When Ferrari introduced the new Purosangue that I wrote about back in December, many of us were pleasantly surprised to hear that it would be powered by something as exotic these days as a naturally aspirated V12, in this case putting out no less than 725 hp. Supercharged engines are obviously what you mostly see these days, so Ferrari sticking to the tradition, especially with a 12-cylinder, is great to see! What’s also pretty great and far cheaper than a new Purosangue, are some of the classic naturally aspirated engines from not too long ago, especially those with 8 or 10 cylinders. Audi is then a name that quickly springs to mind and this week, we’ll therefore look at what’s become as much of a bargain as rare in terms of power trains – the B8 Audi RS4!
The tradition of Audi power wagons starts with the RS2, built by Porsche when they were done with the MB E500 they were commission to build for Mercedes and that you can read about here (but that was never available as station wagon). The RS2 was based on the Audi 80 and although it looked a bit more muscular, its fascination came from it retaining many of the family station wagon looks whilst driving and having the power of a sports car. Up until then, that had never really been the case. What it didn’t have however was a V8, but rather a 2.2 litre turbo five-cylinder engine putting out 315 hp. The RS2 was only built during three years from 1994 to 1996 and has already become a true legend, priced as such.
When the RS2 was replaced by the RS4 in 1999, the engine had grown by one cylinder, 0.5 litre and 65 hp (to 380 hp), but it wasn’t until the second generation of the RS4 in 2005 that the V8 party got going. The original six-cylinder was then replaced by a 4.2 litre, naturally aspirated V8 putting out 420 hp, and the car was available as sedan, station wagon and convertible. More importantly, the B7 generation as it’s called was only available with a manual six-speed gearbox… At a 40-60 front-back drive train split, it also had a more rear-biased quattro system and also not to forget, it was the first RS4 with the lovely, double oval exhaust pipes! Thinking of where we are today, it’s difficult to imagine a more appealing cocktail than this, however ideally in sedan or station wagon form as the convertible suffered a bit rigidity-wise.
The V8 lived on to the B8 generation built between 2012-2015, but other body forms than the station wagon didn’t, so the wagon was the only shape the new RS4 was available in. Power had now increased to 450 hp at an almost incredible 8250 rpm, but the manual box was now gone, replaced by Audi’s equally excellent (but less fun) 7-speed DSG box. A new differential allowed for as much of 70% going to the front wheels and up to 85% to the back wheels, boosting the entertainment factor. It’s also worth remembering that both the B7 and B8 were light cars by today’s standard, with the former at around 1750 kg and the latter at another 100 kg. The B8 was to be the last V8-powered RS4 and was replaced by the current version which has gone back to a turbo-powered six-cylinder engine.
I hadn’t driven a B8 for a long time until a couple of days ago when I had the pleasure of doing so here in Zurich. The car in question had a pretty amazing history It was sold by the same garage that now had it for sale, to the only owner it ever had. He apparently has a number of cars so that he never used the RS4 in the winter, which given its talents is rather strange. Actually he didn’t use it much at all, as he only put 31.000 km on it since new, but still had it serviced every year in the very same garage. Built in 2014, the car looked absolutely new. Of course, after three weeks of sunshine it had to rain this very day, and I almost got the impression it was the first time the car saw water coming from the sky and not the (manual) car wash…
Starting from the outside, the B8 is a pretty, purposeful and muscular car with the larger body really setting it apart. It’s best from the front and side, with the back being a bit too much normal A4, except of course for the double exhaust and the diffusor in between. As you get in, the first impression is that of quite a tight car. It gives an incredibly solid impression with some nice carbon inlays in the RS4, but a bit less plastic wouldn’t hurt, even if the plastic is of excellent quality. As we pulled out of the city in comfort mode, the car very much behaved like any family wagon, albeit one with very precise steering and suspension on the firm side even in this mode. Putting it into Dynamic (together with Individual and Auto the other options, and the most sporty one) changes everything. There’s an immediate change of tone in the exhaust, the suspension firms up and the steering becomes sports car-like direct. As we reached the outskirts of the city the engine was warm, and I was finally able to start pushing it a bit, and what a pleasure it was!
The engine is absolutely incredible. Power delivery is immediate and the revs keep rising as long as you hold your foot down, as the tone changes from a deep grumble to more of a singing bariton. The power delivery is naturally aspirated-smooth and the amount of power feels perfect for the car. It’s also noticeable how much tighter the smaller RS4 feels compared to its bigger brother or an E63. The road was really wet and I was on 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sports with an increasingly nervous garage guy next to me so we were nowhere near the edge, but at no point did I feel nervous – the car was glued to the road, the steering made it extremely precise to handle, and the engine kept singing. Motor journalists like to call the RS series and especially the B8 boring and maybe it is on a track. But a station wagon is made for transporting people and stuff whilst still procuring driving pleasure to the person behind the wheel, not for track use, and this is a car that excels at precisely that. Downsides? Some road-noise is one, not helped by the 20-inch wheels. And the size of the manual shift paddles is another – did they run out of metal in Ingolstadt?
A well-preserved RS4 of the B8 generation with up to 70-80′ km on the clock will be yours for around EUR 40-50′, which at about 1/3 of its price as new, slightly more than a few years ago, but still an absolute bargain. It’s also a car that can be expected to hold its value very well given it’s one of the last naturally-aspirated V8’s out there. If you really insist on changing gears manually then the B7 is worth considering, but for everyday use I would go with the B8 as it still feels like a modern car. There’s a few options you should think about doing so. Firstly color-wise, the Nogaro blue is the rarest and the most sought-after, but it’s very blue indeed. As a more discrete alternative, the Daytona grey is my favorite. Then, “my” car had both the sports exhaust and the dynamic chassis and you should definitely go for both. You should also make sure it has the B&O sound system, as Audi’s more basic system is awful (most cars have it, but mine didn’t). Finally the panoramic roof is nice and helps lighting things up a bit. Audi’s quality may be top-notch, but you can’t call the interior design overly joyful…
Even though they come from the same naturally-aspirated tradition, it goes without saying that no one considering a Purosangue will be in the market for a used B8 RS4. But if driving pleasure is a priority, a power station wagon will always be a better choice than any SUV. Among these, a V8-powered RS4 is an increasingly rare car and currently one of the best deals to be had. Find one with the right equipment, service and owner history and you will not be disappointed!