There’s an admirable belligerence about Audi Sport’s thinking with this third-generation RS3 mega-hatch. It hasn’t been made a crime just yet, after all, to put a big engine into something relatively small and create an amusingly alternative driver’s car in the process, much as a great many of Europe’s CO2-based taxation regimes would already suggest it ought to be.
It really would be an aberration, though, if Audi’s excellent EA855 five-cylinder performance engine, motivator of the likes of the Audi TT RS and RS Q3 and winner of more International Engine of the Year awards (yes, they do exist) than you can shake a golden crankshaft at, were taken from us any earlier than was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, it hasn’t been, so the ‘net zero glidepath’ can get back in the sea for the next 1000 words at least.
Hot hatchbacks like this used to be a little bit more common, but the RS3 has become the last of that over-engined breed, with motors significantly bigger, more powerful and more mechanically exotic than you expect to find in any humble five-door and something of the aura of the custom-built, engine-swapped hot rod about them. When I started out writing about cars and not long thereafter, there was a Volkswagen Golf R32, an Alfa 147 GTA, a five-pot Ford Focus ST and a straight-six BMW 130i about which to get excited – and I did. Now, every other hot hatchback seems to come with a samey four-pot turbo. Whatever the planet may make of it, my inner 20-something thinks that’s a great shame.
Available in both saloon and five-door hatch Sportback bodystyles, the new RS3 has Audi’s updated 2.5-litre five-cylinder lump, which now produces 394bhp and 369lb ft of torque (15lb ft more than it did last time out). There’s plenty else that’s interesting about it, but that fact alone is enough (if you tick the right options boxes) to give this little Audi a top speed of, get this, 180mph.