If you want one of the hottest hot hatchbacks or compact saloons around, they don’t come much warmer than the Audi RS3. Based on the standard A3 – already a very accomplished premium model – the RS3 takes things up a level with its stunning performance and sure-footed driving experience.
Let’s take a look at what else the RS3 has to offer....
An everyday sportscar, fitted with a not-so everyday engine, the new Audi RS 3 Sportback is one of the most powerful cars of its class around today. More power, more presence with this ramped up and ready to go smaller model in Audi’s RS range. With improved dynamics, the RS 3 Sportback reaches 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds.
Despite the RS3 being one of the German firm’s more compact models, the feel of the materials and the overall ambiance certainly doesn’t feel that way.
All RS3s come with a brilliant digital Virtual Cockpit system, offering a 12.3 inch digital display, high resolution instrument panel, MMI Navigation as standard and RS specific screen displaying readings for torque and G-force.
Offering configurable displays, the RS3 allows you to choose the information you want to see and remove what you don’t, there’s also an excellent media screen which slides out of the top of the dashboard as soon as the key is turned, and neatly hides away at the press of a button.
RS3 models also gain a sportier steering wheel and fine Nappa leather and Alcantara sports seats as standard, though neither spoils this model’s practicality. Whether you choose it as a five-door hatchback or saloon, both models remain practical, and ideal compact performance family cars.
Despite the RS3 now being based on the previous-generation A3, looking at it you’d never be able to tell. With styling that looks both sporty and handsome at the same time, neat proportions and a bold front grille, this Audi certainly looks the part. LED lights are also fitted as standard at both the front and rear.
To distinguish the RS3 from the standard A3, you also get a more aggressive bodykit and larger alloy wheels, while at the back, large twin oval exhaust pipes tailpipes, as well as the large black honeycomb front grille and flared front wheel arches, ensure there’s no confusing this with the regular model. RS Sports suspension and RS braking system also come as standard making this latest RS model the ideal everyday sports car.
Whether you choose the Hatchback or Saloon is really down to which you prefer the look of – the four-door model arguably being the sleeker choice, but not quite offering as much practicality as the five-door hatch.
As you’d expect from a model that sits right at the top of its model line, the RS3 certainly doesn’t lack on the technology front, even despite using Audi’s older software.
A highlight is the excellent 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital dials system – something Audi is well-known for – which allows you to display various screens including media, satellite navigation and tradition speed and rev counter displays, along with an RS-specific menu.
While the seven-inch media MMI Navigation Plus display that pops out of the dashboard isn’t quite as modern as those found in rivals, it’s still a very easy system to use.
Any Audi with an ‘RS’ badge will never be lacking in performance. And while the RS3 might be the most affordable new Audi RS model available, you’d never be able to tell once you put your foot down.
It uses a 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine, which produces a monstrous 394bhp and 480Nm of torque - meaning this is one of the quickest hot hatches and small saloons ever made. It will sprint to 60mph in less than four seconds and would hit 155mph if maxed out. A seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox comes as standard, and delivers power to all four wheels via Audi’s excellent quattro system – making it very sure-footed and planted, even if the conditions take a turn for the worse.
But there is a lot more to the RS3’s engine than performance, though, this 2.5-litre engine is characterful and delivers a superb sound, accompanied by a vocal sports exhaust system.
As the RS3 sits at the top of the A3 range, standard equipment is generous, and includes 19-inch alloy wheels, 12.3-inch digital dials system, a MMI Navigation media system to name just a few features.
The only other grade is the Audi Sport Edition, which gains a revised set of 19-inch alloy wheels, a black styling kit (the standard car features aluminium-effect detailing instead) and a panoramic glass sunroof. It also brings leather super sports seats and carbon interior inlays.
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Audi RS3 Test Drive Review
What is the Audi RS3 Sportback?
The Audi RS3 is a key pillar in the hot hatch segment, having set the trend for some time now. It’s been updated and this brings even more power – now close to 400bhp – as well as a quicker 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds. That puts it close to supercar territory, in a car that will just as happily trundle down to the shops as it’ll eat up B roads.
What's new on the Audi RS3 Sportback?
There have been a fair amount of changes made to the new RS3. Externally, there are LED lights at the front and rear, with dynamic rear indicators which strobe when activated giving a real impact to the back of the car.
The front grille is framed with an aluminium-look surround, while dual exhausts at the rear give some indication as to the RS3’s performance. However, the Audi’s relatively understated looks is one of its most appealing traits, as it underplays just how fast it is. That said, it still has arches that are now wider by 20mm over the previous-generation car.
What's under the bonnet of an Audi RS3 Sportback?
Here’s where some of the biggest changes have been applied. The large, 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol – the only five-cylinder in the segment – has been revised, meaning faster acceleration and better economy. The engine is 26 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, and this is down to its use of a lightweight alloy crankcase – the older unit was cast in iron. Audi engineers have gone even further in the pursuit of lightness, hollow-boring the crankshaft to make it a full kilogram lighter, as well as making the crankshaft bearings smaller. The changes may sound small, but they make a big difference.
Power is still sent to all four wheels via Audi’s legendary Quattro system, with between 50 and 100 per cent of the power capable of being sent to the rear wheels. This gives a rear-wheel-bias which does well to eliminate some of the understeer that has so plagued Audis of old.
What's the Audi RS3 Sportback like to drive?
First and foremost, the RS3 is fast. Make no bones about it, the way it sets off is nothing short of remarkable. Even in the wet – and our Buckinghamshire test route was sodden in a typically British-weather-in-summer way – it manages to find a huge amount of traction, even under full throttle. It’s an impressively quick car, but that was to be expected considering its close to 400bhp power output.
So the question remains: does the RS3 still understeer? Well, it’s a mixture of yes and no. Enter a corner too quickly, and the RS3 will still push on as you’d expect. However, apply a bit of throttle and it will bring itself back in tighter, even showing hints of oversteer at times. It’s a car that remains best driven neatly, though, and it’ll happily do that thanks to plenty of traction. The RS3 is well accomplished at covering ground exceptionally quickly in all conditions, and the combination of four-wheel-drive and a smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic ‘box makes for a car that shouldn’t leave many drivers wanting more involvement.
What's the Audi RS3 Sportback like on the inside?
As usual, the RS3’s interior exhibits the level of build quality and fit-and-finish that we’ve come to expect from Audi. You now get the firm’s excellent virtual cockpit display, which comprises of a 12.3-inch LCD monitor fitted where you’d traditionally find the analogue instrument binnacle. A lovely three-spoke ‘RS’ steering wheel has also been fitted and, though a small addition, makes a huge difference. It’s not too thick, and has been trimmed in alcantara giving you plenty of grip. As one of the first points of contact between car and driver, it adds far more confidence in the car than you’d expect.
The five-door hatch RS3 benefits from 280 litres of seats-up boot space – a lot of room is taken away by the four-wheel-drive system – though this can be extended up to 1,120 litres by lowering the rear seats.
Given the RS3’s £43,300 entry price, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that there’s a good degree of standard equipment on offer. You get LED headlights and rear lights included, as well as the previously mentioned virtual cockpit display. Sports seats are included as part of that price too, along with RS’s bespoke braking system and a full satellite navigation system.
You have to admit that the RS3 is a smart looking thing. Understated yet performance orientated enough to be a true RS, it’s a very well-judged car.
The RS3 is a car whose very nature is dominated by performance figures. However, it’s far more than that. Impeccably well-suited to the UK market, it’s a car which can return almost anything you can throw at it.
Audi RS3 Sportback Facts at a Glance: