New Audi RS3 (2017) review: Part racing car, part Sportback and Sedan
The Audi A3 is one of the best compact cars you can buy in 2017. It’s understated, practical and comes with a great interior, but you wouldn’t call it an ‘exhilarating’ car. Add a touch of madness, though, and the A3 becomes the RS3 – an all-out racing car that’s still somehow road legal.
[gallery:0] It might look a little like the A3 from the outside, but the RS3’s stats are on a different level entirely. Listen: 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds, a top speed of 174mph – yet still boot space for a family shop, and Bluetooth for pairing your phone. To see just how silly but practical the new Audi RS3, I drove the A3’s crazy cousin on roads around Oman’s Dhofar mountains.
It might look a little like the A3 from the outside, but the RS3’s stats are on a different level entirely. Listen: 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds, a top speed of 174mph – yet still boot space for a family shop, and Bluetooth for pairing your phone. To see just how silly but practical the new Audi RS3, I drove the A3’s crazy cousin on roads around Oman’s Dhofar mountains.
Audi RS3 review: Design
As you’d expect, the new Audi RS3 looks a lot like a standard A3, but on a strict diet of protein shakes. To increase stability, the sportier Audi RS3 uses a track 20mm larger than the standard model, muscular flared wheel arches, and a suspension that sits the car 25mm lower. From the side, the new RS3 looks more powerful and hunched-over than the normal A3, but it’s actually 26kg lighter.
The front of the RS3 Sedan and Sportback looks quite different to the standard model. Audi has placed a huge quattro logo on the more sharply designed front-end, harking back to the brand’s motorsport pedigree – while reminding you it has four-wheel drive to get the most out of its power.
The rear of the new RS3 is dramatically different, too. This car has a diffuser – something you’d usually see at the back of a fully fledged supercar – and both the Sportback and Sedan models also feature a RS-specific spoiler lip and serious dual-exhausts.[gallery:2]
From every angle, both the RS3 Sportback and Sedan look meaner and more aggressive than the standard A3. When combined with innovations such as Audi’s Matrix LED headlights, and the Fast & Furious-esque paint my car was finished in, the RS3 is certainly eye-catching.
Audi RS3 review: Performance
Of course, the RS3’s extreme bodywork would be pretty embarrassing if it didn’t have the performance to match, and to that end the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer has carried out some serious work under the hood. The RS3 comes with a monstrous five-cylinder, 2.5-litre turbocharged TFSI engine and it’s easily the best thing about the car.
Audi says it can deliver 400hp – 33hp more than last year’s model – 480Nm of torque and can propel the car from a standing start to 60mph in just 4.1 seconds. The figures only tell part of the story, however. Sure, it’s extremely fast and gives you pretty much instant speed, but what you’ll remember is the sound the five-cylinder engine makes, and the sheer drama this generates.
Audi RS3 review: Drive
This RS3 is the first German sports-tuned car I’ve ever driven, so I’ll update this review when I’ve had more to compare it with, but so far it’s unlike anything else I’ve driven. Although it looks comparable to an A3 inside and out, as soon as you hit the throttle the difference is clear – and it’s quite hard to comprehend.
Driving the RS3 is an often violent experience; although the cabin is luxurious and sporty, it can’t quite bend the rules of physics. Sheer acceleration pushes you back in your seat, and even when throwing the RS3 around hairpin bends, you’ll find the car is settled while you’re being tossed around inside like a ragdoll.
The brutish acceleration is particularly evident when it came to the car’s launch-control mods. To activate this, you turn off traction control and place the car into Sport mode, then put one foot on the brake and the other on the throttle. After the revs build to around 4,500rpm, simply lift your foot off the brake and the RS3 will launch itself to 60mph in just over four seconds. In practice, it feels like you’re about to take off, and even after 60mph, there’s no drop in the rate of acceleration. Check the GoPro footage below to see what I’m talking about.
The most notable part of the whole RS3 experience, however, might be its engine noise. Although the Audi is a five-cylinder turbo, its engine note is full of character and sounds more like a V10. The RS3 Sedan I drove was fitted with an even louder sports exhaust, but part of the reason it sounded so good is because of the engine’s novel ignition timing.
Every brush of the accelerator is accompanied by mechanical hissing of a turbo, and the roar of the Audi five-cylinder engine, and changing down for hairpins and roundabouts (shown in the GoPro video below) causes the RS3 to pop and bang on the over-run. Throughout my time with the car, the engine felt a bit like an ever-present co-pilot, rearing its head whenever I felt like going a little faster. If the noise doesn’t sound like something you could live with, I’d suggest getting another car. The RS3 does allow the engine noise to be turned down, but even in quiet mode it’s far from subtle.
Fortunately, the ceramic brakes are equally impressive. In fact, it takes a while to get accustomed to just how powerful they are, and at the beginning of my time with the car I’d often brake much harder than I needed to. Spend time with them, however, and you’ll find they’re actually quite user-friendly: allowing you to brake more progressively and shed just the right amount of speed at just the right moment.
Audi says the aluminium and magnesium 2.5-litre powerplant in the RS3 uses a 1-2-4-5-3 ignition sequence, which helps give it a more melodic, vocal sound than you’d expect. Starting up the car gives meaty roar, notifying everyone you’re about to drive – but it’s ever present when you’re driving around, too.
If that sounds like your thing, you’ll find driving the RS3 extremely fun. On twisty mountain roads, the Audi RS3 feels composed and planted – and it’s a calm, considered cruiser on the motorway when it wants to be. Pop it into Comfort mode and engage the cruise control, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were driving a normal A3.
Audi RS3 review: Interior and infotainment
The Audi RS3’s interior treads a similar path to the exterior; essentially, it’s a sportier version of a traditional A3 with the same infotainment and control system. That means it’s compatible with Audi Connect as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. (You can find out more about the infotainment system and audio systems in our hands-on review of the standard A3.)
The RS3 also comes with the Virtual Cockpit, which is one of our favourite infotainment virtual dashboard systems, and here it comes with a few extra features. Alongside the usual maps, media and settings screens, the RS3’s Virtual Cockpit can also show the percentage of power used, torque levels, a boost gauge, and the amount of g-force you’ve pulled. There’s also a lap timer for track hounds.
The fit and finish of the interior is again like a tweaked A3, but made sportier. Every RS3 has a flat-bottomed steering wheel, snug sport seats and aluminium pedals, but there’s also scope to add things such as red stitching on the dash and seat belts. An as you’d expect from a German performance car, the RS3 is available with carbon-fibre inserts.
Audi RS3 review: Verdict
In a world of efficient hybrid and electric cars, the RS3 represents a throwback to the world of big spoilers, huge bodykits and turbocharged engines – and that’s one of the reasons it’s so attractive. Despite being based on the somewhat sensible Audi A3, the RS3 will punctuate every drive with bangs, pops and hisses from its 2.5-litre turbocharged engine. And if that doesn’t turn heads, the paint job will.
However, just like the other RS models, the RS3 retains a small shred of practicality. It still has a boot, it can seat four adults, and it’s laden with innovative tech such as the Virtual Cockpit and semi-autonomous safety features. Combine that with incredible performance, and the RS3 is a circa-£55,000 supercar with all the practicality of family hatchback. While that clearly represents a specific niche, it’s one the RS3 absolutely nails.