Audi has shown its new 335bhp Audi RS3 at the Geneva motor show, which will lay claim to the title of Britain’s most powerful production hot-hatch when sales start next month.
Out-muscling rivals from Ford, Renault, Subaru and Vauxhall, the new RS3 will boast a powertrain borrowed from the TT RS, a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine pumping 332lb ft and mated to a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission.
As we write today, the RS3 looks to have the title in its grasp. The hot Audi is just a handful of horsepower and lb ft of torque behind the 345bhp Ford Focus RS500, but the limited-run of 500 cars is sold out. The same goes for the 395bhp Cosworth Impreza, which is restricted to 75 examples.
The hottest-ever Renaultsport Megane is coming next year, but with ‘only’ 300bhp. Another potential rival is the 354bhp Mitsubishi Evo FQ-360, but that’s a four-door saloon.
The closest competitor in terms of image and performance will be the 350bhp 1-series M Coupé, due on sale next month, although that’s not a hatch, either. On price the £39,900 Audi RS3 is likely to match the M Coupé closely, too. BMW is suggesting £40k for the M Coupé.
The RS3 will also mark itself out unique territory, only being available as a five-door at launch. Audi refuses to be drawn on whether a three-door is coming, although its positioning as a five-door will keep it clear of the three-door Golf R and Scirocco R.
Its styling is also restrained. While the front-end is aggressive with gaping brake vents picked out with brightwork and a main grille with wide honeycomb mesh, the rest of the RS3 is quite subtle.
Bulging wheelarches cover widened front and rear tracks, but the practical outline of the five-door Sportback A3 is unmistakable and no attempt has been made to spice up the rear end with a diffuser or wing.
To deliver on the promise of its sledgehammer powertrain, the RS3 will employ all-wheel drive, delivered by a Haldex viscous-coupling capable of shunting drive between the front and rear axles to maximise grip.
Grip will be an important part of the RS3 package with 332lb ft of torque on tap, capable of thrusting the RS3 from rest to 62mph in 4.6secs, faster than a BMW M3.
Audi says the RS3’s dual-clutch box is equipped with a launch control programme, although it’s unclear yet if the 4.6sec figure is achieved with that technology.
At 1575kg the RS3 is no lightweight and it tips the scales 60kg heavier than its little brother the S3. The top speed is limited to 155mph, fuel economy at 31mpg and CO2 at 212g/km.
To keep the RS3 on the road, engineers at Quattro GMBH have widened the front and rear tracks compared to the S3, by 42mm at the front and 22mm at the rear.
The chassis is lowered by 25mm and the coil springs and dampers stiffened-up, although specific details of the tune aren’t yet available.
Audi is also talking about “high strength steel” control arms in the front suspension, thought to be a reference to beefed-up forged components better able to cope with higher cornering and braking forces.