We’ve been asked a few times if the RS3 is worth the hefty premium Audi demands for it over the S3, and we’re convinced it is. There are multiple reasons for that stance, but I’d argue the engine makes a strong enough argument on its own to shirk the cheaper of the two go-faster A3s: it’s utterly stunning.
In a performance car landscape increasingly dominated by turbocharged four-cylinder engines, it’s an utter joy to deploy the full anger offered up by this warble-tastic 2.5-litre. Its offering of 395bhp and 354lb ft may not be much more than managed by Mercedes-AMG’s ’45’ 2.0-litre inline-four or the BMW M2’s 3.0-litre straight-six, but it feels far more potent than both.
You get a sense of what’s to come at 2000rpm as the twin-scroll turbocharger starts to wake up, but it’s from 4000rpm onwards that all hell truly breaks loose. It’s a fantastically punchy, dramatic engine, and yes, the throaty roar belted out of its twin tailpipes is amazing. Here’s hoping it sticks around for a good while longer.
When we first posted about ‘our’ new RS3 on the Car Throttle Instagram, there was a common theme in the comments: people getting angry about the gear selector. Why? Because it appears to have been styled like a manual gear lever. Do you feel quite as passionately as some of our Instagram commenters? Let us know…
Using the latest version of the much-used Haldex four-wheel drive system, the RS3 is able to shove more power rewards than any of its predecessors once in Dynamic mode and in ‘ESP Sport’. It will even - under the right conditions and with enough commitment - oversteer under power. But on the road that’s not been our experience - we had a handful of moments when it felt like a tiny bit more power has gone to the rear than the front, but that’s it.
But that’s not to say it succumbs to understeer at the slightest provocation. This is a neutral feeling car with a fabulously grippy and pointy front-end, and I’ve been loving the gnat-like changes in direct the chassis allows. A moveable rear-end is not the be-all and end-all, as some petrolheads would have you believe.
For reasons I don’t particularly understand, the volume control for the infotainment system is sat pointing upwards, just to the right of the gear selector. As a consequence, on numerous occasions I’ve knocked it with my leg, either turning the volume right down or cranking it up to an ear-splitting level. It’s more of an issue in a UK car, being right-hand drive and all, but in any case, it seems a weird, unintuitive place to put it.
With its £44,700 base price inflated to £59,475 with some rather liberal option box ticking, you’d think ’our’ RS3 would have a want-for-nothing spec. But no. It doesn’t have electric seats, front or rear parking cameras, adaptive cruise control or adaptive dampers. So what options does it have exactly? A load of stuff you don’t really need, is the answer.
We’ll do a detailed run-through of what is and isn’t necessary soon, but the £4700 carbon ceramic brakes, the £1600 top speed limit increase and the £650 carbonfibre-trimmed engine cover are all things we’d happily ditch, saving nearly £7000 straight off the bat. You could then add much of the luxury car ‘must haves’ this particular RS3 is missing, and still end up with a lower on-the-road price.
If I were in the market for an RS3, there’s no question that it’d be the saloon version. There’s nothing wrong with the Sportback, but a £45k hot hatchback just doesn’t compute in my head. A £45k junior super saloon, on the other hand? I’ll say a hearty hell yes to that, even though the cars are identical other than body style. A saloon’s just cooler, isn’t it?
The trouble is, you will be making a practicality sacrifice if that’s your choice. Official boot capacity is actually similar (and not exactly generous, it must be said), but the opening on the saloon body makes loading a pain, and quite obviously you don’t have the flexibility of the Sportback’s longer roofline to play with when it comes to loading particularly bulky items.
We have managed to squeeze 34mpg out of the RS3 on a few longer runs, but the cruising economy of that greedy 2.5-litre engine will rarely creep much above the 30 mark. Kick its head in on a good bit of road, and you’ll be in the mid teens, or worse. Overall we’ve averaged 26.6mpg over 1380 miles, and most of those have been motorway miles. Not terrible, but the BMW M2 we ran last year fared better on those motorway journeys.
What else would you like to know about RS3 life? Let us know in the comments!