Review: Audi RS3

Review: Audi RS3
Review: Audi RS3

£40,000+ for an A3? 394bhp is the justification

When the Audi RS3 first hit the streets in 2011, it was the world’s most powerful hot hatchback. Two years later, Mercedes vaulted over the Audi with its 355bhp A45 AMG.

Now, in the latest development of this expensive game of leapfrog, Audi has hopped back into the lead with its 394bhp RS3.

Its turbocharged five-cylinder engine comes from the TT RS and is mated to a four-wheel drive system by way of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Both the 4WD system and the suspension have been twiddled in order to add some extra pizzazz to the handling. Some would say that the Audi needs this kind of injection of driving excitement to lift it above the more engaging – and substantially cheaper – BMW M140i and Ford Focus RS.

There’s no quibbling about the RS3’s straight line performance, though. Courtesy of 354lb ft of torque from only 1,700rpm, it covers the 0-62mph sprint in a claimed 4.1 seconds. Few mainstream cars in any class can match its effortless urge. Even though the BMW M140i or a Honda Civic Type R have an addictive high-revs rush that isn’t present in the RS3, the Audi’s engine characteristics mean that there really is no point in holding on to the gears. As an aside, the automatic gearbox does have to stop and think for a split second whenever sudden acceleration is required.

Audi RS3

There is a distinct plus in using this lighter TT RS engine, however, and that’s in the area of handling. Lower front-end weight gives the new RS3 a lot more zestiness when turning into corners. It predecessor tended to run wide, but this new model locks hard onto a line. If the optional adaptive dampers have been added, body lean becomes almost non-existent.

The Audi shows its mature side by remaining quiet when cruising at the legal limit. There is a little road noise, but wind noise is very low and moving to Comfort mode puts the exhaust noise into the background – not something an enthusiast would necessarily want to do a lot of the time, as the five-cylinder motor can sound incredible, especially with the sports exhaust option box ticked.

Inside, even the ordinary A3 is a benchmark for quality. The RS3 rams home its marque advantage over BMW and Volkswagen with a satisfying package of soft-touch plastics, beautifully-damped switches, and swish but not blingy chrome trim pieces. If anything, the dark grey cabin might be almost too ‘business suit’, but you will know from the bespoke bits and bobs like the embossed RS seat logos that you’ve dug deep for the top-end model. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is pleasingly tactile and, as with the rest of the refreshed A3 range, you can replace the conventional instrument dials with Audi’s digital-display Virtual Cockpit.

Audi RS3

The standard Audi A3 is known for its decent space and the RS is no different. There’s generous room for two adults in the front, and the standard heated electric sports seats (with adjustable lumbar support) are surprisingly comfortable, yet also supportive when corning hard. Three children can also sit side by side in the back. The middle passenger’s backrest isn’t as comfy though and there’s a small raise in the floor to straddle.

Other welcome A3 attributes include the large, wide-aperture boot with an adjustable floor that minimises the load lip and does away with the step between boot and folded-down rear seats. Another option is a through-load hatch for longer items like skis.

Audi RS3

Not so long ago, a Golf GTI had 115bhp. The RS3 new takes the hot hatch genre to nearly 400bhp. Along the way, it’s also likely to take hot hatch pricing to new limits. There is no official price yet, but the talk is of £45,000 for the Sportback, and slightly more than that for the saloon variant.

Add in the options of carbon ceramic brakes and adaptive dampers and suddenly your ‘entry-level’ RS model is creeping perilously close to the price of a BMW M4. It goes without saying that running costs will be somewhat higher than they would be for a 2.0 diesel A3, too.

None of that will matter to the determined RS3 aficionado though. They’ll be happy to know that they’re behind the wheel of a genuine contender for the title of ‘most accomplished hot hatch’.


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