The most powerful, most capable – and most desirable – variant of Audi’s latest A3 has finally been granted the production green light by the German car maker’s chairman, Martin Winterkorn.
Set to receive RS3 badges, Ingolstadt’s new 350bhp rocket will bypass the traditional hot-hatch brigade and land directly in the territory occupied today by the Subaru Impreza WRX, at last providing Europe with a worthy rival to the iconic rally-bred Japanese saloon.
Engineers at Audi’s Sport division – the same team responsible for the ’Bahn-storming RS4 and RS6 – have already started developing the new car, which is planned to reach the UK by mid-2006 in hatchback and Sportback estate bodystyles, as previewed by our exclusive images.
But before the new £35,000 über-hatch lands here, Audi plans to unleash a milder S3 model running a naturally aspirated 280bhp version of the same 3.2-litre V6. Aimed at cars like the Ford Focus RS, Alfa Romeo 147 GTA and Volkswagen Golf R32, it will arrive in 2005 priced around £26,000, according to well-placed Audi sources.
Yet while the S3’s launch is eagerly anticipated on these shores, it is the more aggressive RS3 that will make the bigger headlines. With a state-of-the-art turbocharged powerplant and an advanced four-wheel drive system capable of constantly varying the drive to each axle, it promises to deliver supercar-slaying performance for the price of a well-kitted executive car.
Recent hot Audi models have been big on stealth, with little more than a handful of styling modifications hinting at the huge performance that lies beneath. The RS3 continues this tradition with an inherently muscular but hardly flamboyant appearance that’s dominated by Audi’s imposing new shield grille positioned up front, as seen on the recently introduced A6 and A8 W12. It will quickly become a trademark of all Audi models.Among the changes over the standard A3 are a deep spoiler with a trio of large air ducts, more heavily flared wheelarches, wider side sills under the doors, an additional spoiler atop the rear hatch and an extended rear bumper that’s designed to draw air more cleanly from underneath.