, Dynamic (with more exhaust noise and rev-matching on downshifts) and the personally customisable Individual - the B8 transmission played a big part in delivering not only incredible grip but also a certain lightness of foot and a soupcon of oppo for the truly committed. It was a combination that could almost make B7 diehards reconsider their allegiance. Almost.
That B8 gearbox doesn't have an entirely blot-free copybook. Low-speed surging or shunting in the bottom two gears or a reluctance to change gears in manual mode via either the stick or paddles is not common, but nor is it unknown. You won't be surprised to hear that an invoice for RS4 gearbox repair work is quite capable of turning your hair grey. As usual with this type of car, a cast-iron extended warranty could be your best friend. Humming at idle or whining at speed could be signs that all is not well. Surging can be down to contaminated clutch packs, caused by a failed seal allowing coolant into the gearbox. The front final drive should ideally be serviced every 20,000 miles. With an oil and filter service that's good preventative maintenance at £500 or so.
Let's not overstate the incidence of problems in this area, but some might see it as interesting that the new B9 RS4 has the traditional Tiptronic torque converter box for what are believed to be reliability reasons.
Considering what's under the RS4's bonnet you might be surprised by the lack of aural drama in gentler use. Even cars with Sports exhausts sound quite discreet in the cabin unless you really give it some. Switching the gearbox to Sport mode improves matters but then you'll be locked into high revs in every gear which can be a little tiresome in town. Sadly there's no option to keep the 'box in Comfort mode with the exhaust valves open, but some say that if you put the car into Sport and then out again the pipe will remain in 'loud' mode once you've got your custom settings sorted out. Don't ask us what they are, though.
- Suspension & Steering
B8 RS4s sit around 20mm lower than standard A4 Avants. Even in Comfort mode, RS4 suspension is stiff. When the tyres are in contact with the tarmac you know that you'll be getting Rottweiler grip, but some drivers have quietly expressed the view that they would trade some of the hang time between bumps for a better sense of plantedness.
For the B7, Audi brought in Dynamic Ride Control. On the B8, DRC was included in the optional Sport package. We say 'optional': looking in the used market now you'll notice that four out of five new RS4 buyers ticked that box. Sport pack cars are outwardly identifiable by the black-tipped sports exhaust system. If that's been replaced by a Milltek or similar, which is often the case with RS4s, you should be able to tell if your car has DRC by a noticeable difference in the ride quality when you switch between Comfort and Dynamic on a B-road.
Anyway, DRC was a mechanical system that used diagonally-opposed pairs of shock absorbers linked by hydraulic lines and a central accumulator to reduce body roll and pitch. A good idea, you may say, but unfortunately DRC has acquired a bad reputation for blowing up. If a car you're looking at knocks at low speed, especially in Comfort + Auto mode, you will almost certainly need to have the whole system drained and the accumulator/struts recharged.
There was a DRC recall in the US, but not in the UK, presumably because there was less fear of class action suits being thrown around like confetti. Audi UK did concede a warranty extension to 5 years/75,000 miles and grudgingly threw a bit of goodwill into the pot, but there was still a lot of bad feeling and aggro between them and owners at the time.
You'd like to think most of the defective DRC systems would by now have been mended or simply binned in favour of a set of Bilsteins, but either way this is most definitely something you need to know about because the fix costs £700 or more a corner.
Audi steering and its perceived lack of feel has been the topic of countless conversations over the years. Even an Audi bigwig well lubed up on Eiswein would probably agree that the older B7 pips the B8's electronic steering in this department. If the car you're trying out seems to like tramlining, though, it may have worn front suspension arms.
Switching between Comfort and Dynamic is basically toggling between too light and not light enough. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the 'active' variable-ratio Dynamic Steering option is the answer, either. It's not. Its Comfort setting is even lighter than standard, and the Dynamic setting even stickier. Finding an RS4 without Dynamic Steering is likely to be more difficult than finding one with it because it was a heavily-ticked box.
Don't get too down about it though. You may not experience the flesh-tingling sensations that come with a finely honed chassis but you can easily find yourself hammering along at a hell of a rate, and in perfect safety. Dynamic Steering is actually great at facilitating fast direction changes at speed. With a bit of mode experimentation you should be able to arrive at a workable solution. One commonly heard recommendation is Dynamic for the Drivetrain and Sport diff, Auto for the damping and Comfort for the steering.
- Wheels, Tyres & Brakes
The B8 RS4 wears 19-inch rims front and rear with 265/35 R19 tyres, good examples of which will rush you around £250 each. The B8's slightly wider profile tyres were intended to give it more bite on turn-in than the B7.
Cars with the Sport pack came with the diamond-cut 20-inch V-spoke alloys, which are lovely and a common upgrade but do need a fair bit of looking after.
The standard B8 braking system consisted of eight-piston calipers and new 'wavy' 365mm iron discs that were lighter and more accomplished at losing heat. They're not cheap to replace - around £2k for the lot - but that's a hell of a lot less than you'll pay for the (admittedly much longer-lasting) carbon-ceramic front brake discs that were on the options list.
B7 or B8? That argument will probably rage on for as long as there are RS4s on the road. Each side's supporters can claim advantages for one car over the other. Some say that Audi's decision to shift the engine back in the B8 chassis (after the fashion of a C63 or an M3) was bang-on for a safe, on-point, performance express.
We've looked at the B8 here, but we know that both V8 iterations are superb in their own way. Progressive types may scoff at the old-tech engine and try to tell you all about what BMW was doing with its 3.0-litre M4 at around the same time, but if you 'get' the hammering thrum of a high-revving V8 you'll probably make your excuses and leave them chuntering away to themselves.
That's good because you won't hear them telling you that the latest B9 RS4 has gone back to the V6 format of the B5. In that guise it gets pretty much the same horsepower from its twin-turbo 2.9 as the B8 got from its NA V8, and about 125lb ft more torque. All in a package weighing 31kg less than the B8. So the question you've got to ask yourself, before they all disappear, is - do you feel V8-y?
Character is a matter for the individual. Low-profile owners will appreciate the RS4's business-like air, while hardcore types may see that as a failure to inspire. The important things to remember about RS4s are that the engines are magnificent, the quality is brilliant and the grip is extraordinary - for many, that will be more than enough. Especially at prices starting from £16k.