What is it?
Audi’s latest RS model, the Audi RS3 Sportback, deliveries of which have just begun in the UK, and in which we’re taking our first UK drive.
Although there have been some memorable high points, the recent form of Audi’s performance tuning department Quattro GmbH has been a touch inconsistent. After the deeply impressive R8 sports car and the ‘B7’ RS4 of 2006, it gave us the mighty but less brilliant RS6 in 2008, and the even less brilliant TT-RS in 2009. It showed considerable improvement with the RS5 last year, of course. So is Audi’s go-faster department still on an upwards curve?
What’s it like?
Based exclusively on the A3 five-door’s ‘Sportback’ bodystyle, the Audi RS3 is powered by the TT-RS’ 2.5-litre five-pot engine, which produces a Focus RS-bashing 335bhp. That power is transmitted to the tarmac via a standard seven-speed S-tronic twin clutch gearbox and a Haldex electronically controlled, wet clutch driven four-wheel drive system.
The RS3 rides 25mm lower than a standard A3, and gets stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, as well as sizable-looking 370mm front disc brakes. Alloys are 19-inch, shod with 235-profile Continental ContiSport tyres. Elsewhere, as a gesture towards weight-saving, Quattro GmbH have replaced the standard A3 Sportback’s steel front wings with equivalents made out of carbonfibre-reinforced plastic. They certainly needed to do something: even after the lightweight panels, this car weighs 120kg more than a similarly equipped 2.0-litre turbo A3 Sportback.
After the qualified praise of our early test drives in Europe and the US, it’s disappointing to report that the RS3 doesn’t ride or handle at all well on UK roads. Its sky-high chassis rates and short-feeling chassis make for an abrupt-riding car with very little compliance, whose composure is upset all too often by the kind of lumps and compressions that are common on British B-roads.
Tackle your favourite backroad in this car and you won’t have to go very fast to feel the suspension crashing over sharp edges, and throwing the car’s body around over larger bumps instead of simply absorbing them. The car handles corners with plenty of grip, but its limit handling balance is dominated by understeer, and is largely unresponsive to attempts at throttle steering.
Should I buy one?
Factoring in all of the above, plus the RS3’s high and somewhat precarious-feeling driving position and dull steering, we can’t help but conclude that this is one of the very last ways we’d spend £40,000 this summer in pursuit of a great driver’s car.
A fuller road test assessment is in the pipeline. For the time being, however, we’d advise any UK deposit-holder who’s been offered a premium for their place in the queue for an RS3 – a car which has apparently been sold out since the winter – to take the money and run.
Audi RS3 Sportback
Price: £39,930; Top speed: 155mph; 0-62mph: 4.6sec; Economy: 31.0mpg; Co2: 212g/km; Kerbweight: 1575kg; Engine type, cc: 5 cyls in line, 2480cc, turbocharged petrol; Power: 335bhp at 5400-6500rpml; Torque: 332lb ft at 1600-5300rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd dual clutch