Audi A4 Essential History
The first-generation Audi A4 was a response to an unhealthy brand reputation and an aging product lineup. The A4 represented a clean-sheet redesign of the brand’s compact premium sedan from the previous Audi 80, and while production began in 1994, the car wouldn’t arrive in the U.S. until the 1996 model year. Based on the Volkswagen B5 platform, the first-generation Audi A4 carried a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive as standard, with a 2.8-liter V-6 and Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system as optional upgrades. A five-speed manual transmission was also standard, while a Tiptronic manually-shiftable automatic, based on Porsche technology, was also available. A 1999 refresh brought small cosmetic changes, along with a new 30-valve 2.8-liter V-6 and more power from the base 1.8T engine. An S4 performance model was sold in the U.S. with a twin-turbocharged version of the 30-valve 2.8-liter V-6 making 250 horsepower, equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox. In addition to the sedan body style, a wagon (named Avant) was also available. This first-generation A4 was sold in the U.S. through the 2001 model year and sold very successfully, essentially working to reestablish the Audi brand in North America.
The second-generation Audi A4 arrived on U.S. shores for the 2002 model year, on the new lighter, stiffer, and larger B6 platform. A manual transmission continued as standard on most models, while the previous Tiptronic automatic was replaced with a CVT transmission. Sedan, wagon and two-door convertible (cabriolet, in Audi speak) body styles were available, plus front- or Quattro all-wheel drive. The base engine remained a 1.8-liter turbo-four, but the 2.8-liter V-6 was replaced with a 3.0-liter unit with 220 horsepower. The S4 sport sedan was given a new 4.2-liter V-8 engine making 339 horsepower from 2003 on.
Though the third-generation was given the B7 moniker, consider this version more of an extensive refresh than an all-new model. Finally, the 1.8-liter turbo-four made way for an all-new 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with direct fuel injection and a four-valve head replacing the previous five-valver. A six-speed manual was standard across the board, replacing the old five-speed, and the 3.0-liter V-6 was replaced with a 3.2-liter version, also featuring direct injection for the first time. Those opting for a self-shifting transmission with the new V-6 engine were offered a new conventional six-speed Tiptronic automatic, while the CVT soldiered on in 2.0-liter models. Such niceties as Bluetooth compatibility and a full-color navigation display were offered for the first time in this series, while the S5 continued on with its 4.2-liter V-8 and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Another all-new A4 finally arrived for the 2009 model year in the U.S. (one year later than the European market) and again, Audi’s bread and butter sedan grew in size with a new Audi Modular Longitudinal Platform shared with the A5 model. Five inches longer, two inches wider, and riding on a six-inch longer wheelbase, the new A4 was a fair bit larger than its BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class competitors. Sedan, wagon, and convertible versions remained on the order sheet, and at launch, a new 3.2-liter V-6 with 265 horsepower was the only engine available. It would soon be followed by an updated 2.0-liter turbo-four with new “valvelift” technology, upping output to 211 horsepower and, more crucially, increasing torque to 258 lb-ft. By now, Audi’s in-car amenities and infotainment were hitting their stride with optional Audi Drive Select featuring different drive and suspension settings and Audi’s MMI display interface. While a six-speed manual transmission continued on, as did the CVT transmission in front-drive models, Quattro versions got a new eight-speed automatic gearbox in 2011. A mid-cycle refresh in 2013 brought more aggressive cosmetics in line with changes made for the A5, while electric power steering assist was introduced for the first time. The S4 had by then had its 4.2-liter V-8 replaced with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 333 horsepower, fitted with an optional seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
In 2017, the big news from Audi was its new B9 version of the A4. Audi claimed that 90 percent of the new A4 really is new with trick aluminum brake and suspension bits and a five-link design front and rear. In the U.S., the B9 A4 launched with a new 248-horsepower version of its TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder and a 188-horsepower TDI turbodiesel four. The seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox is now standard, and while the car is incrementally larger than its predecessor, weight is down about 100 pounds through use of lightweight materials. MMI infotainment is still here, but updated with the new “Virtual Cockpit” architecture. Want a wagon version? The standard Avant isn’t available for the U.S. market any longer (nor is the cabriolet), but the Audi A4 Allroad launched for the 2018 model year with raised body height and Quattro all-wheel drive. Also in 2018, the new S4 arrived with a turbocharged 349-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 replacing the previous supercharged item. Unfortunately, an eight-speed automatic is now the default transmission in the S4, with no manual option available. The 2020 model year brought a refresh to the A4 lineup with the typical cosmetic changes, but the same basic powertrains.
Audi A4 Highlights
While the S4 in any of its generations through the years has never been a slouch, enthusiasts have only been interested in one A4-related model: the RS4. RS standing for Renn Sport, these models are the most sporting variants of the A4 available, but unfortunately many were never sold in the U.S., like the original B5 RS4 Avant. The RS4 came to America for the first time as a B7 in 2006 in both sedan and cabriolet body styles with a modified version of Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8 making 414 horsepower with an 8,000-rpm redline and a Getrag six-speed manual gearbox. Unfortunately it was canceled soon after, and despite Audi currently selling an RS4 Avant in other parts of the world, there are no plans to bring the car to the power-hungry U.S. market.
Audi A4 Buying Tips
As premium cars that are heavy on technology and luxury features, there are typically many, many things to go wrong when buying a used Audi A4. For this reason, unless you are mechanically competent or have a large budget for repairs, we recommend buying any used A4 from a dealership’s certified pre-owned program with a warranty. We’d consider an exception for a particularly clean B5 S4 or B7 RS4, but again, make sure your repairs fund is well-stocked. Few repairs are likely to have you out the door of your local service department for less than four figures.
Audi A4 Articles on Automobile
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Smarter than ever, the Audi A4 aims to take Benz and BMW to school.
Winds of change yield a sport sedan that continues to satisfy.
We sample Audi’s super-sedan in Europe.
Audi A4 Recent Auctions
Audi A4 Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1994 (in Europe)
- Last year of production: Still being sold.
- Original price (base): $26,500
- Characteristic feature: It’s a premium German sedan that isn’t a BMW or a Mercedes.
Audi A4 FAQ
● Is the Audi A4 a good car?
Sure! Despite previous worries about reliability, the current Audi A4 is about as reliable as its market segment competitors and offers excellent performance at a premium price.
● Which Audi A4 model is the best?
Generally speaking, the newest A4 you can afford will give you more performance, luxury features, interior room, comfort, and reliability.
● Why was the Audi A4 discontinued?
The Audi A4 was not discontinued.
● Is the Audi A4 all-wheel drive?
Quattro all-wheel drive is an extra-cost option on the A4 lineup; front-wheel drive is standard.
2020 Audi S4 Specifications
|ENGINE||3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/349 hp @ 5,400-6,400 rpm, 369 lb-ft @ 1,370-4,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD vehicle type|
|L x W x H||187.5 x 72.7 x 56.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|