Audi A4/S4: The Car Bible (B5; 1996-2002)
These swift Audis were truly legendary. They're not expensive to buy these days, but they do need to be taken care of.
Welcome to the US market Audi A4/S4 B5 Car Bible. As you scroll down you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.
This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable info. Got something to add? Drop a comment or send us an email! Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief
(Disclaimers, Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also need to say that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk.)
There’s a lot of information packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in.
- The Short Story
- Fast Facts
- Spotter’s Guide
- Check This Car Out if …
- Important Trim Levels and Options
- Year-To-Year Changes
- General Reliability and Ownership Costs
- Obscure Details
- Red Flags and Known Issues
- Where To Buy Parts
- Aftermarket Support
- Popular Modifications
- Appearances in Motorsports
- Key Technical Details
- Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
- Factory Service Manuals
- Other References and Resources
- Professional Reviews
- Owner Reviews
- What They’re Worth Now
- Where To Find One for Sale
- What To Ask a Seller
- Competitors To Consider
- Photo Galleries
- Pop Culture References
- Enthusiast Inquiries
- Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
- Comments Disclaimer
The Short Story
The US market B5 Audi A4 (1996 to 2002) was the four-ring brand’s first, best-equipped weapon to earnestly take on the venerable BMW 3 Series. As with the 3 Series, the B5 could be optioned in four-door and wagon (known as Avant) variants, had a myriad of engine choices and even came in a hot, derived-from-motorsports version for those in need of some serious speed: the S4.
One of the B5’s main qualities was being able to be optioned with Audi’s legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive, an honest-to-goodness AWD system that makes them excellent choices in climates that see snow and other forms of grip-decreasing weather. They’re also excellent on the racetrack, as they maintain a superior level of grip over their front-wheel- and rear-wheel-drive counterparts and can rocket out of corners with all the gusto.
The B5 cemented Audi as a legitimate luxury sedan and wagon option all over the world, especially here in the United States. Prior to its introduction, Audi’s market share was more like Saab’s — the cars sold, but didn’t quite have the mass appeal needed to really move units. It also helped that Audi had access to all of Volkswagen Auto Group’s resources and could offer trims that fit a wide variety of budgets with a wide assortment of engine, drivetrain, interior, and exterior options.
Essentially, there’s a reason why you might find both a $1,500 front-wheel drive, silver A4 heap, as well as a minty, all-wheel-drive, Nogaro Blue S4, in sedan or wagon form, all in the same Autotempest.com or Craigslist search.
You can buy a three-inch kiss-cut sticker of every car we’ve done a Car Bible on, including the Audi B5. It’s $4.00 at our store; click here to grab one and here to see the whole list. Collect ’em all!
You’ll find links to big galleries in a lower section, but meanwhile, here are a few glamour shots to get you fired up about Audis.
- The B5 shares a platform with the VW Passat of the era. In fact, they’re both called B5s. They didn’t, however, share all of the same engines.
- The B5 A4 made a name for itself in Europe by dominating in super-touring racing. In fact, it won so much in its first year that the rules changed, and Audi could no longer utilize an all-wheel-drive drivetrain. So, they swapped to front-wheel drive — and kept winning.
- Some people think the various V6s that were available with the B5 were narrow-angle VR6s, such as those found in VWs, but they were not.
- The B5 S4 is well-known for being able to make immense power with aftermarket tuning.
- Because of so much platform and parts sharing between the Audi and VW badges, VW owners often do some fun OEM upgrades to their VWs with Audi parts. Audi owners aren’t as keen on bolting VW parts on their four-ringed steeds.
- The B5 A4, while not necessarily built as a hot sports sedan from the factory, is quite tunable in its own right with the 20v 1.8T engine.
- A quick, easy way to tell what’s under the hood of a B5 from the factory is the trim around the windows. The 1.8T had black trim, the 2.8 had chrome, and the S4 had brushed aluminum.
- The Tiptronic automatic transmission that was optional on the B5 A4 was originally developed for the 964 Porsche 911.
- A popular turbo upgrade for either the 1.8T or twin-turbo 2.7T is the K04 turbo, which is larger than the K03 that came on both. The beauty of this power upgrade is it’s at the very minimum a bolt-on upgrade, meaning the ECU will sense more air coming in and do its thing without any tuning. Of course, an ECU tune will net far more power.
