Reining in the car’s enhanced performance is a newly developed brake system. It uses vented 370mm steel discs with sizeable eight-piston calipers up front and 310mm steel discs with single-pot calipers at the rear. In a first for its class, the new RS3 Sportback also comes with the option of 370mm carbon-ceramic front discs.
Underpinning Audi’s most powerful series production hatchback is a heavily reworked version of the third-generation S3’s MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension.
It has been lowered and also gains a number of unique components, including aluminium pivot bearings at the front end. The tracks are also unique to the RS3, increasing by 24mm up front to 1559mm and by 4mm at the rear to 1515mm. The standard five-spoke alloy wheels are 19 inches in diameter and come with 235/35-profile tyres front and rear.
As an option, buyers can opt for a magnetic ride system which provides adaptive damping. It is controlled by a standard Audi drive select system, which allows the driver to alter the characteristics of the throttle, steering and damping in four modes: Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic and Individual.
Also available are matt titanium or high-gloss anthracite black 19in alloy wheels with 255/30-profile tyres up front and 235/35-profile tyres at the rear.
Inside, the new RS3 Sportback receives a series of high-quality appointments commensurate with its price tag. Included are leather-upholstered sports seats, a leather and Alcantara-bound flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel, a leather and aluminium-trimmed gear lever, unique instrument graphics, stainless steel pedals and Alcantara door trim elements.
Buyers can opt for optional RS bucket seats. With integrated side airbags and a carbonfibre shell, they are claimed to be 7kg lighter than the standard sport seats. Further options include an interior design package with red accents on the knee pad, air vents, floor mats and seat belts. UK cars will also get Audi's MMI infotainment system as standard.
A new saloon version of the RS3 will also follow soon after the launch of the hatchback. The new RS3 will take on rivals including the Mercedes A45 AMG and the long-rumoured BMW M2.
A ride in the new Audi RS3 at the Nürburgring - Matt Prior
Like most major European manufacturers, Audi’s quattro division has a workshop at the Nürburgring for both chassis and durability testing, and it retains the services of some tame racing drivers.
Which is enough to make you nervous about ride quality. But former DTM and current GT driver Frank Stippler, who drove us around a soaking wet Nordschleife in the RS3, said: “The new bosses [new managing director Heinz Hollerweger, who replaced Franciscus van Meel at the start of the year] like a softer car.”
Unlike the RS4, in which, Stippler said, he never engaged the Dynamic chassis mode because it is so harsh that it’s “stiffer even than a race car”, the new RS3 is “at the softer end of the scale”.
Also evident on the wet track was the RS3’s throttle adjustability – a willingness to begin sliding at the rear on turn-in, and strong resistance to understeer under power. “Before, a TT or RS3 would drift like this only on ice,” said Stippler. “Now it can do it in the wet.”
The RS3 has three ESP modes: all on, a more liberal setting and an all-off mode, which doesn’t even cut in under braking in order to avoid annoying advanced drivers who like to left-foot brake.
And given that ride harshness and a propensity to understeer have been our primary concerns about fast Audi hatches in the past, the RS3’s signs are encouraging.
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