RE: Audi RS3: Review

Wednesday 15th April 2015

Audi RS3: Review

367hp and 174mph are absurd in an A3, but can the new RS impress beyond the spec sheet?



Five minutes on the autostrada is all it takes. A Mini moves out to overtake and seems to be taking an awfully long time. A quick glance across reveals this particular Italian has no intentions of overtaking; he wants to see an Audi RS3 get a shift on. Be rude not to really. When (literally) in Rome and all that...

Red lip round the wheels is no more - hurrah!
Red lip round the wheels is no more - hurrah!
Just in case it was ever in any doubt, the RS3 is a very fast car. Hopefully the Mini driver will attest to that. Peak torque of 343lb ft is practically omnipresent, available from 1,625rpm right through to 5,550rpm. It means exceptionally rapid progress can be made with little consideration for gear or engine speed. Whether that appeals or not will depend on whether you like new-school turbo applications but there's no doubting its mighty effectiveness. So third gear, just to prove the point most emphatically. Even with longer ratios than really necessary the RS3 chomps through the gear and begins to power through fourth just as rapidly - that 174mph top speed (through an option box tick) feels eminently achievable. The smirk on the Mini driver's face when he comes past suggests the speed is just as impressive from the outside.

But RS Audis have always been fast, haven't they? RS2, RS4, RS6, original RS3 - straight line performance has never, ever been a problem. Where they have often struggled is with involving the driver, some elements of dynamic subtlety and, well, fun really.

'Steering without understeering'
Going purely from specification the new car promises a lot: lighter and faster than before, with the much-lauded MQB platform underneath it as well as the latest Haldex four-wheel drive with a repositioned clutch for faster response. The press bumf proudly claims 'steering without understeering' and 'controlled drifts with dynamically optimised torque distribution'. Intriguing. Whatever the case, the RS3 really needs to be on top form; while the original had the uberhatch market to itself on launch, the new car has a recently refreshed BMW M135i, the Mercedes A45 AMG and of course the enemy within to contend with too. Tough competition.

Four pipes for S1, two for RS3. Huh?
Four pipes for S1, two for RS3. Huh?
Audi has built a great deal of success on positive first impressions and the RS3 is no different. Sure, parked up next to a quartet of Sport Quattros it may lack a bit of visual oomph but there's enough to distinguish it without being too over the top. The 'quattro' grille insignia is optional (phew) but the wider front track, 19-inch wheels and big twin exhausts set just the right tone. Even casual observers will clock it as more than a 1.6 TDI.

Bar some slightly offset pedals all is well inside too. But then you knew that was going to be the case, right? Sportier seats jazz up the cabin a tad, as does Alcantara on the bits of the wheel never used, but to all intents and purposes it's a regular A3 cabin - no complaints there.

R'd man
Fire up the quattro (that reference had to feature once, apologies) and on the road it's a simply tremendous powertrain. Golf R comparisons will be inevitable throughout the RS3 discussion but this is one area where the Audi easily has the VW covered. That torque curve makes overtaking so easy but it's loves to rev too - that EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder often makes peak power at 5,500rpm until just past six, leaving little incentive to chase the limiter despite a revvy nature. The five-cylinder lump makes its peak power at similar revs (5,550rpm) but remains there until 6,800rpm, just 200rpm shy of the cutout. All the while this stunning performance is accompanied by a magnificent noise; no piped in fakery here, just an onslaught of five-cylinder warble overlaid with some occasional turbo whistle. A few minutes in an RS3 is enough to make the Golf's contrived sporty sounds seem farcical.

Business as usual in here, so very good indeed
Business as usual in here, so very good indeed
Time an upshift correctly and a great 'whump!' comes from behind and you're off once more. Audi claims 'detailed solutions' for faster shifts and it has paid off; the seven-speed DSG is sharper than the six-speed Golf equivalent, more decisive both when left to its own devices and on the manual changes. Furthermore, when selecting gears on the paddles, it will neither kickdown on full throttle or change up at the limiter. Good. Why doesn't that apply in more cases?

So entertaining is the engine/gearbox combo, even when not at full attack, that it takes a little while to appreciate the RS3's other attributes. There were quite a few tunnels on the test route you see and, well... Anyway, the first surprise comes from the ride - it's really very good indeed. As standard the RS3 gets specific sports suspension 25mm lower than an A3 with passive springs and dampers plus 19-inch wheels.

Recipe for ... hang on!
Combine that specification with some fast Audis of the recent past plus Italy's famously pockmarked roads and it sounds like a recipe for disaster. But no! Sure, it's doesn't waft like a luxury saloon but there's real compliance and what feels like a decent amount of wheel travel as well. Never is it deflected by ruts and poor surfaces, the dampers simply absorbing the impact with the minimum of fuss and the RS3 continuing down the road at a ludicrous speed.