The B5 Audi exudes quintessential mid-to-late ’90s and early 2000s German design. Clean lines, under the radar, little overhang, etc. They’re not bland, just clean. Sort of like with Bauhaus architecture, there’s beauty in simplicity. Plus, by today’s standards, it’s a refreshingly small sedan. Though, still nice n’ roomy inside.
What’s cool about the B5 is it helped cement modern Audi styling with its rear third and headlights. The generations that followed had similar looking grilles and headlights, and while BMW is known for its Hofmeister Kink — that rear bit above the belt line at the rear pillar where the glass ends — and Audi has its own thing going on in that region as well, which began with the B5.
The S4 has a classic strong, silent, under-the-radar muscle vibe, too. It’s clearly got larger wheels and brakes and features some very minor body-design upgrades. Otherwise, it’s a “those who know, know” kind of car when you see one on the street. This ain’t no base model; it’s a genuine monster.
Audi sold more than 165,000 A4s and S4s in the U.S. between 1996 and 2001, which is quite healthy. As of this writing, 2001 was 21 years ago. Finding clean, low-mileage examples of any spec is tough and seems to be exclusive to either Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or various auction sites. Still, because VW/Audi made so many vehicles with a lot of the B5’s innards, parts availability is still quite healthy.
Check This Car Out if …
You’re after something with great tuning potential, excellent chassis dynamics, classic understated German looks, and something different. You don’t see as many B5s at car shows, track events, or autocross events as you did 10 or 15 years ago.
Important Trim Levels and Options
The most desirable A4s possess one or more of the following: five-speed manual transmission, Quattro all-wheel drive, and the 20v 1.8T engine. The 1997-1999 model-year 1.8T engines had the AEB engine code, with larger intake and exhaust ports and larger wrist pins (connects the piston with the connecting rod), which means they’re stronger and can make more power.
Wagons (marketed as Avants) are also an option. What enthusiast doesn’t love a wagon, especially one that can be turned into a beast?
Then there’s the S4, which is most sought after with a manual transmission and various pleasant interior comfort options. It’s also available in a wagon. Later models received upgraded turbo-oil-feed lines, though many companies make aftermarket kits that are far better than OEM and can solve any year’s oiling issues. For more info on how many B5 S4s were sold in each color and with each transmission, check this site out.
These changes reflect the U.S. market.
1996 model year:
- Car debuts in the U.S.
1997 model year:
- No major changes
1998 model year:
- The 2.8-liter V-6 goes from a 12-valve to a 30-valve design, which increases power
- Headlights were changed from a two-piece design to a single piece
- No more Audi side markers on the fenders
1999 model year:
- The S4 is brought to the U.S. market
- All B5s receive minor exterior refresh upgrades
2000 model year:
- No major changes
2001 model year:
- The B5 platform ceases
- The 1.8T engine gets a small power bump
2002 model year:
- Some S4s are sold as 2002 model-year vehicles, despite the new B6 replacing the B5
General Reliability and Ownership Cost
In general, the B5 suffers from the European car-part tax. OEM parts can get pricey. Luckily, there are companies out there that produce OEM-or-better-quality parts for a bit less money. The usual players should be considered: Mann, Meyle, Liqui Moly, Ravenol, and Bosch, sourced from companies like ECS Tuning and FCP Euro.
People generally regard the B5 S4 as an unreliable nightmare. It’s actually the same as any high-performance European car of its era. As long as maintenance is kept up and it’s allowed to warm up properly, quality parts and fluids are used, and fluid changes follow strict or sooner-than-average intervals, they’re very reliable.
However, they can be time consuming to work on due to tight quarters and possessing complex drivetrain systems.
The B5 S4 won the 2001 SpeedVision World Championship, an American touring-car racing series. Not only did Champion Racing (who ran a bunch of cool cars back in the day) secure the championship, it also earned Audi the Manufacturer’s Championship.
The B5 A4 debuted in Europe two years before it came to the United States.
