They can't get much cheaper than this, surely?
By Mike Duff / Saturday, December 5, 2020
There don’t seem to have been any PhD thesis submitted on the disconnect between the critical reaction won by hot Audis and their subsequent sales volumes, but this is definitely a phenomenon deserving high-brow attention. Few of the genre receive glowing reviews when new, but most go onto enjoy impressive sales – frequently outscoring the more vaunted alternatives that beat them in comparison tests.
Yet, sometimes, the stars align and – to the sound of a heavenly choir – road tests have come back as positive as subsequent production numbers. Never more so than with the B7 generation RS4 that made its debut in 2006. This was the car that Audi could combine the effortless pace of earlier RS models with a driving experience that wasn’t constantly looking over your shoulder, or flirting with the waiter.
Yet despite the hype that made it one of the hottest tickets when it was new, B7 RS4 values have yet to rally. The glide path has grown shallower in recent years but, as our Pill proves, there are still proper bargains out there. Indeed we’ve entered the strange situation of the earlier B5-generation RS4 – which was much less involving to drive and used a turbocharged V6 rather than the B7’s zingy V8 – now being worth the same or more. Considering its characterful powerplant and higher level of creature comforts, our Pill’s £12,000 asking price is getting close to making it look like an absolute steal.
The B7 RS4 was a product of the era that we will probably look back on as the pinnacle of the German car industry. Ebullient confidence and booming sales was leading to the development of ever more outlandish powerplants for performance derivatives. Further up the tree both Audi and BMW had created V10 engines. But even in this bit of the market, still called the compact executive segment in those days, the trend for upsizing was being followed with similar zeal. In the case of the RS4 that meant a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 that made a peak of 414hp and revved to 8250rpm. Okay, so even the lesser S4 was packing a V8 in those days, but that one only made 340hp.
Previous extra-hot Audis had been engineered to deliver performance without drama, but the big change pioneered by the B7 RS4 was a willingness to play. Its steering delivered actual feedback, its front-to-rear grip balance could be played with beyond simply adding or subtracting understeer and even the brakes had gained sensitivity and modulation compared to Audi’s over-servoed norm. The RS4 was hugely fast when it came to crossing country, in the dry it was at least as quick as the V8 powered E90/E92 BMW M3 and W204 Mercedes C63 AMG that were launched soon after it. But in slippery conditions the Audi was massively, embarrassingly faster than the rear driven alternatives.
I was sent to an infamous three-sided corner of Snowdonia in 2007 for a magazine feature that included both an RS4 saloon and the freshly-launched E90 M3 four-door. Conditions were sodden and driving the Audi at what felt like an entirely rational pace I was surprised at how hard the BMW was finding it to keep up. Then we swapped cars and I realised why, the M3 slithering and sliding as it battled to deliver its urge to the sodden tarmac, the Audi sailing off effortlessly into the distance. Okay, so the senior versions of the Lancer Evo and Impreza STI from the era were in the same league of rapid when the weather turned bad. But neither of them could boast a V8 soundtrack to match the RS4’s.
The B7 also marked the point where Audi tried to broaden the RS4’s appeal with new bodystyles. Having previously concentrated on the niche of ultra-fast estates, the B7 included both saloon and cabrio versions. These were equally fast and dynamically secure, but always seemed to be missing some of the point of the stylish Avant’s combination of practicality and performance. Estate and four-door sold pretty evenly in the UK, with around 1,500 of each finding homes before sales stopped in 2008. But these days the Avant is definitely the more desirable, even if its family-hauling capability is limited by a small boot and cramped rear legroom.
Despite being the cheapest RS4 of any variety currently offered in the classifieds, our Pill ticks a lot of the right boxes. It’s a 2006 Avant in black, with the exterior looking to be in tidy nick (if damp) in the photos. Like all B7s it has a manual gearbox – this being the time when performance car buyers were manly enough to swap their own ratios – and also has several desirable options including the BOSE audio system and RS4 branded ‘wing back’ leather sports seats. The cabin is showing more wear, especially on the MMI’s volume controller, but the selling dealer reports a single owner from new – an ennobled one, no less – and also boasts that the car comes with a full service history.
On the other side of the ledger, our Pill is wearing a sizeable 152,000 mile odometer reading and has an MOT history some way short of pristine. After several years’ worth of warnings over worn tyres, shocks and suspension arms it failed in July with a broken coil spring and – more worrying – “oil leaking excessively from engine.” That was cured three days later, but both tests threw up the perplexing advisory “EXHAUST FLEXIES BEEN CAUTE.” Answers on a postcard, please.
Any RS4 will be costly to keep in fettle, with the years having revealed several substantial gaps in the B7’s reliability armour. The best documented of these is the tendency of the engine to suffer from performance-sapping carbon build-up, especially if not let off the leash often enough. If this gets really bad the top end will need to be stripped down and decoked. Auxiliary oil coolers are prone to failure, and the hydraulically linked DRC dampers are another common point of borkage – an advisory on the most recent MOT suggesting at least one of these is close to the end of its life. Tailgate seals are also prone to failure, causing leaks and damp carpets.
But even with a bit of short-term spending factored in this RS4 still looks like compelling value compared to both peers and rivals. Especially as the weather turns increasingly nasty and the roads get more slippery. It might have previously belonged to an earl, but you don’t need to be a member of the aristocracy to be worthy of this country estate.
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