A compact, stylish, fast, high quality wagon is the archetypal fast Audi – and it describes the RS4 to a tee

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, 5 June 2022 / Loading comments

Key considerations

  • Available for £45,000
  • 2.9-litre TFSI V6 petrol twin turbo, all-wheel drive
  • Fine chassis makes monster performance accessible 
  • Bespoke body and look gives it a special feel
  • Comfortable, practical, fast, economical
  • A fair few niggly problems   

Revealed at the 2017 Frankfurt show, the B9 Audi RS4 was the latest in a line of fast all-wheel drive Audi estates dating back to 1999. That’s when the first twin-turbo 2.7 V6 B5 model RS4 arrived in Audi showrooms. That 375hp B5 RS4 was the long-awaited successor to the B4 Audi 80-based RS2 which had been on sale for just over a year from 1994 to 1995. Just over 6,000 B5 RS4s were built in total, twice the number that Audi thought it was going to be making. All of them were in Avant estate form only. Of the 6,000, 532 came to the UK. RS 4 production runs since then have been a little bit longer than the RS2’s mayfly-short lifespan, but not by much: most have been a tantalisingly short 2-3 years, with the notable exception of the latest B9 that is the subject of this buying guide. 

In 2022 you’ll struggle to find an original B5 RS4 for under £22,000. For that money you’ll be looking at starship mileages of 175-200k. Five years ago £22k would have been enough for a fully-historied 100,000 miler. Read into that what you will. 

There was no B6 RS4, but for many would-be owners the B7 version that was revealed in 2005 and put on sale from 2006 to 2008 was well worth the wait. Why? Because the V6 engine had been replaced by a 4.2-litre V8, and you could have it as a saloon or a cabrio as well as an estate. The B8 also holds a place in RS4 history as the last model to be offered with a manual transmission – a Getrag-built six-speeder. 

Today you can get yourself into a 4.2 B7 Avant for £15,000. At that price point you’ll have to take a chance on a 150,000-miler, but the strong build quality associated with all RS4s means it will still look great. At the 2012 Geneva show we were back to Avant estates only for the gen-three B8. Built on the VW Group’s new MLB platform with the 4.2-litre V8 motor upgraded to 444hp, this time it came with the RS 4’s first twin-clutch gearbox, the 7-speed S Tronic. 

By 2015 the B8 was done. Two years later, in 2017, the B9 RS4 popped up at Frankfurt. Stlill on the MLB platform, it incorporated all the usual primps and perks that you’d expect in any new model, but there were a couple of significant points of difference between it and the B8. For a start, the naturally-aspirated 4.2 FSI V8 that had pumped so much character into the B8 and the B7 was finally ditched in favour of a return to the twin-turbo V6 format of the first B5 RS4. The displacement of the new engine (which was co-developed with Porsche who put it in the Panamera 4S and that was also used in the RS5 Coupe) was slightly higher at 2.9 litres. Unsurprisingly the power was somewhat up compared to the original B5 too, coincidentally to the same 444hp as the 31kg heavier V8 unit. The twin-clutch box was missing from the new B9 too, replaced by the widely-acclaimed 8-speed ZF 8HP ‘tiptronic’ torque converter automatic. 

The driveline combination certainly worked when it came to pure acceleration. The 0-62mph time was 4.1sec, 0.6sec quicker than the B8. The limited top whack of 155mph could be uncorked to 174mph for a fee of £1,450, or for zero pounds if you went for the range-topping Vorsprung model (which we’ll talk about in a minute) or if you ticked the RS Dynamic option box on pre-facelift cars – that facelift having been announced in October 2019 for the 2020 model year. Mechanically there were no changes in the revised version, but externally there was a new and more aggressive front end with a ‘frameless’ black honeycomb grille, a new bumper and front splitter, and flared wheel arches to set the RS4 apart from the more mundane A4 models (which were 30mm narrower). The new look also served to visually align the RS4 more closely with the RS6. 

Inside you got a new digital dash with a bigger array of readouts and a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen, your finger and MMI acoustic response tech taking over from the old rotary knob. There was also a shift light display to optimise your changes. Not that you needed to worry too much about that, as we’ll come to in a moment. And thanks to some serious improvements on the chassis side, particularly when you ticked the Dynamic Ride Control box, nor did you have to fret about how the car would behave while it was deploying frankly daft levels of performance. All that plus 20 percent better combined fuel figures and a 50 percent chop in CO2 emissions. Not bad.

UK sales of the B9 RS 4 started on 1 January 2018, with deliveries kicking off in March. Because journalists sometimes get fed dodgy info at launches, we’ve found about eighteen different prices on tinternet for it when it was new. We’ve chosen one of them – £64,625 – almost entirely at random. That was before options, of course; buyers of this type of car will often load up on that stuff so it’s hard to make a definitive statement on depreciation when the used playing field is such a long way from level. If you were the sort who preferred to cut to the chase by rounding up a load of attractive extras in a spec-packed special or limited edition RS4, Audi catered for you not once, not twice, not even thrice, but er fource, or four times. 