Red Flags and Known Issues
The B5 Audi A4 and S4’s common issues are well-known and documented. They’re pretty easily identified as well. Most of them pertain to examples with more than 100,000 miles, too. Look out for:
Wheel bearing noise. The A4/S4’s wheel bearings typically last around 100,000 miles and can be expensive in parts and labor to replace. Luckily 10,000-12,000 miles of increasing noise will occur before they completely die.
Suspension clunks. This is often due to worn out front bushings, damaged control arms, or worn strut mounts. Luckily, they aren’t too expensive to source from non-OEM sources, and at least a few of them can be replaced without having to do an alignment.
Smoke upon startup or while running. This is especially true for turbo cars. This could be the valve seals, or if while it’s running, it could either be the turbos or piston rings. Also examine the PCV system as its parts are prone to cracking. If they’ve been mistreated, turbo replacements can be expensive, especially on the S4.
Dead pixels in the instrument cluster. These are expensive to completely replace but can be a little cheaper if serviced by a qualified shop.
Other fluid leaks. Pulling apart the Quattro system to do differential and output shaft seals can be labor intensive.
Rough running, especially while revving up when warmed up, feeling like boost is cutting or not building enough. This could mean the turbo or turbos are on their way out, or something as simple as a boost leak or bad sensor.
Rust. Because of their Quattro all-wheel-drive systems, these are popular cold-weather cars, which means rust can occur.
Coolant leaks. Especially in the V of the engine on the V-6 models, this could be the auxiliary water pump or various hoses in the area.
Faulty diverter valves. These are crucial components to a forced-induction car’s function and make a fluttering/honking noise at idle if they’re starting to give up the ghost.
The B5’s recalls aren’t too bad. Airbag under-inflation, snapping timing belts, the lack of amber corner lights for visibility on earlier models, as well as brake booster and ignition issues on earlier models. Interestingly, these are all most common on the A4. The S4 saw far fewer.
These can all be found on the NHTSA’s website.
Where to Buy Parts
The aftermarket is still strong for the B5 A4 and S4. It helps that they share some parts with other Volkswagen Auto Group cars. Turbo upgrades, exhaust systems, intake systems, ECU tuning are all available. Plenty of suspension and brake upgrades are still ready to be installed as well.
Because the B5 A4, and to a lesser extent the S4, are pretty underpowered from the factory, usually the first thing enthusiasts do is add more power. Simple intake, exhaust, and ECU-tuning upgrades go a long way with the 1.8T and 2.7T, and both can handle a lot of power. The Quattro all-wheel-drive systems can as well, though the front-wheel-drive layout isn’t as tough.
Since the B5 has multilink front and double-wishbone rear suspension, it handles quite well across all specs, so upgraded springs, dampers, and sway bars can really set it off. Luckily, there are still plenty of suspension and brake upgrades available.
The only engine that isn’t as mod friendly as the naturally aspirated 2.8-liter V-6. Its stock power is pretty good, and it’s quite torquey, but it’s harder to squeeze out power. One or two companies offered supercharger kits for them back in the day, so torque-filled blower fun is floating around in the used market, and custom-created solutions are an option.
Appearances in Motorsports
The B5 A4 was a potent contender in ’90s European Super Touring racing. In fact, its Quattro all-wheel-drive was such a game changer that it was forced to run as front-wheel-drive after a few seasons in several series.
The B5 Audi S4 saw action on track all over the world, but notably, it put on a strong showing in SpeedVision World Challenge in the early ’00s. Unfortunately, nobody seems to race them in any capacity anymore.
Key Technical Details
1.8T: 150-170 horsepower, 155-173 pound-feet of torque
2.7T: 250 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque
2.8: 190 horsepower, 207 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: five-speed manual, six-speed manual (S4), five-speed automatic
Drivetrain: front-wheel drive, Quattro all-wheel drive
Suspension: front multilink, rear double wishbone
Wheelbase: 103.0 inches
S4, sedan and wagon: 176.5 inches
A4: 178.0 inches
A4 wagon: 176.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,300-3,700 pounds
OEM tire size: WheelSize.com is an excellent resource for these, as there are many.
Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
Fuel: 91 octane for all engines
Battery Size: 48 H6
Engine Oil: five quarts for non-2.7T, 6.9 quarts for the 2.7T. Use quality 5W-40, Ravenol or Liqui Moly, change every 5,000 miles
Oil Filter: OEM 068115561B, change with oil
Air Filter: OEM 058133843, change every 40,000 miles
Cabin Air Filter: OEM 8A0819439A, change every 40,000 miles
Transmission Oil (Manual):
A4 1.8T/2.8: three quarts of OEM G052145S2, change every 20,000 miles
S4 2.7T: three quarts of OEM G052911A2KT, change every 20,000 miles
Transmission Fluid (Automatic): six quarts of ATF G052, change every 40,000 miles. ECS Tuning offers a complete kit for the job.
Transmission Filter: OEM 01V325429KT or equivalent, change with fluid
Differential Oil: two liters of OEM N10037106KT3, change every 40,000 miles
Coolant: 4.5 liters of OEM G13, change every 80,000 miles
Power Steering Fluid: two liters of Liqui Moly Synthetic Power Steering Fluid, change every 80,000 miles. Enthusiasts also say that CHF 11S is a solid choice
Brake Fluid: one liter of Pentosin DOT 4, change every 2 years
Clutch Fluid: same as brake fluid
Haldex Coupling Fluid: 1 liter of OEM G0601751MDSP, change every 40,000 miles, ECS Tuning sells a convenient kit.
1.8T: four Bosch FR7LDC, change every 25,000 miles
2.7T / 2.8: six Bosch F6DT, change every 25,000 miles
Factory Service Manuals
Most enthusiasts point to Bentley for all of their fun, sporty Audi maintenance needs for the A4. It’s a bit of a rare bird for the S4, but enthusiasts put together this Google Doc with the proper information.
Other References and Resources
“1999 Audi S4, First Test” (Motor Trend, November 1999)
Chris Walton had very nice things to say about the B5 S4 more than years ago.
“Because the S4’s driving dynamics are so good, discovering its subtle handling limits is an exercise best saved for a racetrack or deserted parking lot. By the time you reach any kind of limit on a public road, you’d be well into multiple hundreds of dollars in likely fines. Audi’s patented all-wheel-drive system allows for throttle-on, controllable drifts with less potential for off-throttle precariousness that high-performance two-wheel-drive cars normally exhibit. In other words, within the laws of physics, it’s hard to do something that upsets the car’s intended telemetry, and if you somehow manage to break the sticky tires away from the pavement (such as with slight understeer in a fast corner), all that needs to happen to make it right again is judicious throttle application and a steady hand at the wheel.”
“Tested: Y2K Super Sedan Comparison” (Car and Driver, September 1999)
This group test pitted all of the European heavy hitters against each other, and the B5 S4 got top spot on the podium.
“It takes a sharp eye to distinguish the S4 from the A4. Aside from badges and larger 17-inch alloy wheels, the S4 gets a revised front bumper with six gaping air intakes. The look is subtle. In optional black or silver, the S4 would be a stealth lover’s dream.
Limited-edition cars often have limited appeal, but not this Audi. It’s fast, fun to drive, practical, and an excellent value. It’s also good enough to topple BMW’s M3 in a comparison test, which is saying something. If that finishing order changes when the new M3 arrives next year, you’ll be the first to know.”
We need to talk to some folks who have spent serious time in one of these! Own or owned one of these and want to share your thoughts? Hit up in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Audi B5” in the subject line.
What They’re Worth Now
The prime example: Expect very clean, reasonably low mileage (less than 60,000 miles) S4s to fetch as much as $18,000-$20,000, potentially more. Especially if it’s on a popular auction platform. A well-spec’d A4 in similar shape would go for as little as $10,000. Rarer specs, including manual-transmission S4 wagons in fun colors such as yellow or Nogaro Blue are on the higher end.
A very clean driver: 60,000-100,000 miles, some minor body imperfections, and maybe some wear and tear in the interior but excellent service history, and that price will drop to around $12,000.
An honest car: Expect to pay a maximum of $9,000 for something with more miles and imperfections, but overall sturdy mechanical shape. For an A4, figure $4,000 less.
