What is it?
Audi’s fire-breathing hot hatch, although its mega performance comes with a very serious price-tag attached. Audi’s RS models tend to appear late in the model cycle, and the RS3 is definitely a last hurrah for the current-shape A3, which is being replaced next year.
What’s it like?
In a word, fast. In two words, seriously fast. You don’t have to rewind too far to find a time when this sort of power output was reserved for no-question supercars, and the five-pot engine – which is happy to be revved hard despite its forced induction – delivers big.
Audi claims a 4.6 second 0-62mph time and an electronically limited 155mph top speed. But perhaps more telling is the company’s claim it takes the RS3 just 17.5-seconds to get from rest to 125mph – most rivals would struggle to get to 100mph in the same timeframe. And on the road those claims, backed by the seamless power delivery of the DSG gearbox, feel entirely plausible.
Of course, a good hot hatch has always been about more than raw performance, and Audi’s Quattro GMBH Skunkworks – which engineers all the company’s RS models - has attempted to tame the prodigious power output with an appropriately comprehensive underbody makeover.
The RS3 sits 25mm lower than the standard A3, has a wider track and is sprung on springs and dampers around 25 per cent firmer than those of the four-cylinder S3. Bodywork changes include a very aggressive bodykit and front wings made from carbonfibre reinforced polymer. Braking is handled by vast 370mm discs.
Dynamically the net result is a car that always delivers empirically, but only sometimes emotionally. Let’s start by saying that – out of the box – the RS3 is going to be one of the quickest cars you’ll fire at any chosen backroad.
Grip levels are enormous; it takes extreme provocation on low-speed corners to get the front tyres to admit that they even have a limit as they hold on until credibility-threatening speeds before progressively surrendering their grip. The ultra-firm suspension delivered rock-solid body control on the super-smooth tarmac of our French test route, although we’ll reserve full judgment until we see how well it copes with the considerably tougher challenge of a British B-road.
But yes, there’s a but – the steering still lacks much in the way of ultimate communication, faithfully conveying inputs, but under hard loadings offering a strangely synthesized feedback in return. On the plus side, it feels both lighter on its feet and more agile than its TT-RS cousin – and it’s also seven grand cheaper.
Audi will only be producing a five-door Sportback version of the RS3, with the official line being that the company reckons a three-door version would offer limited practicality gains over the (supposedly) dynamically sharper TT-RS.