The Audi RS3 is the full-fat, performance-focused version of the rather beige Audi A3; this time in saloon guise, which is arguably the prettiest Audi A3. In a world which is going PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and electric, the RS3 is unapologetically a roaring petrol car. It has the multi award-winning 2.5 litre five-cylinder petrol engine throbbing under the bonnet and snarling out the back-end via a throaty pair of exhausts. With 400PS and 500Nm and quattro all-wheel drive, the RS3 will be chosen by someone that wants a no-compromise performance saloon that is also pretty practical too.
The Audi A3 saloon is a very pretty car, even in standard guise. It is one of the most proportionally perfect cars on sale today, and when it is given the Audi RS touches it really makes this a stunning car. It sits 10 millimetres lower than the already low Audi S3 and 25 millimetres lower than the standard A3.
The wheel spacing has been widened by 33 millimetres at the front axle and there are flared arches, as well as a slightly protruding air outlet behind the front wheel arches. There is a wide, RS front bumper and a redesigned singleframe with a distinctive honeycomb grille. At the back, there is an RS-specific rear bumper with a built-in diffuser and an RS exhaust system, with two large oval tailpipes. There are also stunning 19-inch wheels with a 10-Y spoke design. There are eight colours available for this model, including the RS-specific Kyalami Green and Kemora Gray finishes.
Audi makes the best interiors around and even a standard A3 is a nice place to be, but the RS3, as you might expect, is something quite special. You get the 12.3 inch virtual cockpit as standard and it displays the revolutions per minute (RPM) in the ‘RS Runway’ design – the values are displayed in the opposite direction in a manner that resembles an airplane runway. In addition, the Audi virtual cockpit includes displays for g-forces, lap times, and acceleration from 0-100km/h, 0-200km/h, quarter-mile, and eighth-of-a-mile. The 10.1 inch touch display in the instrument panel also shows the coolant, engine, and transmission oil temperatures, as well as the g-forces and, optionally, the pressure of the tyres. There is a lot of carbon fibre trim in the instrument panel and gorgeous RS sport seats with RS embossing and anthracite stitching.
The star of the show of the RS3 lies under the bonnet as the 2.5 litre five-cylinder petrol engine is a nine-times winner of the engine of the year award and it really is a masterpiece. It sounds amazing, aided and abetted by the trombone-like twin exhausts at the rear. Start up the RS3 and it snarls into life. There are various drive modes, including Comfort, Efficiency, and the like, but when you select one of the two RS modes, the fun really starts. Stamp on the accelerator and this car leaps at the horizon, munching up the 0-100km/h time in just 3.8 seconds, which is ferociously fast. Choose the optional RS dynamics package plus, which includes the ceramic brake system and adaptive suspension and the 250km/h top speed leaps to 290km/h. This is a very, very fast car. But it is the grip and how the car puts down the power, which is so very impressive. There is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and this is the first Audi model with a torque splitter. This technology makes fully variable torque distribution between the rear wheels possible. The torque splitter uses one electronically controlled multiple disc clutch on each of the respective drive shafts. This ensures that the right amount of torque is optimally and continuously distributed along the rear axle. During tight cornering, the torque splitter increases torque to the outer rear wheel with the higher wheel load, reducing understeer. There is even a drift mode in this car.
There are two RS3s – you can have the Sportback, a five-door hatchback, which is about €3,000 cheaper than the saloon, but it just doesn’t look anywhere near as handsome as the saloon, which, albeit more expensive, just looks a lot better. At this price point we don’t think anyone is going to be worrying about a few extra thousand anyway. The real question is whether you should pay the extra €30,000 for the RS3 versus the S3. With 310hp and 400Nm of torque, the S3 is hardly slow and that is a big chunk of money in the difference. You would need to be a hardcore fan to choose the RS3 over the S3.
The RS3 is a brutally fast, engaging, and addictive performance car, but so is the S3, which isn’t that much slower, but is a full €30,000 (or an MG4) cheaper than the RS3. For some, only the RS3 will do and good luck to them. But for me, this price would be hard to justify, despite the car’s obvious ability.
Audi RS3 Saloon
Engine: 2,480cc 5-cylinder petrol engine
Power: 400hp @5,600-7,000 rpm
0-100km/h: 3.8 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG
CO2 emissions: 214g/km
Luggage capacity: 281-litres (battery in the boot)
Price as tested: €108,045
Colour: Tango Red