- Best RS 3 to drive … ever!
- Rare five-cylinder engine sounds superb and delivers the goods
- Tech-packed interior and premium styling throughout
- Quite expensive to buy
- The ride feels quite firm
- Watch out for speed cameras – it hits crazy numbers in the blink of an eye
As the motoring industry moves at pace towards an electrified future, we are going to miss the thrills and spills of the old V8 models and powerhouse hot hatches.
But another car that offers epic capabilities via its rather unique five-cylinder petrol engine is the mighty Audi RS 3 which is available as a saloon or hatchback (Sportback as Audi calls it). And the German carmaker recently upped the ante once again with more power and extra pace.
It is available in four trim levels called RS 3, Carbon, Launch Edition and Vorsprung but watch out – it’s not exactly cheap.
On The Road
The RS 3 is driven by a high-performance 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol engine that has won the International Engine of the Year award nine times in a row, so expect something a little bit special from this car and you won’t be disappointed.
It is the same engine that has featured in previous models, but the torque has been increased by 20Nm to a whopping 500Nm on the latest model.
With its launch control, 400PS of power and that torque, it can blast from 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds, and while the two entry models have a top speed that is limited to 155mph, both Launch Edition and Vorsprung can achieve up to 174mph.
The acceleration through the seven-speed automatic transmission is blisteringly quick with steering wheel mounted paddles for added driver engagement. In addition, drive modes called Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, RS Individual and Efficiency alter the characteristics and responses of the car.
Perfectly weighted and accurate steering fills you with the confidence to attack tight bends at pace and the quattro all-wheel drive system offers added grip in more adverse weather conditions.
And the latest RS 3 is the first Audi to feature, as standard, a torque splitter. This replaces the rear axle differential and without getting too technical, it ensures the right amount of torque is optimally distributed along the rear axle. That in turn, means less understeer during more dynamic driving. And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, it assists with drifting on private roads
The acceleration away from the starting blocks is not for the faint-hearted and there is certainly more power than you will ever need on offer (away from a track setting that is). Overtaking is completed in an instant and it’s a car that cruises effortlessly at 70mph.
New RS sports suspension brings newly developed shock absorbers to the mix with valves that help the suspension system respond instantly to the road surface even at faster speeds. Adaptive damper control is available as an optional extra and this individually adjusts each shock absorber to the road conditions as you drive for a more balanced ride.
The ride does feel quite firm when driving in the more dynamic modes and uneven surfaces do send a little shudder through the car. But in Comfort, things are nicely smoothed out to help deliver a composed and generally well-behaved ride.
The car also features upgraded brakes compared to the outgoing model to safely bring this powerful beast to a safe stop. And the excellent quattro all-wheel drive set-up has been tried and tested, so Mother Nature’s mood swings won’t stop you.
With wheels that are more angled towards the road, the steering becomes more precise which is noticeable when cornering at speed. The agility and all-round handling cannot fail to impress and this is a car that fills you with confidence.
And if you really want to annoy your neighbours, you can adjust the sound on the exhaust for a more raspy and louder tone with lots of snap, crackle and pop!
The RS 3 Launch Edition is modelled on the range-topping Vorsprung version but with slightly fewer interior specifications. But it does gain a panoramic sunroof and lots of eye-catching black styling giving it quite an aggressive road presence.
The distinctive honeycomb grille is larger than normal and black in colour, there are darkened Matrix headlamps, large air intakes, a wide RS bumper, a sports exhaust, high gloss back front spoiler, decorative inserts, black mirror housings, twin tail pipes, 19-inch black alloys and red brake calipers.
It would be impossible not to mention the quirky lights that provide an unmistakable look. Using the LEDs, a chequered flag appears in the left headlight as a dynamic leaving and coming home scene, while the RS 3 lettering appears on the driver’s side. When driving, the chequered flag lights up on both sides.
Move inside and the sports theme continues with powered sports seats complete with memory settings, a head-up display, full smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus a Bang & Olufsen sound system. All models get the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit with dials that feature lots of traditional data and race-related readouts.
The infotainment touchscreen is simple to operate on the fly and the graphics are sharp and easy to take on board.
The quilted leather RS sports seats are body-hugging but very supportive. They have RS embossing and anthracite contrast stitching. And, while the cabin is generously equipped, it’s nice and simple in its layout with no over-flashy gadgetry.
