A rally-bred engine and segment-topping performance endow the 2016 Audi RS 3 with tremendous enthusiast appeal.
It is an astonishingly fast five-door - effortlessly fast, even. Keep your eye on the speedo with this one; licence-shredding speeds are a mere flex of the ankle away.
Besides setting a cracking pace – this is the hottest of the hot-hatches – the RS 3 balances it with immense grip and precision. It also provides a rally car soundtrack as well as offering plenty of interior luxury.
We would prefer a little more interior differentiation between this range-topper and the tamer (but also quick) S3, the boot-space is tiny, and there's no manual option - DSG only.
Vehicle Style: High performance luxury small hatch
Price: $78,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 270kW/465Nm 2.5 turbo petrol 5cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.1 l/100km | tested: 14.2 l/100km
After missing out on the first-generation RS 3, the arrival of the second iteration of Audi's hottest grocery-getter means there's a new king of fast hatches in Australia.
And it appears there's plenty of pent-up demand - Audi Australia was holding 350 orders before the new RS 3 had rolled off the boats. Those 350 early adopters have signed up for one hell of a rig.
What’s the allure? Well, a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.3 seconds is a pretty handy stat to have on a spec sheet, but there’s no ignoring the $78,900 starting price either.
That’s a little more than what Mercedes asks for its A45 mega-hatch, but the Audi has slightly more power, slightly more torque, sprints to 100km/h faster and has, arguably, a better-presented interior.
We travelled to Tasmania to put the new RS 3 to the test.
- Standard equipment: Cruise control, trip computer, power windows, reversing camera, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, power-folding and heated wing mirrors, heated front RS Sport seats, leather upholstery, leather/Alcantara steering wheel
- Infotainment: 7-inch MMI display with satellite navigation and touchpad/dial controller, DAB+ radio tuner, AM/FM/CD/USB audio with 20GB onboard music storage, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
- Cargo volume: 280 litres minimum, 1120 maximum
High-backed sports seats: check. Thick-rimmed, flat bottomed steering wheel: check. Alloy pedals and plenty of model-specific badging: check. The RS 3 ticks all the usual boxes for a high-luxe hot hatch.
But, strangely, it doesn’t feel all that much more special than the S3. There’s too much commonality between the two.
The RS Sports seats are offered in the S3, the steering wheel is the same (albeit with Alcantara inserts instead of leather) and the instrument panel is the same - boost gauge and all.
You can spice up the interior with the RS design pack, which brings red accents on the air vents and seatbelts, not to mention contrast stitching for the quilted leather seats, but it’s not quite enough.
Cover the RS badges, and you might wonder whether you were in an S3.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from what is, when judged in isolation, a fantastic interior. The quality of materials and fittings is top-notch, the presentation is superb and the design should age gracefully.
There’s also plenty of room for a couple of adults in the back. However, with just 280 litres of cargo space with the rear seats in place (100 litres less than a regular A3 Sportback) the RS 3 isn’t one for hardware store runs.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 270kW/465Nm 2.5 litre turbo petrol inline five
- Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: 370mm front rotors with eight-piston calipers, 310mm rear rotors with single-piston caliper. Carbon-ceramic brakes optional
- Steering type: Electromechanical with variable ratio, 10.9m turning circle
With 270kW of power and 465Nm of torque, the RS 3's 2.5 litre inline-five edges ahead of the Mercedes-AMG A45, which makes 265kW and 450Nm.
Audi's claim of a 4.3 second 0-100km/h run puts the Merc in the shade by 0.3 seconds, and it feels truly brisk.
Not only that, it’s faster than its V8-powered siblings the RS 4 and RS 5. Hot hatch? It’s “hot” in the same way the planet Mercury is “warm”.
That engine, by the way, is the same as that used by the TT RS and RS Q3 - albeit with the wick turned way up. Hand-built in Gyor, Hungary, the RS 3’s motor is the most powerful iteration of Audi’s unique five-pot.
Alas, the only cog-swapper on offer is an automatic. It’s Audi’s capable seven-speed twin-clutch auto and, to be fair, it’s far faster at changing gears than any human (but for some it’s no substitute for a three-pedal manual).
But such is the march of technology, and considering the RS 3’s astonishing ability to pile on speed, it’s understandable why the fast-shifting twin-clutch is the only gearbox we get.
Braking hard from triple-digit speeds into a tight hairpin, not having to worry about heel-toeing into the correct gear is definitely an advantage.
Though you don’t get to mess with a clutch pedal, the RS 3 is not short on theatrics.
In dynamic mode a pair of exhaust baffles in the rear muffler open, releasing all manner of pops, bangs and farts on upshifts and overrun. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the five-cylinder’s unique syncopated beat.
While it certainly sounds dramatic, the driving experience - even when at full tilt - is fuss-free.
The RS 3’s quattro AWD system seamlessly shuffles torque from axle to axle, and even wheel to wheel. It can take as much as 100 percent of power to the rear wheels, and it feels more rear-biased than the average AWD performance car.
The grip it offers is almost never-ending, and feeding in power mid-corner doesn’t upset it. There’s no understeer, no oversteer, just acceleration.
And that’s long been the RS calling card - accessible performance. Anyone can drive this car fast, and that’s the joy of it. It’s like a downsized Nissan GT-R, except with a fancier badge and a more docile on-road personality.
The variable-ratio steering is unique to the RS 3, and provides a comfortable 15.3:1 ratio around dead-centre before quickening to 10.9:1 at full lock.
It makes it easy to make minor corrections when driving on a highway, but lessens the amount of wheel-twirling required when attacking a sequence of tight hairpins. There’s not a whole lot of feedback through the wheel, but it’s fast and accurate nevertheless.
We sampled both the standard suspension and the optional magnetorheologically adjustable suspension.
The latter comes when you option the RS Performance Package ($6490) and also brings wider front tyres, red brake calipers and carbon dash inserts and, in our opinion, is well worth the extra spend.
There’s nothing really wrong with the standard fixed dampers but the magnetic dampers’ ability to adapt quickly to changes in road surface and driving style is impressive.
Leave the Drive Select switch in Auto to let it take care of things itself, select Comfort to iron out a choppy road and use Dynamic if you happen to find yourself on a racetrack - or to unleash that boisterous exhaust note.
On the whole though, it’s a firmly-sprung car whichever suspension package you select. Keep that in mind before you place your morning mug of coffee in the cupholder.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.41 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control, blind spot monitoring and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) are standard on the RS 3.
Adaptive cruise, a collision sensor and lane keep assist are available as cost options.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If you shop on price, there’s really only one other rabid hot hatch that rivals the RS 3 - the Mercedes-AMG A45.
The AMG is due for an update soon that will see its power jump slightly above the Audi, but for now the RS 3 reigns supreme as the fastest five-door small hatch around.
Prefer a bit more dynamic drama in your five-door hot hatch? The BMW M135i takes its power to the rear wheels exclusively, making it a rare bird in the performance hatch scene. It’ll also save you a fair wedge of cash too, being priced at $62,900.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Cars like the RS 3 make a huge amount of sense to enthusiastic drivers prepared to pay the price premium. Compact and easy to park, blessed with huge grip and gifted with enough power and torque to shame more expensive V8s, the appeal is tremendous.
If we had to criticise the RS 3 for something, it’d be the relative plainness of its interior. That said, it’s not like the A45, its chief competitor, doesn’t suffer from the same ailment.
If you enjoy blatting up mountain passes on your days off, yet need something that’s easy to drive, easy to park and still has space for you and three (maybe four) of your mates, the RS 3 deserves your attention - and your money.
(Still trying to get the grin off my face.)