Thanks to the arrival of a Hyundai i30 N which we’ll be living with for six months, there’s been a little reshuffle at CT HQ’s test garage. Editor Matt has the keys to the Hyundai, handing over the Audi RS3 we’ve had since December to CT Head of Video Alex.
However, while the RS3 managed to work its way under Matt’s skin, Alex is less enamoured with the beast. And that’s caused a bit of an argument in the office…
Matt Robinson: I hear you think the RS3 saloon is boring. Shall we discuss how wrong you are?
Alex Kersten: Yes, I find it boring, and here’s why…
The RS3 should be exciting. It should be addictive to drive, and it should sound incredible. Unfortunately, the car manages only one of these things, and that’s noise, because its turbocharged five-cylinder engine really does sound the nuts.
Everything else, though, is just anodyne and a bit boring. And that’s because the RS3 is too easy to drive. It’s a car my mum could drive fast, and it just doesn’t get my blood pumping.
The reason why is because everything about the RS3 is so intuitive, and little skill is needed to get a lot out of it. There’s no challenge, you don’t need to spend time getting to know it, and there are no surprises (unlike the Fiat Coupe 20V Turbo we filmed recently, which is full of them).
And that for me is a shame, because as a petrolhead, I love spending time figuring out how to extract the best performance out of a car and having to use my driving skill to keep the thing planted on the road. With the RS3, I just don’t get that; the gears change themselves better than I ever could, grip is endless, and there’s never a feeling of ‘oh shit, I might have screwed up this corner!’
MR: OK, I’ll agree that the RS3 - like a lot of modern performance cars - does make it a little too easy. But I think there’s a place for cars like that, which perhaps don’t take a lot of skill to drive - they’re more about learning to trust the machine under you and how best to extract its full potential.
When the RS3 is clinging on as you nail it around a corner, four-wheel drive system digging in and lateral G-forces making a mess of your face - how is that not exciting? Does there need to always be a challenge? Riding a rollercoaster isn’t a challenge; eating a scotch bonnet chilli pepper doesn’t require skill; but both of those things are highly exciting.
AK: You say that the “four-wheel drive system digs in through corners” while “G-forces make a mess of your face.” The reason this is not exciting is because it’s fake. The car is doing the work, with you only as passenger. Sure, you’ll be going way faster than me in something like a Fiat Coupe, but in that car, it’s on me to get the corner right. And that’s what’s exciting, because there’s a very real fear of the unknown. I guess that’s what separates people who ‘love’ cars versus people who ‘enjoy’ cars, because some like to go fast without having to work for it, while others - me included - like to work with our cars for real rewards.
MR: What I’m getting at is that there’s a place for uber-capable cars. It’s not the only way I like to get my kicks - don’t forget I also have a Caterham Seven racing car (who’s ‘pretty much a racing driver’ now, eh??) on my drive that has no power steering, no ABS and no traction control. I enjoy driving both, and for different reasons.
The key thing for me though is the RS3 is more than just mega grip, five-pot noise and an explosive power delivery - finally Audi is making cars with properly sharp front ends and decent steering. Yes it’s easy to drive too, but it’s satisfying in its own way.
I feel like we’re going around in circles here, so let me put this another way: you have about £45,000 to spend on a new performance car. Where does your money go?
AK: I agree that the RS3 steers, handles and performs incredibly. But my money would go on a BMW M2. It’s edgier, less forgiving, and the closest thing to a true enthusiast car as you can get these days (for the money, and in this bracket of cars).
Then again, you know me, so for the same £45,000 I’d choose a Fiat Coupe 20V Turbo, an E46 M3, my (currently engine-less but soon-to-be-V6-equipped) MX-5, plus something like an BMW E39 530d Touring. Oh, and some sort of van. Because I love vans!
MR: Your version of exciting seems to be a little more narrow than my definition. And didn’t you say the M2 was underwhelming last time you drove it? That’s something we actually agree on! What we need is for BMW to hurry up and make that S55-engined M2 Competition, which I reckon would be the one to have. Except it isn’t here yet, and will probably end up being quite expensive.
Oh, and a van? Really? Can tell you’re getting old…
AK: Yep, vans are awesome, and age is just a number - I know I look younger than you, so that’s good enough for me.
Anyway, time to wrap this up, so let’s agree to disagree about the RS3. And yes, I probably am narrow minded when it comes to what makes a car fun, but that’s the beauty of being a car enthusiast. Some people are right (me), while others clearly don’t know what they want (you).
Finally, I think it’s important to remember that there is a time and a place for driving in a more mild-mannered way (most of the time, in fact), and that’s what the RS3 does very well. It’s comfortable, well equipped, has the nicest interior of just about any modern car (virtual cockpit FTW), and smashes through hundreds of miles without breaking into a sweat. So massive thumbs up to it for that!
MR: I think we need to agree to disagree on that age point too…