Elsewhere the cabin features a chunky gear shift lever, attractive carbon fibre trimmings, soft touch surfaces and not-so-subtle RS badging just I case you need reminding!
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
Finding the ideal driving position inside the RS 3 Sportback is a quick and simple process with powered seats that can be heated and a manually adjustable steering wheel. Then it’s just a case of sitting back and taking stock of all the on-board technology at your disposal.
As standard, the RS 3 Sportback is fitted with a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel, but our model boasted a round RS wheel with hands-on detection. Both have a new RS Mode button which can be used to switch through the Drive Select modes – RS Performance or RS Individual. It can also take you back to the last mode used. In the RS modes the instrumentation and head-up display have a sportier appearance.
And there is a new RS Runway mode that changes the display altogether. Instead of the traditional circular dials, the revs and speed are viewed along two vertical lines (like a runway). If it’s not for you, it’s simple enough to switch back to the standard setting.
There is a separate panel for all the climate control functions which means you can alter the temperature without having to work your way through over-complicated drop-down menus. Some other high-brow manufacturers could learn from this.
Driver visibility is okay although the wing mirrors are fairly compact in size and any back seat passengers will obscure the view through the rear mirror.
Space & Practicality
Compared to the Audi A3, the storage space is smaller inside the RS 3 and that’s down to all its high-performance technology eating into load space. There is 282 litres when all the seats are in an upright position and this can be increased to 1,104 litres with the rear seats dropped flat.
There are plenty of handy storage options scattered throughout the cabin though, including a glovebox, central cubby, door bins with space for a small bottle, seat back nets, trays, a charging pad and rather shallow front cup holders that have not been that well thought out especially if you regularly pull in for a piping hot take-away coffee.
Passenger space is impressive and there is enough room in the back for a couple of adults provided the front seats are not pushed right back. With its sporty design, sloping roofline and narrow rear windows, it may feel a little claustrophobic on longer journeys, but that’s a price you would be willing to pay for the RS 3’s jaw dropping good looks.
The RS 3 line-up starts at £50,900 for the entry level model and rises to £58,650 for the top-of-the-range Vorsprung version. Our Launch Edition car sat just below that at £57,770, although a few optional packs saw the final price-tag climb to £64,460.
According to official figures under WLTP testing, the car can deliver combined fuel efficiency of 31.0mpg – expect to see that figure drop rapidly if driven with a heavy right boot all the time though.
The carbon emissions figure of 205g/km would lead to a first year Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) charge of £1,420 dropping to the standard fee of £165 after 12 months. But the costs don’t end there as the there is a premium car levy for models costing above £40k of £355 for five years.
And you will need to shop around for some competitive insurance quotes as the Audi RS 3 Launch Edition sits in group 37.
Quality & Reliability
Audi has a decent reputation for developing vehicles that will run and run offering year after year of trouble-free motoring. And the RS 3 is another fine example. Despite it being a dynamically styled model, all the engineering has been geared towards performance with longevity in mind.
The interior of the Launch Edition car features plenty of black styling cues including black, quilted upholstery which feels very well made and will prove a practical colour choice in the long run. There are also lots of wipe-clean surfaces.
The cup holders need to be given some consideration though as they are fairly shallow so don’t exactly grip a coffee cup, especially if you are firing through the twisting B roads.
When it comes to the engine, it has been tried and tested and tweaked to offer added performance. And it has that accolade of being voted International Engine of the Year nine times in a row, so there should not be any issues there.
Owners have the added peace of mind of Audi’s three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
Safety & Security
Audi has packed the latest third-gen RS 3 with safety kit and driver assist systems to help protect occupants and other road users. The pre-sense set-up uses radar sensors to detect any objects up ahead, including cyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles, and alerts the driver accordingly.
There is lane departure warning, turn assist, adaptive cruise control that will steer, brake and accelerate the car while maintaining a safe distance from the car in front. The park assist with parking system plus helps find a suitable space where the car will fit and can automatically park it for you.
Other features that can be added via optional packs include high beam assist, traffic sign recognition, cross traffic rear assist, lane change and exit warning.
A comprehensive alarm system and immobiliser are fitted to deter any would-be thieves.
The Audi RS 3 Sportback is a powerhouse of a hot hatch with bundles of power and pace to keep any thrill-seeker satisfied. It handles incredibly well and is exactly the type of car we will be missing in just a few years from now.