Audi Sport, the division tasked with taking standard luxury cars and turning them into mind-melting performance cars, may not have the same storied history of hot-shops like Mercedes-AMG or BMW M, but that hasn’t stopped the brand from expanding its range at a rapid rate.
The latest addition is the 2017 Audi RS 3 sedan. While the RS 3 itself is nothing new, this is the first time it’s been available with a boot having previously only been available as a hyperactive hatch.
Superfast small sedans aren’t exactly a common sight - in fact only Mercedes-Benz offers a true rival, but in the quest for new buyers (whilst filling every conceivable niche) Audi has thrown its hat into the ring.
Vehicle Style: High performance prestige small sedan
Price: $84,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 294kW/480Nm 2.5-litre 5cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.4-8.5 l/100km (depending on specification)
As the flagship of the Audi A3 range, the RS 3 sedan sits proudly as the most expensive member of Audi’s small car family with a $84,900 plus on-road costs entry ticket.
But to compare it to the earlier RS 3 hatch would be inappropriate. There’s a new lighter and more powerful engine under the bonnet making the RS 3 sedan something of a cut-price, more practical TT RS - a car that Audi has branded a ‘compact supercar’.
To get to know the RS 3 sedan a little better Audi invited us to test it as a street car over some fabulous Tasmanian roads before letting it loose at Baskerville raceway to cement its credentials as a potential weekend track star.
- Standard Equipment: Nappa leather sports seats with diamond quilting, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with shift paddles, multi-function trip computer, aluminium and titanium grey interior highlights, LED head and tail lights, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour multimedia display, WiFi hotspot and google services, Apple and Android-compatible smartphone connectivity, CD/DVD player, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, 10GB memory, Aux-in and SD card readers, 10-speaker audio
High quality fittings are almost a given from Audi and a slightly less formal (but still sensibly Germanic) interior set the A3 range apart from Audi’s larger cars. In the case of the RS 3 special touches include snug front sports seats, trimmed in Nappa leather or the no-cost option of less aggressive front seats with electric adjustment.
Audi’s latest party-trick, the versatile Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display can prioritise a big centre tacho for occasions when you’d like to finely monitor engine RPM to negotiate manual shifts via the standard steering wheel paddles.
Of course, owing to its smaller stature the RS 3 isn’t going to win any awards for spaciousness. That’s not to say it’s lacking for space - the front seats are a perfectly amiable place to sit, and the rear will generally handle a pair of adults, albeit snugly.
A 7.0-inch infotainment system with Audi’s easy to use MMI touch and rotary dial is easy to navigate, and the standard 10-speaker audio sounds good - but of course the optional 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen system sounds even better.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol, 294kW @5850-7000rpm, 480Nm @1700-5850rpm
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multilink independent rear
- Brakes: 370mm perforated and vented front discs 310mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Speed-dependant electromechanical power steering
Audi’s iconic in-line five-cylinder engine, in its latest interpretation, produces a serious 294kW of power and 480Nm of torque - big enough figures on their own, but all the more serious in something as compact as the RS 3 sedan.
While the performance alone is one thing - try 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds - it’s the way Audi filters the noise of the engine that really hits home. You can sush things via the bimodal sports exhaust if you need, but with the pipes open the menacing growl and sinister upshift thumps should please more than pester.
Despite a history more closely aligned to neat, tidy and sensible passengers cars Audi has resisted any temptation to try and refine this one - the RS 3 is a proper fun-machine.
There’s no real weak point in the engine’s delivery, but keep it above 2500rpm for best results as from there to the 7000rpm redline the engine delivers blistering, lag-free acceleration.
In situations that don’t require quite the same level of all-out performance, the 2.5-litre engine oozes peak-torque from as low as 1700rpm all the way to 5850rpm making it every bit as effortless in normal commuting situations.
More than just a masterful engine though, the RS 3 also balances its performance via satisfyingly levels of cornering grip without sacrificing composure over fussy, snaky tarmac.
Through winding passes the RS 3 manages to resist obvious body roll, and thanks to its new, lighter engine the front end tracks more truly than the previous RS 3 hatch, giving the car a near-neutral balance through all but the tightest of hairpins.
While Audi’s more focussed, more expensive TT RS might still hold the benchmark for its blend of accessible performance and agile handling, the larger RS 3 is only degrees behind.
Over some of the poorest examples of Tasmanian road maintenance the RS 3 keeps a tight reign over body movements - yet it was only the most vicious of potholes that could unsettle its composure.
So good is the RS 3’s standard ride package that the idea of upgrading to Audi’s adaptive magnetic ride dampers seems almost unnecessary.
But public roads are only part of the RS 3 story. Despite underpinnings that can trace their way back to the humble Volkswagen Golf the RS 3 betrays little of those origins around Baskerville raceway.
Where fear is the only limiting factor, the RS 3 barely breaks a sweat handling the tightly-wound circuit as a well-sorted, cohesive sporty car package should. The feeling of speed and dynamism only enhanced by the roaring war-cry emitted from the RS 3’s belching, snorting exhaust.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
As far as ‘balance’ in modern cars, the RS 3 balances brilliantly in almost every conceivable area: A cabin that sporty yet easy to use, performance that’s blistering yet refinement that feels right for the executive class, and handling that’s stable but able to be shaken into a whole barrel of laughs.
Rather than just adhering to convention and dropping a hi-po turbo four under the bonnet, Audi Sport’s persistence with the iconic five-cylinder format yields a truly unique car - nothing sounds quite like this one. And with the small hyper-sedan market barely touched by other makers, the RS 3’s point of difference becomes all the more enticing.