Like any fast Audi should be, the RS4 was subtle, refined, and could make everyday driving a breeze.
But it doesn’t stop there. Really, you name a vehicle type, and Audi Sport GmbH — the subsidiary group responsible for its RS division — has created a viable contender for the top of its class.
What made all of this possible, though, was the foundations laid by the subsidiary group during its formative years. The halcyon days of the ’90s and early ’00s were legendary when it came to Audi’s RS division, with a list of cars that would make your average supercar driver nervous at the drag strip. And one of those was, of course, the first-generation Audi RS4, the B5.
On that note, let’s take a detailed look back at the first-generation Audi RS4 and what made it so special.
The History Behind The First-Generation Audi RS4
Audi’s performance subsidiary, Audi Sport GmbH — or quattro GmbH, as it was named then — was established in 1983. It was named after the famous fire-spitting rally car with the same name — the Quattro — and was initially founded to help develop performance Audis and components.
It wasn’t until 1991, though, that the first car developed by the subsidiary would go on sale: the Audi S2. It was also the first car to receive Audi’s S badge, meaning “Sport.” It was, in many ways, the spiritual successor to the iconic Quattro, not only in terms of looks but performance, too.
It was based on the Audi 80 Coupe and came with a 2.2-liter, five-cylinder engine developing 220 bhp — which, in 1993, was increased to 230 bhp. Couple that with Audi’s no-nonsense, Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and you had yourself a fast car. Zero to sixty in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, to be exact.
Then in ’94, we would see the birth of Audi’s all-out performance division: RS. The division hit the ground running with its debut car, the RS2, as it was properly quick, and not just by the 1990s’ standards, but by today’s. It was developed in partnership with Porsche, with lots borrowed directly from Stuttgart — most notably were its 17-inch wheels, which were taken straight from the Carrera Cup.
The engine was the same 2.2-liter, straight-five used in the S2, though it was a totally different animal, with everything from a bigger turbo to new camshafts fitted. Power now hit 315 bhp at 6,000 rpm, meaning the unassuming wagon could reach sixty in just 5.4 seconds.
A Detailed Look At Why The First-Generation Audi RS4 Is Special
The formula for the RS division was thus established: understated looks, practicality, and sledgehammer-like turbos. And that’s the perfect way to describe the second RS-badged car, the B5 RS4. Cosworth, the legendary British tuning company, was brought on board to help deal with the engine.
And what an engine it was — a 2.7-liter V6 with twin turbochargers, developing a then-supercar-rivaling 375 bhp, to be precise. Performance figures were, as you’d expect, impressive, with sixty being dealt with in 4.8 seconds and a limited top speed of 155 mph.
In case those figures weren’t quite enough, though — let’s face it, they really are — then you could squeeze way more out of RS4’s V6. According to Autocar, the engine could take up to 600 bhp; happily, so many used examples have been tweaked heavily — which is probably something to consider if you’re interested in buying one.
But, given this was an Audi, it wasn’t just engine bragging rights that the RS4 had. Thanks to the label’s trusty Quattro system, the grip was immense. According to Autocar, wet or dry, the RS4 just gripped up and propelled you forward. All of this means that the RS4 could hurtle through corners at speeds it really had no right to.