The Audi mega-hatch makes significant strides in handling balance and driver engagement, but it remains just as outrageous for its price as it is for its stunning performance.
Audi Sport’s third-generation RS3 mega-hatch is a great example of exemplary belligerence. Although it hasn’t yet been considered a crime to fit a large engine into a small car and create an amusing alternative driver’s vehicle, many European CO2-based taxation systems would suggest that it should be.
It would be a mistake, however, if Audi’s EA855 five-cylinder performance engine (motivator of the TT RS, RS Q3 and won more International Engine of the Year Awards, yes, they exist), were removed from us earlier than necessary. It hasn’t happened, so the “net zero glidepath” can return to the sea for at least the next 1000 words.
These hot hatchbacks were once more common than they are today. However, the RS3 is the last of this over-engineered breed. It has motors that are significantly larger, more powerful, and more mechanically exotic, than you would find in a five-door, and something that has the aura of a custom-built, engine-swapped hotrod. It was a Volkswagen Golf R32, an Alfa 147 GTA and a five-pot Ford Focus ST that I had to write about when I began writing about cars. I also had a straight-six BMW 130i, which I found exciting. Every other hot hatchback comes with the same four-pot turbo. My inner 20-something says that, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, it’s a terrible thing.
The new RS3 is available in both a saloon and five door hatch Sportback body styles. It features Audi’s 2.5-litre five cylinder lump which produces 394bhp as well as 369lb ft torque (15lb ft more) It has a lot more to offer, but this fact alone (if you choose the right options) will give this little Audi a top speed in excess of 180 mph.
Imagine the expression of a bespectacled driver of a BMW X6 M550i, Mercedes-AMG E-Class estate, as he commutes between Karlsruhe and Pforzheim on his morning autobahn commute. Then imagine the Audi A3 passing him at this speed. The admission price might be worth it – but as we’ll see, it is quite expensive.
Audi Sport has definitely pushed the envelope for this car. The car’s chassis has been overhauled and suspension upgrades have required a lot more effort than that of any RS3. This is the latest fast five door with an electronically controlled torque-vectoring rear differential and a drift mode. Audi has traditionally not labeled it that way.
The wheel hubs and axles were extensively revised. The RS3 rides 10mm lower than an ; on specially uprated dampers that aren’t found on any other VW Group relationship; on widened 19in tires with front tyres with a wider section than any of the previous versions; with a front track that is 33mm wider than any version before; and with increased negative wheels camber, which allows for better cornering grip.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox of the new RS3 has a wider range of ratios than before. This allows for quicker acceleration and greater cruising efficiency. It’s the first to reach 62 mph in under four seconds from rest. A new active exhaust is available for a more expressive sound with five-cylinders. Standard steel brakes are now larger and more powerful with six-piston disc calipers. You can also choose carbon-ceramic brakes as an option, which are packaged with adaptive dampers and come as part of Audi’s RS Dynamic Package. Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires are also available on other markets, but they are not offered by Audi UK.
There is not much you could want as part of the mechanical specs of your PS150,000 supersports car. But, there are some things you can’t get on the PS50,000 hot hatchback. And that includes the torque-vectoring rear differential. This is the same hardware as the VW Golf R’s latest model. It can channel 100% of the drive to the rear axle (typically around 50% of the engine torque) and direct it at either rear contact point.
The RS3 feels and looks more purposeful than its predecessor, both inside and outside. It is not as neat or as angrier, but it does feel that way when it is being driven. Audi’s adaptive suspension makes it a pleasant and quiet ride in town. The steering is also light in the more relaxed driving modes, and the pace is progressively less nervy than it is. Audi’s dynamic versatility is evident throughout this car, even though it was clearly prepared for more dramatic feats elsewhere.
It does, to an extent. Audi provided two tracks for us to drive on the launch day of the new car. These allowed us to evaluate the car’s drifting potential (it can actually slide around a constant radius bend quite nicely in the RS Torque Rear driving mode if you keep putting some positive steering angle between the locks) and its traditional circuit handling.
The car’s greatest dynamic gains were made on the road. Although the previous generation RS3 was able to maintain a high speed, it did not have the same agility and game-like handling as its predecessors. Although the new model isn’t a revelation, it’s significantly better: more balanced on long, faster bends where the driveline has the time to shuffle torque and affect the car’s attitude, and with a clearer and tactile steering feel than some Audis, especially when you switch into the sportier driving modes.
You feel like you need to work the front axle harder in tight corners to activate the rear. This can lead to you spending a lot of time trying to find the car’s natural rotational personality but never really understanding it. This is how these four-wheel-drive, torque-vectored hot hatchbacks work. The front end feels more responsive and grippier than RS3s.
You will also find plenty of speed and drama – probably more than you ever had in an RS3 before. Although the five-cylinder motor’s roaring sound is authentic, turbo lag slows down mid-range throttle inputs. However, once it hits boost, it blazes with energy and vigour. The car feels faster when it takes off by waiting for its thrust to sound in.
It is a powerful, distinctive performance engine with a dominant presence. The RS3’s body control is a good compromise between being taut and not brittle. Its four-wheel drive system is just active’ enough to enhance the car’s handling without feeling artificial or contrived.
It would be the most impressive and powerful RS3 Audi has ever produced. Prices start at PS50,900 and go up for all the options. This car is a driver’s car.
The idea of an Audi A3 capable of driving 180 mph is more absurd than the one that costs you PS65,000, depending on what options are available. The former is more important than the car’s improved handling and new design. It is safe to assume that RS3 owners don’t think about it, and wouldn’t spend what seems like a lot of money elsewhere.