While the PH forums are great at raising awkward questions, they rarely come up with definitive answers. This week’s choice of Pill inspired in large part by TeaVR’s excellent post about the likely long-term fate of large-engined cars: “will they be much sought after, or will they be pretty much worthless?” And while this isn’t intended to be a unassailable reply, this attractively priced B7 generation RS4 certainly offers a bit of food for thought.
Because we’ve been here before. Pill featured a similar, if slightly leggier, RS4 wagon back in December 2020, that relatively brief sliver of time where the world had experienced the collective shock of Covid but we hadn’t seen the prices of used cars starting to climb like Rebekah Vardy’s legal fees. That RS4 was being offered for an entirely enticing £12,000 – leading to the big query at the top of the story if they would ever get cheaper. This week’s is £14,650, making it the least expensive in the classifieds, but suggesting that even with the Audi’s favoured diet of super unleaded heading for the £2/ litre barrier, interest is still increasing.
While Americans had been stuffing V8s into pretty much anything from the late ‘50s onwards, Europe took much longer to get with the programme of more is more. Many of our early V8s were actually imported Yank Tanks, frequently ones that were left here by US service personnel. Or, in the case of the Rover V8, an engine that had been directly nabbed from an American manufacturer. Europe’s native eight-bangers were almost universally reserved for bigger and grander offerings, cars like the Porsche 928 or brawnier versions of the Mercedes S-Class.
But the 21st century changed that. In 1998 the idea of a V8-powered BMW M5 seemed pretty radical, but the next generation moved to a V10, with the M3 getting a similar cylinder upgrade to a 4.0-litre V8. It was a similar story at Audi, where the V8 powered C5-generation RS6 was followed by a V10 successor, and so it became entirely obvious for the junior RS4 to get its own upgrade to a 4.2-litre V8. (Even the S4 got a less powerful version of the same base engine.) It was the done thing: other notable members of the compact-saloon-big-motor club included the Lexus IS-F, Mercedes C63 and – on the other side of the Atlantic – Cadillac CTS-V.
But while previous Audi RS models had combined performance with disinterested dynamics, the B7 RS4 was also an impressively sharp steer. Its predecessors had usually felt hard to the point of harshness, and had handling balances as front loaded as Lolo Ferrari driving a fork-lift. But the B7 had a level of throttle steerability that felt very un-Audi like, especially when – as in the case of most of the press cars – it was fitted with the clever torque-biasing Sport differential option. The first time I ever encountered power oversteer in an Audi was in a B7, and the fact this took place in a wet field only slightly diminished the novelty.
The new-found finesse didn’t distract from the RS4’s ability to deliver huge speed. The V8 wasn’t quite as vocal as those in the M3 or C63, but it sounded good when worked hard and was happy to be revved past 8,000rpm. Traction was brilliant –stickier than most sticks – and the RS4 gave huge confidence even in the sort of slippery conditions that had its rear-driven rivals slipping and sliding. Even the standard fit manual gearbox suited it, this being the time before Audi allowed autos to sully its RS models; the B7’s shift had a long throw, but the engine had enough mid-range to ensure you didn’t need to always be chasing the perfect gear.
Audi offered saloon and convertible versions of the RS4, but the Avant always felt like the bodystyle that made most sense, and was reflected in the way the wagon outsold the volumes of the other versions combined. In the days before the performance SUV the Avant’s combination of pace and practicality was almost unmatched. Yet another part of its appeal was its relative subtlety compared to blingy alternatives. Spotters would recognise the significance of the deep, well vented front bumper and widened arches, but most people would just see another Audi estate.
As the RS4 grew older, it picked up a reputation for a few pricey mechanical issues. The best-known is the tendency for the direct injection engine to suffer from carbon build up, this sometimes getting bad enough to require cylinder heads to be removed for cleaning. Active dampers are also prone to expensive borkage. The B7 tends to consume its consumables at a ravenous pace, too, especially when used hard, with its keenest appetite for pricey discs, pads and tyres. One of the comments on our last Pill was from a former owner who said they had spent more keeping their Audi shod and braked than their Porsche 911.
Our Pill’s MOT history bears testament to that with multiple advisories – and a few outright failures – for worn rubber and brakes. The most spectacular of these came in 2017 when it failed with all four tyres showing lumps “caused by separation or partial failure.” The check engine light has also made semi-frequent appearances, and its most recent pass in January still carried warnings for thin pads and discs all round and three tyres close to the legal limit. Getting all that fully sorted is going to add a significant chunk to the asking price.
The engine light may be down to an aftermarket Milltek exhaust system noted by the dealer selling the car, which should have added some snarl to the soundtrack. It is also sitting on Bilstein coilover suspension, which is another mark against originality but may well have sharpened the driving experience a bit further. Regardless of the mods it looks well priced for 2022, and gives a good indication of what the lower reaches of the B7 RS4 market looks like these days. And 123,000 miles is hardly a scary total for a car that dates from 2007.
What does the future hold? PH’s crystal ball is being used to support a wonky desk at the moment, so predictions are necessarily vague. To return to TeaVR’s question, it is hard to see our Pill being one of the those cars once in relatively high abundance that will end up as part of a cherished collection. The strong possibility of both rising ownership taxes and ever increasing petrol prices means it is likely to ultimately face a cost-based reckoning, one that will see it recycled into something much less interesting.
But that is no reason it can’t be enjoyed for a while longer. Get ‘em while they’re still hot.
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