DRIVEN: AUDI RS3 SPORTBACK
Surprisingly engaging hot A3 makes a play for 'posh Impreza' alternative
It's the RS3's rough edges that make it such an appealing prospect. Sure, you'll lose it in a car park full of S Line equipped A3 TDIs, especially with the standard stealth 19s. Better those than the naff, 'I've had a heavy night' red-rimmed alternatives though.
No bad thing there of course. And it's a sense that goes further too, the ghost of the much loved RS4 apparently very much preserved - somewhat unexpectedly - in this RS3.
It's an even greater surprise given how uninspiring the car that donated the engine and much else - the TT RS - is. 340hp from just 2.5 litres of classic long-stroke, five-cylinder turbocharged engine is, of course, very traditional Audi. As is the burly power output and torque-rich delivery.
But where the TT seems stodgy, inert and curiously unexciting for one so rapid the RS3 is bursting with character and soul. A chunter in the diffs manoeuvring around a gravel car park is an unexpected indicator of how tightly wound this chassis is, a test period in the very depths of a cold, occasionally snowy winter admittedly playing perfectly to the strengths of a compact, powerful four-wheel drive hatch.
Unlike the last one we drove this one didn't have winter tyres on it, making it all but useless on compacted snow. You just spin four wheels rather than one or two. But on those curving, wet sliproads demanding assertive acceleration to muscle into tightly packed, fast-moving traffic the RS3 demonstrates the relevance of the Quattro drivetrain.
Fast, not furious
The RS3 simply opens more opportunities to delve into its huge power band, a rich, thick seam of thrust underscored with a shamelessly evocative five-cylinder soundtrack. More so with the Sport button engaged to force open up the otherwise automatic flap in the exhaust.
Well, it worked for Subaru so why not Audi. Indeed, the Subaru comparisons are more relevant than the 1 M ones, the RS3 really the posh German alternative for Impreza and Evo owners looking to maintain the same driving model in a less attention seeking package.
S Tronic only means you can get creative with left-footed trail braking and other tomfoolery in an effort to counteract the default nose-heavy stance but you still have to ride it out before you can get on the power with any commitment. We're talking percentages here and on that default slimy B-road the RS3 feels compact, alert and eager.
The German Impreza
And it's full of pleasing little details too. It's little things - the red cam cover on the engine, the massively over-engineered and machined aluminium bells on the front discs, the discreetly widened track and gaping front intakes that inject a bit of charisma and geek friendly, feel-good detailing. Discreet but enough to get fanboys offering thumbs up as you pass. Not usual stuff in an Audi.
Golf GTI Edition 35. Boring numbers to be obsessing about perhaps but enough to mean you could slip an RS3 past bean counters, business or domestic, who'd see an Impreza or Evo coming a mile off.
It's that stealth ability that really appeals with the RS3, that and the sense that the performance attributes it possesses are both accessible and relevant in everyday driving situations. And you therefore get to enjoy them more.
It's still a little inert compared with the class leaders. But it's got charms of its own and that enough is something of a relief given the disappointments of the TT RS and RS5.
All of which suggests taking a break from the relentless Vorsprung Durch Technik stuff and seeking a bit of inspiration in highlights from the back catalogue might not be a bad thing from time to time.
AUDI RS3 SPORTBACK
Engine: 2,480cc 5-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto (S Tronic), four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@5,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@1,600rpm
0-62mph: 4.6 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG: 31mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £38,705 (£43,560 as tested)