A4 Airport: 1996 Audi A4 1.8

A4 Airport: 1996 Audi A4 1.8

Looking for a fact that is guaranteed to make you feel old? How about if I reminded you that it’s approaching 20 years since the launch of the original B5 Audi A4? It’s come a long way since then and, given that there are around 330,000 Audi A4s on the roads of Britain, you could say it’s been a bit of a hit. And earlier this year, an Audi A4 was added to the PetrolBlog Fleet.

Quite why it’s taken me so long to blog about it is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s the complete anonymity of the thing. Or the total absence of any kind of character. But having completed over 5,000 miles in a little over three months, I feel it’s about time I gave my 1996 Audi A4 a proper PetrolBlog unveiling. So here it is, a 1996 Audi A4 1.8, resplendent in Agate Grey metallic paint.

Rear of 1996 Audi A4 1.8

I can’t claim that owning an early Audi A4 has been a long time ambition of mine, but I’ve recently developed a growing appreciation for the cleanliness and simplicity of the original design. Much like the original Audi A3, the first generation looks so much more elegant than the current crop of Audis. Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but a neat design all the same.

And I wasn’t actively searching for a new car either, but when automotive temptation comes my way, I find it hard to resist.

The Audi A4 was actually for sale in my village (population 394). It has apparently ‘lived’ here for the best part of four years, not that I had noticed. Remember what I said about complete anonymity?

It had a small notice on the window simply saying ‘For Sale – £725 ono’. I took no more than a passing interest and thought no more of it. That was until I did my regular eBay search for cars listed near me, where I saw the same Audi A4 listed for 99p, with no reserve. Now I was interested…

1996 Audi A4 1.8 side

I had a proper wander around the car which, aside from a Saab hub cap on the nearside rear wheel and what was obviously a repainted boot, looked quite tidy. The exhaust looked new, the front number plate was original, the dealer tax disc holder was still present and it had three months tax. It also had a brand new MOT. For a moment I had visions of driving away in a tidy 1996 Audi A4 for less than a quid.

Fat chance, although a final auction price of £462.01 is still ridiculously cheap for a fine piece of German engineering with ‘tax and test’. Less than 24 hours after winning the auction, I took the two minute stroll required to collect the Audi and handed over the cash. By some margin, this is the shortest distance I have travelled to collect a new car.

It took me a lot longer than two minutes to wade through the huge amount of service history that came with the car. Every receipt from new and a fully stamped up Audi service book, with Listers Audi main dealer servicing right up until 70,000 miles. The kind of history that makes a disciple of Bangernomics go weak at the knees.

1996 Audi A4 1.8

But breaking one of the first rules of Bangernomics, I immediately set about giving it a thorough wash and wax. And two layers of fine Brazilian carnauba wax later, she’s looking a treat. That is if you gloss over the unwanted Saab wheel trim and the shattered nearside mirror casing. Although in fairness to the unwanted Saab accessory, it’s a damn sight better looking than the remaining Audi hub caps.

A total of 17 years and 140,000 miles has been kind to the Audi – a testament to having only two previous owners and a full service history. It’s also remarkably good to drive, with a surprisingly good short-throw five-speed gearbox and a reasonable amount of poke from its 20-valve 1.8-litre engine. Incidentally, this was Audi’s first five-valve per cylinder lump and was based on the Audi Sport unit from the era.

It was primarily bought for my frequent trips to the airport – better on the motorway than my Citroën ZX 16v and far easier to leave in a long stay car park. And I’m feeling quite smug about the average 38.1mpg she has returned over 5,000 miles. That’s nearly 10mpg more than the Citroën – not bad for a 17-year-old petrol-engined motor.

1996 Audi A4 1.8 dashboard

I’m not so smug about the full set of budget tyres I’ve inherited. So appalled am I about the overall performance of the cut-price rubber, you can look forward to blog post on the subject soon. In the meantime, let’s just say I’m frantically saving for a set of Michelin tyres.

And talking of which, special mention must go to the Michelin Tyres Stealth wiper blades. With the previous blades doing a better job of making a hideous screeching noise than clearing the screen, I jumped at the chance of upgrading to what are effectively retro-fit aero blades. They’re brilliant – proving that tyres aren’t the only rubber upgrades you should be considering.

What else can I report so far? Well, I’ve already had the cam belt changed by the ever-excellent Matt at Volkscraft – it was about 5,000 miles overdue. And the aftermarket JVC CD/radio needs to come out as I can’t use my tape-based iPhone adapter. How quickly the CD player has become a must-not-have accessory. Even a cassette player is more desirable these days. Fortunately I have an original Audi Gamma head unit from the mid 90s, ready to install.

1996 Audi A4 1.8 rear

Compared to the Saab 9000i, the Audi A4 is lacking in charm and character. But it’s much, much better to drive and is also around 6mpg more efficient. And although the Audi can’t quite match the tank-like build quality of the Saab, the doors shut with a reassuring thud and the components feel properly engineered – reminiscent of Darren’s Audi 80. It still astounds me that cars like this can be bought for £462. OK, £462.01 to be precise.

I must resist the urge to spend anything over than the cost of basic maintenance, although the temptation of a set of winter tyres and some period Audi A4 alloys are proving hard to resist. Unless of course anyone wants to swap a Saab wheel trim for an Audi A4 edition?!

Vorsprung durch Swapsies…

Written by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

The chief waffler and person responsible for getting PetrolBlog off the ground in February 2010. Has a deep fascination of cars from the '80s and '90s, especially if they originate from France. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

11 Comments

  1. Cabriofan

    Great article and I love your B5. It looks meticulously maintained and for a 17 year car, in great shape. I really love the simple compactness of the A4 B5s and B6s of the earlier days. The B7 nowadays seems like a bloated pig in comparison.
    Have fun with it, the fact that they don’t rust makes it a good buy, at any price!

    1. Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Cheers! I can’t take any credit for its condition, but I fully intend to keep it looking and running great.

      It’s arguably the least fashionable A4 you can buy, but that’s why it was so cheap.

      ‘Simple compactness’ – not something you could say about modern Audis…

  2. Darren Leslie

    Looks good! When you told me about the wheel trims, I had images of horrid looking broken bits of cheap plastic. However, I think they look fine. Standard FTW, I believe is the correct saying.
    Keep it well serviced and it’ll go on forever.

    Oh, “By some margin, this is the shortest distance I have travelled to collect a new car”…..Daihatsu Charade?

  3. Ant

    Handsome things, aren’t they? I’m not a big Audi fan (Mk1 TT, A2 and R8 e-tron aside) but the B5 always reminds me of Frank Biela in the BTCC.

    Yours looks like a good’un. If I had the budget for both a toy and a daily driver, it’d be high up my list.

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