Certainly rapid on track, but not at home
Certainly rapid on track, but not at home
That the brakes go unnoticed for a while says an awful lot. Much of the grabby feel associated with VW group brakes is absent, and the middle pedal has decent response for road use. With eight-piston (!) front calipers outright performance is never in doubt either. Both brakes and suspension confound fast Audi expectations to an appreciable degree.

Of course it's not all good news. Can you guess what's coming in for criticism? Yes, it's the steering... Alright, so it's hardly like the RS3's rivals are bastions of tactile response for the keen helmsman. But to guide a car with such tenacious front-end grip with no idea of where that ends is frustrating. Granted, it's accurate and certainly doesn't ruin the experience but the steering is a disappointment given the success elsewhere. If Audi can now make one spring and damper setting work then how can three steering modes all be so unpleasant?

Having said that the RS3 remains a very enjoyable road car, quick and composed with an engine and gearbox of exceptional quality. On the track? Ah, not so much.

To the circuit
The RS3s for the Vallelunga circuit are markedly different to the road cars: carbon-ceramic front discs, sports exhaust, magnetic dampers and bucket seats. Despite all that, despite the claims of controlled drifting, of the faster responding four-wheel drive and of the heightened agility, it's just not that much fun on a circuit. Whether it actually needs to be is another question entirely but you'd have to assume Audi has confidence in its abilities, or why else launch it there?

Probably best get used to this view
Probably best get used to this view
It's far from bad, and it's certainly fast (that word again), but there's not an awful lot of enjoyment there. Consider this as a starter: each front tyre is 20mm wider than the rear (255/30 R19 v. 235/35 R19). Getting an RS3 around a track is therefore very much about managing the front axle. And to its credit the car does turn in very well given how far forward the engine is (there's a 34mm wider front track than standard too) but fail to get the front on an apex and options are limited. A lift will tuck the front a little but not significantly and there was never any impression of power being distributed rearwards to help out. That Audi set the ESP to be non-switchable in the launch cars prevented a true dynamic assessment too.

The carbon-ceramic brakes won't be available as an option until later this year but, on this experience, they're not worth waiting for. Initial bite is a clear improvement on the standard system but the pedal went soft and rather grumbly after just a few minutes on track. The performance didn't appear to be affected but it's certainly not great for confidence.

Of the other extras the sports seats are perhaps the only ones to opt for. The sports exhaust suffers from Range Rover Sport SVR syndrome, where the standard noise is so good that it doesn't require messing around with by an overwrought sports system. And given how good the standard suspension felt on the road, the magnetic dampers seem a little unnecessary. But having not compared them in the same situations it's hard to be definitive.

Well if you need a sensible five-door hatch...
Well if you need a sensible five-door hatch...
Capable if not captivating probably best describes the RS3 on track. It will surely churn out some very impressive numbers while leaving the driver largely unexcited by the experience. Will that matter to RS3 fans? Not likely. Should prospective buyers be put off by rather one-dimensional track behaviour? Absolutely not. Where the RS3 excels is where it will spend the majority of its time: on the road. There a more relaxed rhythm plays to its strengths, the traction and power making swift progress very easy while the driver can enjoy that superb engine in a fast Audi that rides well. A test on a wet and bumpy British B-road will surely show the RS3 in its best light.

Inevitably both spec and driving comparisons will be made with the Golf R in due course. Having swapped from the PH long-termer for a day with the RS3, there are a few interesting observations to finish on. The Golf's weight advantage certainly makes it feel a little keener in direction changes and not an awful lot slower. But the RS3 counters with that terrific powertrain and better brakes. As an everyday hot hatch there's a lingering suspicion the Audi could just be preferable. That pesky Golf does hold a significant price advantage though: a five-door DSG R on 19s is £33,115, nearly £7K less than the Audi. Can the considerable five-cylinder charm be enough to offset the Golf's price advantage and freakish all-round ability? We'll hope to answer that very soon.


AUDI RS3
Engine:
2,480cc 5-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 367@5,550-6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 343@1,625-5,550rpm
0-62mph: 4.3 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited, 174mph optional)
Weight: 1,595kg
MPG: 34.9 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 189g/km
Price: £39,950

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

EricE

Original Poster:

1,945 posts

65 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
So Audi didn't allow the ESP to be disabled at all. For the launch of a quick sporty hothatch, on a race track.

Isn't that all I need to know about the car?