The first two special editions that debuted along with the basic B9 in 2018 were the Carbon Black and the Vorsprung. The Carbon Black predictably involved lots of carbon fibre and black 20-inch wheels. The Vorsprung swopped most of the Carbon’s CF for glossy black trim. It too had 20-inch alloy wheels, along with a panoramic sunroof, B&O 19-speaker stereo, RS Sport exhaust, Dynamic Ride Control, Dynamic Steering, multi-coloured ambient lighting, head-up display and an increased 174mph top speed. 

We’ve got more press pricing variations to try and sort out here but we’re going to say that a Carbon Black was £71,025 and the Vorsprung £82,770. In the early spring of 2020 to help beef up the launch of the newly facelifted B9, we had the Bronze Edition. 25 of these were offered at £82,395 a pop. They had 20-inch bronze alloy wheels, Vesuvius Grey paint with black trim pieces, an RS Sport exhaust, all the gear you got in the Comfort and Sound packs (keyless entry, hands-free tailgate, 360-degree camera and B&O sound system), plus black leather seats with bronze stitching. 

One year later in spring 2021 the Nogaro Edition arrived. 25 of these were built for each of the RS4 Avant, RS5 Coupe, RS5 Sportback and RS6 Avant model lines. Besides the iconic RS2-honouring pearl-effect blue paint, the Nogaro RS4 received five-arm flag-style alloy wheels; red brake calipers; front spoiler, side sills and rear diffuser in matt finish aluminium; door mirrors, Audi logo rings and RS badges in gloss black; RS Sport twin oval tailpipe exhaust in black; denim blue stitching on the nappa leather seats, centre console, instrument cover, steering wheel and floor mats; extra leather on the upper instrument panel, door shoulders and centre console; Alcantara on the steering wheel and gear lever; and to top it all off one of those nice Bang & Olufsen sound systems. Nogaro RS 4s cost £80,840 new. 

At the less exotic, less expensive end of the B9 RS 4 market we can tell you that, in mid 2022, you could pick up a regular B9 RS 4 for £44,000. Admittedly that was a repaired Cat S car. The cheapest undamaged specimen we found was a red 58,000-miler which was claimed to be the lowest-priced B9 on sale in the UK at £46,945. We didn’t do a damage check on it, but nothing to that effect was mentioned in the ad. A more typical minimum entry price would be £48k for a 2018 car with 50-60,000 miles on it. Worth it? Let’s find out. 

SPECIFICATION | AUDI RS4 (2017-on)

Engine: 2,894cc V6 24v twin turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed torque conv auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],700-6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],900-5,000rpm
0-62mph (secs): 4.1
Top speed (mph): 155 (174 in Vorsprung)
Weight (kg): 1,715
MPG (official combined): 32.1
CO2 (g/km): 199
Wheels (in): 9 x 19 
Tyres: 265/35 
On sale: 2018 – on
Price new: £64,625
Price now: from £48,000

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

The B9 RS4 was stupidly fast even if you never went past 4,000rpm. At that point you would be chowing down on the chewiest lump of a 443lb ft torque steak (up from 317lb ft in the preceding model) that started at 1,900rpm and didn’t tail off until 5,000rpm. If at that point for some unfathomable reason you considered the rate at which you were travelling in your B9 to be insufficient for your needs you could hang on to the intermediate gears for 1,000rpms worth of maximum power starting at 5,700rpm. 

In reality, once you’d tuned into the V6’s mellifluous mid-range audio churn, the chances are you wouldn’t bother with any of that. The C63 S Merc and maybe the Alfa Giulia Quad beat it on hair-raising noise quality, but their exhausts will have to be toned down at some point to meet upcoming EU regs on valved exhausts, whereas the Audi’s standard pipework (referred to in basic trim as a sports exhaust) already complies with that legislation. And you always had the option of the oval-exit RS Sport pipe at around £1,200. 

Some B9 RS4s have experienced stuck thermostats (open and shut), a not uncommon VW group thing. Idle speeds on startup could be random and the engine could feel a little stuttery when cold, worsening to kangarooing in extreme cases. There have been issues with faulty cam sensors, leading in at least one case to a destroyed engine. These are direct rather than dual injection engines so cylinder head coking will be something to be aware of in the long term. Some carbon fibre engine covers have come adrift. 

The ZF gearbox can be a touch jerky when shifting in the longer gears. Gearbox oil leaks have been fixed under warranty. More than one owner has had difficulty in starting their RS4 in the morning after an overnight stop. Pressing the starter would illuminate all the dash lights in the usual manner but there would be no start activity. The ‘fix’ for that turned out to be stamping harder on the brake pedal to get its sensor talking to the ECU. 

