Audi's sledgehammer RS3 tears up the hot hatch rulebook. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
We thought the last Audi RS3 Sportback with 340PS was fast enough, but shave 55kg off the kerb weight, add another 22PS, mount it all on a far more talented chassis with a cleverer all-wheel drive system and stand well back. This one's explosive.
When dealing with the Audi RS3 Sportback, a little context pays dividends. You see, the RS3 hot hatch fronts up with 362PS. In case you were wondering, that's more than that developed by a twelve-cylinder Ferrari Testarossa, and more than the first Porsche 911 GT3. So, yes, it's got some real brawn about it. This isn't the first time we've seen an RS3. You don't need to look back too far to remember the last one, a 340PS monster introduced in 2010. In many ways, the formula of this latest car hasn't differed much. There's still a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine driving all four wheels. It's just that now you get a bit more of everything. More is better, right?
Audi makes great play of the fact that this RS3 Sportback has shaved some 55kg off the weight of its predecessor, which coupled with the power increase, lifts its power to weight ratio from 218 to 241PS per tonne. That is a lot. More than a Lotus Exige S or a V8 BMW M5. More than a Porsche 911 Carrera or a Mercedes SLK 55 AMG too. Now you see quite what sort of company the RS3 Sportback can mix it in. With the benefit of all-wheel drive, it'll scuttle to 62mph in just 4.3 seconds and run onto 155mph, although this can be derestricted to 174mph. A lighter multi-plate clutch mounted at the rear axle has the ability to transfer between 50 and 100 per cent of power to the rear wheels. Audi even reckons that on slippery surfaces, this thing will drift like a rear-driver. Yes, you've seen this engine before in the last RS3 Sportback and before that in the TT RS. This 367PS turbocharged five-cylinder petrol unit employs TFSI turbo charging and direct injection technology and has been fettled a little since its last RS3 outing to develop a whacking 465Nm of torque to the road via a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and, of course, quattro all-wheel-drive. Maximum torque is readily available across a broad plateau, which means that you'll rarely be caught off boost. A widened track, bigger brakes and tyres, retuned ESP stability control and a sharpened suspension setup lowered by 25mm distinguish the RS3 from a standard Sportback.
Design and Build
The great thing about Audi RS models is that despite packing a punch that would make Iron Mike appear a bit of a powder puff, they're not ludicrously overt. Those in the know will spot the aluminium mirror housings, side skirts, rear diffuser and the hunkered down stance. Yes, there are 19-inch alloy wheels and burbling exhausts but the RS3 doesn't wear the sort of wings, monster wheel arch bulges and grille-pocked bonnets that appear on most fast hatchbacks. In that regard it's relatively low key. The standard Sportback is a good-looking platform to build from and the RS3 looks resolved in a way that few range-topping sports variants manage. Like all Sportbacks, the RS3 enjoys an increase in body length and extra wide opening rear doors which means easy accessibility and far better rear knee and head room. A flat-bottomed steering wheel looks suitably racy and makes getting in and out that little bit easier. Customers choose between black and grey colour schemes, and there are leather sports seats although the optional diamond-pattern 'S' seats will be popular. We suspect many buyers will go the whole hog and put the deep RS carbon-shelled bucket seats, saving themselves 7kg on each seat and lightening their bank accounts accordingly. This version rides on the latest MQB chassis and is bigger inside than the previous generation car. You'll really notice that in the boot where there's 340-litres of luggage space, with a total of 1,185-litres of space when the rear seats are folded flat.
Market and Model
The real driver for the appearance of this model has been the 360PS Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. The bombshell baby Benz also features four-wheel drive and managed to make the RS3 seem ever so slightly limp wristed, so Audi have answered back with a model that one-ups the car with the three-pointed star, albeit by a mere two horses. As expected, pricing closely mirrors that of the Mercedes, so buyers will need a £40,000 budget. Standard equipment includes xenon headlights and subtly flared, lightweight front wings, while inside there are Nappa leather trimmed sports seats, and a Driver's Information System which displays boost pressure and oil temperature and doubles as a lap timer. Acoustic rear parking sensors, electronic climate control and DVD-based satellite navigation with MMI (Multi Media Interface) functionality are also fitted. For the first time on an RS3, a carbon ceramic brake package appears on the options list.
Cost of Ownership
Despite a power output that was well into supercar territory not so very long ago, the Audi RS3 Sportback turns in a very creditable performance at the pumps. Or it would if you didn't spend most of your time with the loud pedal buried in the carpet. Audi quotes a figure of 34.8mpg and emissions of 189g/km, which are a significant improvement on the 2010 vintage RS3 Sportback, which recorded 31mpg and 212g/km. A start-stop system and energy recuperation system along with a redesigned oil pump has helped improve efficiency and at the same time earn the car a Euro6 compliance stamp. As the previous model demonstrated, the RS3's cachet will keep residual values sturdy in the short term at least but expensive options such as the carbon ceramic brakes will cause a softening in percentage values come resale time. Insurance isn't going to be cheap either with a Group 50 valuation resulting in some chunky-looking premiums.
If there was one thing the old Audi RS3 Sportback demonstrated very vividly, it was that you didn't need an impractical shape, a huge thirst and iffy reliability to deliver supercar-style performance. It just delivered in an incredibly effective, no-nonsense way. Some will like this. Others tried it and thought the RS3 made the act of going very fast rather aloof, requiring licence-losing numbers on the speedometer before it felt it was doing something other than going through the motions. Audi has thought long and hard about this one and has set about delivering more soul, involvement and emotion into the latest RS3 Sportback. Ingolstadt's finest have worked at delivering a more stirring soundtrack, a more playful chassis and haven't been able to resist turning the wick up still further on performance. Then there're the things that haven't changed; its all-weather ability, its everyday practicality and its relatively tasteful discretion. One thing is not up for debate. Audi will have zero problems selling every last car that its UK importers can get their hands on.