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A spotter's guide to the Audi A4

A spotter's guide to the Audi A4

It’s hard to believe, but the Audi A4 has been with us since 1994. That’s twenty-four years! We always think of the 3 Series and the C Class when it comes to middle-management family cars that we’ve had forever, but that’s because in the early days, the Audi A4 was a subtle, unassuming machine.

Audi didn’t shout about it. It just let the A4 quietly take over the reins from the even more humble Audi 80 and then left it to do its thing.

It was only over subsequent years that the media push for Audi got underway, and with it, the German giant had a solid, proven car to shout about. Clever marketing, there. 

Now, the A4 is at the top of its game. It’s luxury, it’s executive but it’s also for the family. It is all things to all drivers. It’s also now it its fifth generation.

But how do you begin to tell them apart? Don’t worry, because as ever, Haynes has got you covered. 

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The first-generation B5

The first-generation B5

Built from 1994 to 2001

You may hear some people refer to the first A4 as, confusingly, a B5. They’re not trying to wind you up though, as B5 was the internal designation of this model. The B5 was also the name of the platform on which the A4 was based, and was shared with the Volkswagen Passat of the time.

Unusually though, in the case of the A4, the engine was mounted longitudinally opposed to transverse, the latter being what you’d expect to find in a front-wheel drive car, which the A4 was. 

The A4 wasn’t just front-wheel drive though. It could also be ordered in Quattro specification, which was and still is Audi’s famous all-wheel drive setup. This meant the A4 was unlike anything else in its class.

Add the use of the brilliant 1.8 litre 20-valve turbocharged petrol engine and you’re left with fast and deeply capable car. Though if you wanted proper speed you could go for the S4. If you wanted to be a lunatic, then the 4.2 V8 RS4 was the car for you. 

To spot one, you’re looking for either a saloon or an estate (though Audi doesn’t say estate, it says avant). You’re also looking for clean, uninterrupted lines. The front lights are rectangular, with the grille – complete with four ring logo – dropping down in between.

The rear lights are separate from the boot lid, which itself is clean cut with a high pinch line that pulls the metal in about five inches below the boot line.

A4 fact: When Audi entered the BTCC in the 1990s, organisers were forced to change the rules due to the all-wheel drive A4 dominating, especially in the wet.

The second-generation B6

The second-generation B6

Built from 2001 to 2003

The B6 A4 was, as you can probably guess, based on the B6 platform. Again, this was something shared within the Volkswagen Audi group, and again, it was very much of the ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ school of design.

By now, the A4 was solid seller, so Audi didn’t want to ruin that. As such, it was more of a tweak than an outright new car. 

Some engine capacities were revised, and the now very popular indeed 1.8 litre 20-valve turbocharged engine was offered with two power outputs – 150bhp and 180bhp, though as it was the same engine as the TT, pushing it way beyond 200bhp wasn’t impossible with the right remaps and the right parts. Again, speed freaks could have the S4, but sadly there was no RS4 model. 

To spot a B6, you’re looking for a B5 that is a bit, well, a bit ‘tighter’. The same basic design was the same, but the lines were more refined, the overall look of the thing was neater and it just looked smooth and clean. 

A4 fact: The B6 was the first A4 to be offered as a convertible. Prior to this, you had to have the 80.

The third-generation B7

The third-generation B7

Built from 2004 to 2008 

The B7 wasn’t actually built on a B7 platform as such, it was actually just a facelifted B6, but as the name had become known, much like BMW with its E numbers, Audi just kept the tradition going.

The B7 was made available with some new engines, the steering was reworked and the suspension geometry was improved and that was about it, really.

The A4 was doing a fine job both on the road and in the dealerships, so much like BMW with its 3 Series, Audi didn’t want to scare off loyal fans. It did want to win some back though, so it brought back the RS4 model. In the case of the B7, that meant a 415bhp naturally-aspirated V8. Good lord. 

To spot a B7, you need to look for headlights that have a bit more shape to them, and they also pull back into the car more than before.

The front grille extends from the base of the front bumper up to the leading edge of the bonnet, while the rear lights are shared between the body itself and the boot-lid – the first time for the A4.

A4 fact: The RS4 version was available as an estate, a saloon and for the first time, a convertible. Good way to blow your wig off!

The fourth-generation B8

The fourth-generation B8

Built from 2008 to 2016

The B8 Audi A4 was built on the Audi Modular Longitudinal Platform that was shared with the A5. This meant the A4 could get a bit bigger, so it did. It grew another 160mm in wheelbase, meaning people in the back had more space.

And while the overall dimensions were greater than that of the B7, the B8 was actually lighter thanks to Audi ensuring no needlessly heavy material was used in the construction. 

Again, it was made available with a range of petrol and diesel engines, with the latter being the biggest seller – little did Audi know what the future would hold. Deiselgate aside, Audi made sure the B8 was available in RS4 guise, again thanks to a naturally-aspirated 4.2 V8.

Though this time, manual transmission wasn’t an option. Only DSG (double-clutch automatic). But with blistering gear-changes, it was hardly a sacrifice. 

To spot a B8, you’re looking for a car bigger than the B7 – it’s easy for the untrained eye to mistake one for an A6. There is a high swage-line that runs the length of the car just above door handle height.

The headlights have a more ‘teardrop’ and the grille, while still a ‘floor to ceiling’ feature of the front end, is more pronounced than that of the B7

A4 fact: This model of A4 was available as an L model in China, meaning it had an extra 60mm in the wheelbase, making more space for rear seat passengers.

The fifth-generation B9

The fifth-generation B9

Built from 2015 to present

The B9 is bigger than the B8, but only slightly. And much like the B8, it somehow manages to bend the laws of physics by being lighter (by some 120kg) than its predecessor. It’s also the most luxurious the A4 has ever been, owing to the competition doing the same.

Plus, given its size, Audi has found that many an A6 customer is moving to the A4, but to make sure they do, the A4 has to be has high end as its big brother. As such, leather, digital climate, virtual cockpit displays instead of gauges and much more are all available.

There is also an RS4 version, though this time it’s powered by a V6 with twin turbos mated to an eight-speed DSG ‘box. Oh, and it’s only available as an esta… sorry, avant. 

To spot a B8, look for the angry, sharp-lined headlights complete with fine DRLs (daytime running lights). The big grille is also present, but this time it has more definition to its shape, and it also bulges out at the side to create more of a diamond shape. The rear lights are wider and thinner than they have ever been. 

A4 fact: Those ‘swiping’ indicators are actually called “Dynamic Indicators” which is a good pub fact if nothing else.