CHASSIS

The old B8 had a blinding V8 engine but it was a tough car to love unconditionally on account of its sometimes punishing ride. The B9 was a step in the right direction for bum-pummelled British owners, although if you didn’t get the right model you would have to pay extra for Dynamic Ride Control (£2,000) and for the variable-speed Dynamic Steering. This was £950 not too badly spent as it delivered a good mix of weighting and accuracy. The Sport Differential that distributed torque between the rear wheels was included in the base price on all UK RS4s. 

Earlier on we compared the RS4 with the C63 in an unfavourable way when it came to rortmungosity, but if your particular penchant was for firing out of corners at ridiculous speeds the ground-snatching traction of the Audi made it the only tool of choice in that two-car showdown. The optional DRC system consisting of three-mode dampers diagonally linked by a flow of hydraulic fluid played a big part in keeping the car level under even the most vicious bouts of acceleration or braking, or during the sort of cornering that would have your small change falling out of your trouser pockets. It didn’t matter all that much how hard you tramped on the brake or throttle: DRC virtually eliminated body roll or pitch. 

Unfortunately there have been issues with failing DRC actuators, usually signalled by a knocking noise. RS6s are also known to have this. Handily, even if you didn’t have DRC on your car the lightness of the V6 relative to the old V8 resulted in a more balanced feel overall. 

Standard RS4 brakes have a big reputation for squealing. Carbon ceramic brakes were a predictably pricey option. We couldn’t find the original price in pounds sterling but we think they were around 15,000 euros. They did reduce the B9’s weight by 8kg though – as did a somewhat cheaper set of snazzy milled aluminium 20-inch alloys.  

BODYWORK

The sharpened lines of the enwidened, model-unique B9 RS4 body really work. Some of the B8’s fussier external design details were deleted but the reduction in shoutiness didn’t impact on the car’s ability to command attention from other road users. 

If you were prepared to pay there were some standout paint choices for the RS4, like the love it or hate it Sonoma Green at £645. Pearl effect Vegas Yellow was a £2,400 option for the confident buyer who didn’t mind coming back to their car in summer and finding it covered with insects stupidly looking for pollen. In reality, reflecting the innate conservatism of UK buyers, the majority of the cars in the British secondhand market come in sober, low-profile, resale value preserving hues. 

There have been reports of leaking headlight covers causing fog-up. That’s something that normal A4s are known for. Audi dealers will tell you it’s normal. The electric tailgate operation could be sensitive to the position of the fob and sometimes needed a hefty prod. Other electrical glitches might affect the side assist, exit warning and automatic headlight operations. 

INTERIOR 

Some might consider the B9 interior to be a bit dated. The dashtop mounted screen does look slightly tacked on in exactly the same way that they did when they first came out in cars generally. There again, one person’s dated can be another person’s timeless. 

Putting design preferences to one side, objectively there is very little to criticise. It’s hard to imagine what improvements could be made on the quality of the materials or the way in which they were put together with such fine attention to detail. The binning of the rotary controller in the 2020 facelift was maybe something to regret if only for the loss of something nice to twirl. 

Some owners have seen their sat nav switch itself over to a non-Google map, a not unfamiliar Audi thing from early MMI days. Others have had a failure to recognise an iPhone (probably more or an Apple issue than an Audi one) or malfunctioning in the operation of the surround view camera (usually where it defaults to the graphical display). 

The standard air-adjustable seats were great and so was the leather-covered steering wheel as long as you didn’t mind the flat bottom that is now perhaps starting to look a bit 2010s-y. Some owners have reported seat damage to caused by poorly installed belt buckles. Others have had trouble with the pneumatics inflating the seats without being asked. Windows not always shutting all the way as they should and boot vents blocked by misplaced bungs would cause annoying noises in the cabin. 

PH VERDICT

One of the RS4’s few natural rivals for the crown of best fast compact estate is the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. It’s a worthy opponent that will always be favoured by V8 aficionados and its rear-drive handling is arguably sweeter than the Audi’s. 

However, if you’re all about exploring unlikely limits and, having found them, realising that the RS4 is remarkably capable of dealing with them, then it’s a hard car to dismiss even when it’s up against such high-stepping opposition as the AMG. Specced up to Vorpsrung level there wasn’t much between the two on price. And, of course, there is always the Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio, but that’s not a slinkily gorgeous estate. 

At the start we mentioned that the typical entry price for a B9 RS4 is around £48,000. The lowest-priced one on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was a little more expensive than that at just under £52k, but it was a lovely looking thing in Nardo Grey with only 32,000 miles recorded. £300 or so on top of that amount would pay for this Carbon Edition car in the same colour and with 3,000 fewer miles covered. 

There is plenty of B9 choice in PH Classifieds in the £50-£70k bracket. The most expensive car on offer as we went to press was this big-spec 2021 Nogaro Edition at £84,995, representing a £4k premium on the new car asking price. Whoever just said ‘that’s lot of money for an A4’, wash your mouth out with soap and water. But, with the B9’s odd teething issue in mind, do consider seeking out a warranty if you’re inclined to give the outgoing RS4 a second look. 


Search for a used RS4 here

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