The primary difference between the latest RS3 and its predecessor is not the fettling of many of its major mechanicals but rather the platform that supports them.
Despite not appearing dramatically different – the previous version was also sold exclusively as a five-door Sportback – the old car was based on the PQ35 architecture that the Volkswagen Group had employed since 2003. The new version, like its A3 stablemates, gets the much cleverer modular MQB underpinnings and all the benefits that go with that.
Pertinent to the RS3 specifically are gains in rigidity and lightness. The 55kg saving in kerb weight is mostly because of the platform change. But the model is also a little roomier than before, prettier inside (we’ll come to that) and modestly better looking thanks to a sharper scowl.
The differentiation from standard is marked by the usual RS affectations: gloss black grille, standard LED headlights, 19in wheels, roof spoiler, flared arches that house the car’s wider track and tyres, and a Chunnel-sized exhaust pipe at each rear corner. These are connected to much the same turbocharged 2.5-litre engine as before – previously the sole reason for considering the RS3 over its rivals.
Although it is as evocative as an old cassette mix tape, the in-line five is also cutting edge, the latest iteration having been brought up to Euro 6 emissions compliance with the help of a recuperation system, an on-demand oil pump and the next generation of start-stop technology. The improved efficiency is creditworthy.
But it’s the new intercooler and revised turbocharger – now delivering more boost pressure – that deliver the engine’s most marketable gains. The additional 27bhp and 11lb ft of torque are helped along their way by the reworked software code that makes the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox upshift at an even faster rate.
The all-wheel drive system’s multi-plate clutch, mounted on the rear axle for better weight distribution, has also been reprogrammed. In the right circumstances, up to 100 percent of the available torque may now be sent to the RS3’s back end, with the intention of improving both the agility and neutrality of the chassis.
Suspension is still by way of MacPherson struts and multi-links, but it uses more high-strength steel and aluminium and delivers a ride height 25mm lower than the A3’s norm. If you’d prefer magnetic adaptive dampers over the conventional alternative, you’ll need to fork out an extra £1495. Our test car came thusly equipped.