The budget option: An S4 with high mileage, in need of some bodywork and some maintenance could be had for as little as $6,000. When the market calms down, perhaps they’ll go for less. An A4 that’s running reasonably well could be had for as little as $3,000.
A roach: It’s hard to find a B5 S4, especially one with a manual transmission, for less than $5,000 in fixer-upper shape. However, a beat A4 with potential could be bought for around $1,000.
Where to Find One for Sale
These cars are old enough that Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are great options for finding A4s and S4s of all conditions and mileage.
If you’re looking for pristine examples, Bring-a-Trailer and Cars & Bids will be your best options. They cater to an enthusiast demographic. But since their reach is big, you can expect a good crop of competition. Despite their alleged, overblown maintenance issues, Audi S4s are popular enthusiast cars, especially in rarer colors and in wagon form, and can fetch some pretty fat stacks of cash in today’s market.
Generally, you won’t really find any decent examples for decent prices on KBB, AutoTrader, or AutoTempest.
What to Ask a Seller
• Do you have records of regular maintenance? Regular maintenance is key to keeping these cars alive.
• When were the wheel bearings last replaced? These are especially crucial and expensive on the B5 platform.
• Does the car burn or leak any oil? Especially on the S4, where getting at gaskets to replace them can be a major pain.
• Has the timing chain been replaced? This is an expensive and labor-intensive job. It’s better if someone else takes care of it.
• Are there any burned-out pixels in the instrument cluster? This is an expensive part to replace, though they can be serviced.
• Has the timing belt been recently done on this 1.8T A4? The B5 is from the era when timing belts were still quite prevalent. They need to be replaced every 80,000 miles and ideally inspected every 20,000 miles.
• Have you always run synthetic oil and replaced it every 5,000 miles?” This ensures that turbos will last. K03s can easily last more than 200,000 miles if allowed to warm up and cool down properly, as well as always have fresh synthetic running through them.
Competitors to Consider
As far as other AWD options, the early 2000s Subaru WRX STI is certainly a competitor, albeit they don’t have nearly as nice interiors, and the styling isn’t for everybody.
Otherwise, the Mercedes C32 and C43 AMG are fun German competitors, as are the E36 and E46 BMW M3.
To keep it in the family, If you’re perfectly content with either front-wheel drive, a VW badge, a 4Motion badge, or all three, the B5’s platform buddy the Passat should also be a consideration as well.
B5 S4s fetch a mighty premium if they’re in clean, well-taken-care-of condition. A much more modern BMW 135i, or even the B5’s successor, the B6 Audi S4, could be had for similar prices. For pristine S4 money, a 996 Porsche 911 ought to be a consideration as well.
Pop Culture References
Besides making random appearances in television shows, sitting in the background in films, and being featured in automotive media, the B5 A4 and S4 haven’t ever really had significant roles in pop culture. If you paw through the Internet Movie Car Database you’ll see a few in European shows, but the only remotely interesting sighting we found was in Season 11, Episode 9 of MTV Cribs (remember that?) in which we get to see Bam Margera’s blue S4.
A B5 makes an appearance in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film “Spirited Away.” What’s neat and pointed out in the linked story, is it’s left-hand drive, though is driven on the left side of the road.
Every car has a collection of common questions that pop up in forums and Facebook groups whenever new blood joins in. We hope a lot of those have been answered above, but here are some B5 Audi FAQs we wanted to dig into.
• What’s a quick and easy way to get more power out of my 1.8T A4? Usually, an inexpensive tune will push the 1.8T’s horsepower output to more than 200, and a simple intake and exhaust pushes that figure decently high as well.
• I’ve heard S4s are maintenance nightmares. Is that true?” As with all cars, if they’re well maintained, they’re not. However, paying attention to service intervals is paramount, and quarters can be tight while wrenching.
• How hard is a K04 swap on my A4 1.8T Quattro? It’s actually quite easy thanks to the Quattro’s longitudinal engine placement under the hood. And the beauty of swapping to a K04 is that no ECU tuning is required to make it run right; the ECU will automatically adjust as necessary.
Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your B5 Audi, come back later and we’ll have a free Paperback Car Bible.
Think of it like an owner’s manual supplement. Keep it in your car and your days of waiting for slow internet on your phone at the auto parts store are over.
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