The new Audi RS3 Sportback punches well above its weight in performance terms, while managing to be a docile luxury car when required. But it’s lacking that special something…
Andrew Brady | April 2015
Eventually Audi simply won’t be able to exert any more performance from its cars, but for now it’s continuing to boast staggering figures from even its most practical offerings.
The latest to get the RS treatment is the A3 Sportback, revealed in RS3 spec at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. The last RS3 Sportback was no slouch, but while the new one uses the same five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine, it weighs 55kg less, boasts 367hp (27hp up on its predecessor) and will hit 62mph in 4.3 seconds. That’s quicker than a Porsche 911 GTS.
It now sits on Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform (which underpins everything from the Skoda Superb to the Audi TT), while buyers can opt for Audi’s magnetic ride damper system, which lets you firm up the suspension depending whether you’re wanting a relaxed cruise or aiming to tackle a twisty road at supercar pace.
To look at the Audi RS3, it perhaps isn’t as in-your-face as, say, the bigger RS6. But we like that understated look. The only giveaways are the trademark RS honeycomb grille along with a myriad intakes, diffusers and blades – along with, of course, a choice eight colours, to make it as lairy or understated as you like.
What’s the Audi RS3 like to drive?
We’ve established that the Audi RS3 is staggeringly quick. As a point to point car, along typical British B-roads, not a lot will beat it.
If the traffic light grand prix is your thing, it even comes with a launch control mode that lets you dial in 4,000 revs while holding the car on the brake with your left foot. Take your foot off the brake and it’ll catapult you forwards in a way usually reserved for supercars.
But staggeringly quick doesn’t necessarily mean satisfying. Speccing the sports exhaust system (prices to be confirmed) helps to add a little pizazz, but the new electromechanical steering lacks flavour and the whole package just feels a little too clinical.
We got to try the 2015 Audi RS3 on the Vallelunga circuit in Italy. Suddenly an extremely competent road car starts to look flawed.
While on road it feels like you can’t possibly enter a bend too quick, its quattro four-wheel-drive system reacting quickly (able to send up to 100% of the power to the axle that needs it), on track it starts to chirrup towards understeer earlier than you may expect.
There’s a momentary blip as the system, working with torque vectoring, tries to work out what it can do to keep you on the black stuff. By which time you’re in the gravel.
Still, no one spends £40,000 on an Audi hot hatch as a track car.
Is the Audi RS3 too hardcore?
What is massively impressive about the Audi RS3 is how well it combines B-road blasting ability with the kind of refinement you’d expect from a luxury German saloon.
The interior is typical Audi – by that, we mean everything feels well thought out, and there are no cheap-looking plastics to be seen anywhere in the cabin.
As standard, the suspension sits 25mm lower than the regular A3, meaning its as firm as you’d expect from a car such as this sporting 19-inch alloys. On the broken country roads we tried it on near Rome, the suspension made us fully aware we were driving a performance-orientated Audi. While we didn’t get to try it with the magnetic ride, we suspect this could be a worthy box to tick on the options list.
Around town, the RS3 is a docile beast. You could be manoeuvring a common-or-garden hatch through urban streets. At motorway speeds it’s a relaxed cruiser, you only know you’re driving something a little special when you give it a bootful, the seven-speed S-tronic gearbox drops down a cog or two and the exhaust barks as you’re catapulted towards licence-losing territory.
It shouldn’t cost a fortune to run, either. With CO2 emissions of 189g/km its first year road tax of £490 might be a bitter pill to swallow, but this’ll drop down to £265 by its second year. Fuel economy is up by nearly 4mpg over its predecessor, now returning an official figure of 34.9.
Verdict: Audi RS3 (2015)
Technically, the Audi RS3 is undoubtedly brilliant. The five-cylinder engine punches far above its weight – not only does it sound like a larger engine, it also provides heaps of torque and more performance than any sane person could want from their hatchback.
Whether it’s tackling city centres or eating up miles on the motorway, the RS3 will take it in its stride. Hit an enjoyable B-road and it’ll flatter the most hamfisted of drivers – but its utterly clinical, typical-Audi approach won’t please anyone.
Sure, specify it in a loud colour with the optional sports exhaust and it’ll stand out from your typical turbodiesel A3. But, despite the unbeatable performance figures, it is just lacking that special something.
Rivals: Audi RS3 (2015)
- BMW M135i
- Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
- Volkswagen Golf R
- Ford Focus ST
- Subaru WRX STI
BMW’s M135i is class-leading – its rear-wheel drive setup means it might not feel as safe to hustle along as the RS3, but it makes up for that in driving enjoyment. It’s down on power, though – 326hp compared to the RS3’s 367hp. The Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG is perhaps a closer rival, as it turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive layout makes for a similar driving experience, and it’s only down on power by 7hp. The Volkswagen Golf R is from the same stable as the RS3, lacks the performance and premium badge, but is also a bit of a bargain in comparison. The Ford Focus ST isn’t a direct rival, with just 250hp, but it provides a lot of fun for your money. The Subaru WRX STI is a completely different beast, but will prove entertaining for serious driving fans.
Specification: Audi RS3 (2015)
Engine 2.5-litre five-cylinder
Gearbox Seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch, quattro all-wheel drive
Price from £39,950
Torque 343 lb/ft
0-62mph 4.3 seconds
Top speed 155mph (174mph if you opt to remove the limiter)