Reliability of Subaru vs Audi - Used Car Buying Advice

I’m interested in buying either a Subaru Outback or an Audi A4 Avant (quattro 2.0 T) in the 2005-2009 range. Most of the cars I’ve seen available have between 70-100K miles and, between the two brands, the prices are pretty similar.

Is a used Audi of that vintage (2005-2009) going to be significantly less reliable than a used Subaru?

I know Audis are more expensive to fix when they do have problems. And I know Audis have had a bad reputation for reliability in the past. But it seem like they have gotten much better reliability ratings from 2005 on. I’ve had a Sube for 18 years and it’s been great but it was recently hit pretty bad while parked so I think it’s time to let it go. And I wouldn’t mind something a little less like a soccer mom car. Hence the interest in the A4.

Is buying a used A4 really that much riskier and less economical?

Any experience or advice you can share would be much appreciated.


Most times you will be better off with the Subaru. But a lot depends on how the previous owner took care of the car. Spend a few $ and have your trusted mechanic look the Subaru over to make sure nothing big or unusual is wrong with the car.

Between the two, the Subaru has the best chance of giving you better service. Personally, I would include other makes and models as well as you may eliminate the best bang for the buck by only focusing on these two.

As per above, I would say no to the Audi. If the world was only limited to two makes, then Subie would be the better choice. No, if you are buying used, with the Subaru you are still at the mercy of the previous owner to have rotated tires and taken good care of the car. If you don’t need AWD, then you could have better & more choices. When buying used, limiting yourself to few models will make it difficult to find a good one.

2009 is the the earliest year that the 2015 Consumer Reports annual buying guide covers. The Audi has four completely filled in BLACK circles indicating much worse than average for engine major and minor, fuel system, and used car verdicts. The Subaru has NO black circles. Interestingly, both the Subaru Outback and the Audi A4 are listed among used cars to avoid.

My experience with both would draw me toward the Subaru. After 18 years you should me either a Soobie lover or hater.

If you chose the Subaru, be aware that the Subaru’s with the 2.5 4 cylinder engine have a history of needing headgaskets at about the 100k mark. Subaru dealers are used to this and their mechanics are usually quite experienced with this repair. There are some independent mechanics that specialize in Subaru’s as well that are experienced with this job.

When done right, these Subaru’s usually are good for another 150 to 200k without further problems if cared for.

I’m voting for “neither”. Older Audis can be trouble as can a Subaru of that age with the 2.5 L engine.

When a used car is 5 or so years old you have to play the averages. Comparing one specific car against another specific car of another make it’s going to boil down to how well it was cared for.

The Audi is more of a high end car and any high end car is going to have higher end expenses.

All things equal I’d take the Subaru even if the car is not as exciting to drive as the Audi.

I think there was a point at which they eliminated the problem, but see if you can find a Subaru that has already had the cylinder head gaskets replaced.

I wouldnt want either one,look elsewhere-just my experience and prejudice I guess,I remember my favorite repair shop telling of all the Subarus with the head gasket problems(Love I guess),but dont worry about the soccer Mom Business,one of my friends(a mtn Man) owns a newer Model Subaru and says its the best car He has ever owned

Yes, the Subaru will be far more reliable than the Audi.
Yes, the Audi will be far more expensive to repair than the Subaru.
Yes, Subarus (up through ~2005) with the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine have a higher incidence of head gasket breaches than most other makes, although this problem seems to have been resolved on the newer models–with the exception of some turbo-charged engines.

My suggestion is to look for an Outback equipped with the six-cylinder engine. In addition to having much more power for accelerating onto expressways (at the cost of only ~1-2 mpg), Subaru’s six cylinder engine doesn’t have a record of head gasket problems. Additionally, the six cylinder engine utilizes a timing chain, while the 4 cylinder engine uses a timing belt, thus giving the larger engine several advantages over the 4 cylinder.

Not to contradict everyone here but I just looked at Consumer Reports online (they have 10 years of reliability data online) and the 07 and 08 Audi A4 has better reliability than the Outback. Both cars appear to have major engine and driveline issues and both have terrible reliability ratings in 05 and 06. I would stay away from both and look for an Accord or Camry of similar vintage. Both have top notch reliability ratings from 05 through 09. If snow traction is an issue get a set of winter tires and you won’t miss AWD at all.

My advice is to keep looking.

I’ve read claims that Subaru fixed the 2.5 gasket problem for years. But each year, I check the CR reliability ratings, and ‘much worse than average’ crops up for ‘engine, major’ about five years ago, year after year.

I also vote for neither.

If it has to be one or the other, buy the one in the best condition. After 8 years or so, a reliable brand can be ruined by poor maintenance. Buy the one with full maintenance and repair records kept by the previous owner, not an on line tracking service.

My brother goes to a shop that works on all the German cars as well as Subaru’s. When he asked about a list of Audi’s he was looking at as far as reliability and repair costs they told him to buy a Subaru, which he did. He won’t buy anything that they don’t service and it’s worked out well for him with the 2006 Legacy Wagon (bought new) and the '09 GTI. How well the particular car was maintained does have an effect.

VDC,can you get a 6 cylinder in the forester series? and what is the price premium for the 6?I starting to consider a new for my primary vehicle(I need a truck but hey U-HAUL can install a nice little class one hitch for a light weight trailer,the price of a Forester seems pretty reasonable,beings that a reasonably sized truck will never be manufactured again

No, unfortunately, the six is not available in Foresters.
However, it should be noted that even the four cylinder Subaru engines have ditched their timing belts as…2012…IIRC.

“I’ve had a Sube for 18 years and it’s been great…” “And I wouldn’t mind something a little less like a soccer mom car.” “Hence the interest in the A4.”

The Subaru definitely says, “Soccer Mom” when compared with an Audi. Comments have advised that the Subaru and the Audi could prove to be less reliable (and therefore more costly to operate) than many other makes/models.

Eighteen more years in a Soccer Mom Car is what you are trying to avoid. If it’s one or the other then the Audi will give you the most pride in ownership.

Go for it. Try the Audi and just plan on perhaps a higher operating budget.

Buy a single owner vehicle with “papers,” complete maintenance records.