crankandpiston.com puts an old prejudice to bed with Audi’s hottest hatchback, the RS3
|Inline 5cyl, turbocharged, 2480cc
|362bhp @ 5550-6800rpm
|343lb ft @ 1625-5550rpm
Elegant. Fast. Composed. Technological. Comfortable. Flexible. Explosive. Thrilling. Fascinating. Advanced. Compact. Sexy. Handsome. Safe. Refined. Welcoming. Arrogant. Confident. Personal. Tipsy. Cheeky.
These are just some of the adjectives that have popped into my head during a run in Audi’s new RS3. Interesting, and even a little controversial, given a pre-existing prejudice I have before even stepping into this VERY hot hatch. The ‘RS’ badge marks the top of the range for any Audi, meaning a premium build, rarely bettered refinement, lashings of technology, and – most importantly – maximum sportiness. Most I have tried –including the RS4 Avant and RS6 on-track, no less – are cars I can’t help but like immediately for their mix of elegance, technology and strength, and the fact they welcome drivers on-board like a private jet.
And yet, despite this, I’ve always found the RS – any RS – a little too civilized. A little too, well, safe, replete as they are with driver assistance technology and Quattro all-wheel drive systems that keep the tyres rooted like glue to the road surface, resulting in a heavy nose and a reluctance to turn-in sharply at speed. Where’s the fun in that? Ahead of today’s test then, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this beefed up A3 was yet another refined, performance machine that would ultimately prove disappointing to drive. How wrong I was…
So, how does it drive?
It all starts when the ‘Start’ button is pressed. A raucous rant escapes from the tailpipes, much more visceral and impactful than any before it. I’m sitting in the usual techy, perfectly dynamic sport lounge, true, but there’s a fresh new soul hidden beneath the bonnet, in the shape of a 362bhp 2.5-litre TFSI turbocharged five-cylinder. It gets beneath your skin, and this is before the seven-speed S Tronic gearbox has even been slotted into Drive.
And when it is, the beast comes alive immediately. The glorious seven-speed box is as good as you can get – better if in manual – the wide torque range and a massive 343lb ft on tap ensuring that pull is both explosive from standstill and aggressively consistent thereafter to ensure you’re in ‘jail-able territory’ very, VERY quickly.
It’s a responsiveness I need every day – and indeed had expected from a 367bhp RS hatchback – but the biggest surprise is the dynamics. This RS3 turns. I mean, it ACTUALLY handles the way I’ve always hoped/dreamed an RS would. There’s beautifully balanced steering that listens to your mood and inputs. Grip is huge and, even more surprisingly, the back end is not dead, tweaking against both logic and the Quattro four-wheel drive out of the slower corners when the front end is loaded up and the power dished up. Even 1520kg is cleverly hidden, 0-100kph still possible in 4.3 seconds and composure through the turns barely unaffected. It’s alive!
What’s the verdict?
Unfortunately the driver assistance systems still lay an electronic safety net beneath the hooligan fun I could have, meaning hanging the rear end out completely is best saved for the imagination. Saying that, it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the drive: I enter a corner at excessive speed, she argues a bit, grip is found at the front, my exit is lined up, and the go pedal is floored, cannon-balling me out the other side like a video game.
Would I buy one? Yes. Today, even though it falls into Porsche Boxster S territory in terms of price and would struggle to match the Porsche’s performance. Saying that, practicality – with four doors, plenty of cabin space, and a sizable boot –would be immeasurably better, and you’d still have one of all-time best hot hatches ever made in your garage. One with an ‘RS’ badge on it. Go figure…
Technical specifications available on page 2