2017 Audi RS3 first drive review
Some high-performance machines scream their intent without moving a muscle. Holden Special Vehicles’ products are a good example; no mistaking them for anything prosaic.
The Germans tend to be more subtle and less obvious, under promising and over delivering.
Exhibit A: the new RS3 Sedan from Audi Sport. Until now the only RS3 available has been a hatch body, aka Sportback. The sedan will curry favour amongst a slightly different buyers, typically males 30-45 and a high proportion of first-time RS owners.
The RS for Renn (or race) Sport badging hints that beneath the classy, restrained body shape lurks a beast that might just kick some serious butt. It looks dashing and purposeful and cool without ever drifting into that shady territory suggesting it could be an automotive version of a steroided and inked-up gym junkie.
The $84,900 retail price (plus on road charges) is another quiet indicator that this sedan of compact size offers a heck of a lot more than four doors, an Audi badge and a few non-aggressive styling cues. At more than a glance you would notice the larger air inlets, understated integrated RS bootlid wing, sill skirts and front spoiler, modestly flared wheel arches, large oval tailpipes, and that it sits 25mm lower over of serious enough low-profile rubber on 19-inch alloy rims. The track is also wider than the regular A3 on which it is based.
If you’re really not that observant, there is also an RS3 badge on the grille.
Peek inside and there is further evidence that this is no fashion-driven Gen Y runabout. The dark-flavoured interior looks very elegantly racy indeed with standard, beautifully trimmed diamond-stitched RS Sport Nappa leather seats, signature Audi RS flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle gear shifting, and decorative inlays in titanium grey with 3D glass look. A buyer can deselect the RS Sport seats in favour of regular sport seats in leather with electric adjustment and massage function.
All of this stuff is a mere preamble, the tiniest tease to what the RS3 Sedan (and the new, slightly cheaper sibling RS3 Sportback to be introduced late this year) is really about.
The new RS3 Sedan closely follows the uber-sporty Audi TT RS in getting the latest lightweight aluminium iteration of the lauded turbocharged 2.5-litre in-line five-cylinder – the previous steel-and-aluminium engine in the RS3 was a 26 kg heavier unit.
Already acclaimed as the world’s most powerful five-cylinder production engine, it’s an serious weapon which produces 294 kW (the equivalent of around 400 horsepower in the old language) and 480Nm of torque (up 15Nm on the “iron” engine). A high-pressure 1.35 bar (19.6psi) turbocharger contributes to the 24kW increase in grunt.
More power does mean the new engine is a little thirstier – 8.4 litres/100km. But the combination of direct and manifold injection and sustained exhaust valve opening ensures swifter faster fuel ignition and improved throttle response, especially at higher engine speeds. Plasma coated cylinders reduce friction and the crank is hollowed to rip out a kilo of weight. The lighter weight over the front wheels brings dynamic advantages as well as helping the power-to-weight ratio, translating to a livelier urge.
Hooked up to the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic paddle-shifting gearbox is the latest all-paw grab-and-go quattro system, which has a fast-acting electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch with variable drive distribution between the axles. This system favours sending a greater torque split to the rear more of the time – anything from 50 per cent to even 100 per cent on occasions.
Audi’s familiar multi-mode Driver Select system can also be used to dial-in preferable car characteristics which enliven engine/gearbox response, steering feel, quattro, an evocatively snarly exhaust sound and adaptive cruise control.
The RS3 Sedan gets a well-sorted standard steel-sprung suspension but is also available with an optional $5900 RS performance package which includes magnetic ride suspension (plus a choice of four different wheel/tyre packs, Bang & Olufsen sound and carbon inlays for the cockpit).
Red eight-piston brake calipers grab 370mm ventilated rotors at the front of the new RS3 with 310mm discs at the rear. Carbon ceramic front brakes are an option for the serious drivers with a lazy $9500.
Standard advanced driver assistance safety systems include side assist and blind sport warning, active lane assist, and rear cross traffic alert. It’s no surprise that the compact Audi has a five-star safety score.
Included in the price are LED headlights, Audi virtual cockpit with 12.3-inch digital display and specific RS functions, MMI Navigation plus with MMI Touch and 10GB hard drive, 180w 10-speaker sound system, Audi Connect with in-car wi-fi hotspot, for surfing and streaming, Android and iOS smartphone interface, voice control, digital radio, Audi parking system plus with rear view camera and a tyre pressure monitoring system. Heated front seats are standard too.
A couple of practical notes: the boot – shallow but quite long – handles 315 litres of cargo, or 770 litres with the rear seats folded down. Servicing is every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever arrives first.
One interesting option pack is fatter 255/35 Pirellis on the front, to complement 235/35s rears. If there is ever a wheel/tyre size difference, the bigger ones usually go on the back axle.
Really, though, the RS3 Sedan is about dazzling performance with home comforts and convenience features.
The in-line five cylinder (using launch control) flings the RS3 Sedan from standstill to 100 km/h in just 4.1 secs – 0.2 sec faster than the previous RS3 Sportback.
Whilst mere straight-line acceleration figures don’t close the book on rivalry, the RS3 is certainly faster than its most obvious competitors from the Fatherland, the swoopy Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 sedan and the purists’ rear-wheel-drive BMW M2 Coupe, both of which are some thousands of dollars pricier.
It’s also an exceptionally swift and poised point-to-point machine.
The muscled-up little Audi sedan, the first three-box A3 model to wear the RS badge, will frighten quite a bunch of exotic models costing twice as much.
Make your choice. Or if an Audi hot hatch is your weakness, wait until quarter four for the RS3 Sportback and save a few grand.
While the Sportback version of the A3 has always been more popular than the sedan, to the tune of 60-40, Audi won’t be stunned an amazed should the RS3 four door find greater favour with those who want their speed to be presented in a more elegant package. Maybe 50-50.
2017 Audi RS3 Sedan Pricing and specifications
Price: $84,900 plus on-road costs
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 294kW at 5850-7000rpm
Torque: 480Nm at 1700rpm-5850rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use: 8.4L/100km combined or 8.5L/100km with wider front tyre/wheels