If it seems I’ve gone a bit B6-crazy as of late, that’s probably because I have. As you may already know, I purchased my B6 Audi A4 Ultrasport late last Summer and have been slowly nursing it back to full health and upgrading as I go. So, in the six-or-so months that I’ve had my B6, I’ve come to learn quite a lot about it, through driving it, wrenching on it and scouring forums for answers on it.
One thing that’s interested me since owning a B6 is that other owners seem to really, really love their cars. The B6 is one of the most beloved standard Audi ‘A’ cars I’ve seen, with owners really clinging to theirs. I can see why, too, as it seems to be a great car with a lot of charm.
It’s also shockingly cheap. Searching Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, or whichever other used-car outlet you use, it’s not hard to find a decent B6 Audi A4 for under $3,000. I paid less than that for mine. So I figured it a good idea to put together a buyer’s guide for any enthusiast that wants to get into a cheap Audi. So I’ll give you a bit of a history lesson, as well as which models were available, what to look for and what to avoid.
A Brief History Lesson
The B6 Audi A4 is only the second generation of A4 in history. There were plenty of smaller Audi sedans prior to the A4’s existence, sedans that fit in the same segment, but it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that Audi called it the A4. That first-gen was known as the B5 and, obviously the B6 followed. So it’s only the second generation of A4 and it didn’t last for very long
Introduced in 2002, the B6 Audi A4 only had a life cycle of about three and a half years, being replaced by the B7 halfway through 2005. In fact, my B6 is a 2005, so it’s one of the very last ones made.
In America, there were only two engine options for the B6 Audi A4: the 1.8 liter turbocharged four-cylinder or the 3.0 liter naturally-aspirated V6. In Europe, there were several more options, including both four and six-cylinder diesels. However, I won’t get into those because I’ll be here all week. The important ones are the two that came to America because they’re the ones enthusiasts want, no matter where they live.
Let’s start with the four-pot. It’s a 1.8T with 170 hp as-standard and it’s essentially the same engine that powered the Mk4 Volkswagen Jetta. Not exactly the most thrilling of engines. It’s fine, smooth enough and relatively reliable. However, without modification, it’s painfully slow. Just 170 hp is not enough to move a 3,700 lb all-wheel drive sedan with any sort of verve. Thankfully, the 1.8T is very easy to tune and with just some simple mods — ECU tune, intake, exhaust — you can easily make 250 hp or more.
The second popular engine is the 3.0 liter V6, which comes with 220 hp as-standard. It’s a great engine; with buttery smooth power deliver, a sophisticated six-cylinder sound and enough power to be decently fun; but it has a low ceiling. Being naturally-aspirated, there really aren’t any simple mods that can be done to make good power. So you really have to spend some time and money heavily upgrading its bones to make it faster and that’s just not worth it. Plus, its even heavier at the nose, which makes the car understeer more.
What to Look For
When it comes to buying a B6 Audi A4, there are a few things you should look for. One, I’d recommend looking at 1.8T cars. Sure, they’re slower than drying paint when stock but they can very easily be tuned to make much, much more power. Also, they’re easier to work on and nicer to drive, thanks to the lighter nose. Also, turbo noises.
Also, look for Ultrasport models. Mine is a USP and it’s well worth seeking out. The Ultrasport package wasn’t much more than a cosmetic package back in the day but it makes the car look so much better, while also adding a couple of mechanical goodies. For instance, B6 Audi A4 USP models get a six-speed manual gearbox option, rather than the typical five-speed, as well as lower sport suspension.
Aside from that, the USP package is mostly cosmetic but that’s okay because its visual upgrades make a huge difference, bringing S4-style door blades, a new front fascia, a different rear bumper and a decklid spoiler. Not only to those upgrades make a big difference but, individually, they’re expensive aftermarket parts. So get the car with them already on and have what other B6 owners covet.
In addition, look for models with body colored lowers. The black plastic lower parts of some A4s just look cheap.
What to Avoid
If you’re going to go with a 1.8T model, make sure that whichever car you’re buying, if it has over 100,000 miles (which it almost certainly will), has had its timing belt changed. The timing belt/water pump job is necessary every 100,000 miles or you risk serious engine trouble. If it hasn’t been done but the car is too good to pass up otherwise, get it and have both the timing belt and water pump replaced immediately.
The 3.0 V6 is a sturdier engine with less inherent problems but make sure its timing belt and water pump are done, too, because they’re more difficult to do in the V6. So don’t even bother with it on your own, just find one that’s already done.
Also check the PCV valve and all of the hoses that go with it. While you won’t actually be able to see the PCV valve’s condition while checking out a car to buy, you can see a lot of its hoses and, if they’re cracked or broken, there will be oil on a lot of the surrounding parts. This is a common fault on 1.8T engines and can cause a few problems, such as ruin your catalytic converter and/or lose more oil than is healthy, if not remedied.
B6s don’t rust too poorly but check in the wheel wells, behind the side skirts and at the front of the hood. There are some places that can be susceptible to rust but it’s not a car known to be a rust-bucket.
As a starter Audi, something inexpensive and fun, the B6 Audi A4 is hard to beat. It has everything a proper Audi should have; understated good looks, proper Quattro all-wheel drive and, in the case of a 1.8T, a vast modding catalog that can make your car a ton of fun over the years. It’s not perfect but it’s good, cheap fun.