Spannerhead Dot

Thrust: The Audi B5 S4

August 22, 2012 by Matt

Audi B5 S4 Blue 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock

Well, I love this car. I love its sleeper quality. And I especially love the audacity of its engineering: As pointed out in my “Audi’s Greatest Hits” post, at a time when performance in the automotive world in general was on the wane, and Audi in particular was still emerging from their stolid, conservative image in the US, the automaker brazenly decided to stuff a pair of turbos into the B5’s cramped engine bay alongside the AWD gear and sell it to the public. You want mechanical density? Here it is, folks.

Audi B5 S4 Silver 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock

I can’t think of a single line I’d change on the exterior. I don’t say that about many cars. I even like the stock ride height and 17″ “Avus” wheels. Starting with the already spot-on shape and detailing of its lesser statemate, the A4, Audi added extra grille vents, side skirts and gave the S4 a much more aggressive stance overall—but not overpoweringly so. It represents the quintessential sleeper, its visual prowess deriving not so much from secondary elements as its proportions. The upshot is a much more timeless kind of style, understated but communicated in a way enthusiasts of many different automotive eras can appreciate.

Audi B5 S4 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock

Audi consistently makes the best interiors in the industry, and the B5 S4’s fits right in with their pattern of excellence. The consummate driving environment, all business yet perfectly tasteful, demonstrating a mastery of materials unrivaled by any other automaker.

Audi B5 S4 Engine Motor Biturbo Twin Turbo 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock APB AGB AZB

The S4’s “biturbo” 2.7l, 251-hp (in US trim) V6 marked the beginning of a new era for Audi vis-a-vis performance engines. Eschewing the inline-5 that had served them well for nearly 20 years, they began hanging a pair of turbos off the sides of “V” engines, starting with the S4’s and progressing through the later RS6‘s V8, and so on. Another noteworthy detail is the fact that the engine sports 5 valves per cylinder, a configuration adopted only by Audi and Ferrari, and later abandoned by both as not worth the added complexity. The benefits with respect to airflow are undeniable, though, as demonstrated by the fact that the S4’s engine is capable of generating twice its rated horsepower with the simple addition of larger turbos, some enlargement of intake and exhaust paths, and some software tuning. No changes to the engine core whatsoever.

Fitting all that kit under the hood is a masterpiece (or nightmare; take your pick) of packaging, and I stand amazed Audi decided to entrust its buyers with a level of powerplant and driveline complexity more in line with that of high-end race cars. And truth be told, the B5 S4 has developed a bit of a reputation for fragility, but when everything’s working properly under that perfectly-penned bodywork, there are few cars I’d rather own.

Filed under: Audi


  1. Ryan says:

    I remember lusting after one of these when I first saw it at a car show. Great looking car, beautiful interior, manual transmission and the potential for some serious power with the right modifications. Sadly, as you mentioned, I’ve also heard they can be a mechanical/maintenance nightmare too. :( You left out my true love though, the Avant/wagon! Now that makes for a sleeper. :)

    • Matt says:

      I did fail to mention the Avant, probably the “Audi-est” performance car they made at the time. It’s saying something that the fire-breathing B5 RS4 Avant, like the RS2 that preceded it, was offered exclusively in wagon form.

      I think the B5 S4 is kind of the Alfa Romeo of the sports sedan world: Beautiful and technically exhilarating, but a heartbreaker in terms of its reliability.

      I still want one. Have engine hoist, will travel. :)

Leave a Reply