GravelMachineGun

5,537 posts

95 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
For that price is there a better all rounder?
Seems like a beast of a car.

stevesingo

3,325 posts

158 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Another Audi for car buyers who have image and bragging as their top priorities.

I suppose the business model works for them though.

Aphex

1,648 posts

136 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
What a noise these make. Looks very nice in grey too

Nickbrapp

2,404 posts

66 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Awaits generic audi bashing.



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swimd

350 posts

57 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Forget the Golf R, I would like to know how the RS Q3 compares to the new RS3.

The admittedly very pointless SUV received good reviews in the press ("best RS car in a long time", "a sense of humor even on the track" - EVO) while the RS3 reviews are shaping up to be "meh" again.

It would be absurd if the SUV with a much higher CoG, much more weight and significantly less power would be more fun to drive than the hothatch version. But knowing that two completely different quattro GmbH design teams may have used two completely different approaches on the cars, well, stranger things have happened.

sad61t

1,078 posts

146 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Sorry, but I struggle to understand the story with the Mini driver. I could understand a Murcielago driver waiting for you to gas it and then driving past but a Mini?! Top speed 130mph, maybe 145 in S guise. Why would he attest to the Audi's prowess as he overtakes you? with a smirk (negative connotations of a smile) on his face he _really_ thought your car was all-show-no-go.

MonkeyMatt

5,811 posts

143 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Nickbrapp said:
Awaits generic audi bashing.
I was going to say 'in before the bullst Audi bashing' but I fear I'm already to late!

Spooge

150 posts

48 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Yeah, the more I think about it the more I think I'm going to go for one of these. Nicely understated and a good size for living in the city.

Just hope it would be different enough from the current S3 otherwise I might feel dissapointed.

nsm3

2,829 posts

132 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
If I was buying now, it would certainly make the list, in that Nardo Grey.

Axionknight

8,347 posts

71 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
I do love a bit of five cylinder madness, seems like a beast of an engine - time to go searching for a video of how this thing sounds! It looks far better than the previous RS3 to my eyes too.

Matt Bird

1,025 posts

141 months

PH Reportery Lad

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
sad61t said:
Sorry, but I struggle to understand the story with the Mini driver. I could understand a Murcielago driver waiting for you to gas it and then driving past but a Mini?! Top speed 130mph, maybe 145 in S guise. Why would he attest to the Audi's prowess as he overtakes you? with a smirk (negative connotations of a smile) on his face he _really_ thought your car was all-show-no-go.
Sorry, perhaps it wasn't explained properly! He went to overtake and then made a very deliberate hand gesture to encourage us to go a little faster when alongside. We obliged, slowed down and then he came past with a very silly grin on his face...

Matt Bird

1,025 posts

141 months

PH Reportery Lad

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Spooge said:
Yeah, the more I think about it the more I think I'm going to go for one of these. Nicely understated and a good size for living in the city.

Just hope it would be different enough from the current S3 otherwise I might feel dissapointed.
The engine makes sure of that, definitely!

Ali_T

3,267 posts

193 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
" It will surely churn out some very impressive numbers while leaving the driver largely unexcited by the experience. "


About sums up the problem with modern fast Audis for me. Certainly not remotely interested in this, though they will sell by the bucket load to people that want speed without interaction. I'll wait for the Focus RS and the rumoured Mountune version in particular. It seems Ford are the only hope for those of us that want an AWD hatch to actually be fun, unless Alfa really do have the much rumoured Giulietta GTA up their sleeve.

Ali_T

3,267 posts

193 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Matt Bird said:
The engine makes sure of that, definitely!
And fewer exhausts too....

rosino

1,166 posts

108 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Is it wrong to prefer a m135i with LSD?

6cyl inline turbo noise. Rear wheel drive. Real adjustability under throttle. Surely not as good looking thing but behind the wheel surely more satisfying ? How does it compare ?

Dave Hedgehog

10,010 posts

140 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
EricE said:
So Audi didn't allow the ESP to be disabled at all. For the launch of a quick sporty hothatch, on a race track.

Isn't that all I need to know about the car?
if its like the MK1 disabling the ESP disables the electronic diffs / torque vectoring, so its a pretty pointless thing to do

Dan Trent

1,815 posts

104 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
EricE said:
So Audi didn't allow the ESP to be disabled at all. For the launch of a quick sporty hothatch, on a race track.

Isn't that all I need to know about the car?
Standard practice on Audi press launches; was the same on the RS5 one I did at Ascari a while back. Though a nice man did show me a switch in the glovebox to manually turn it off! driving

Didn't do anything for the woeful steering though!

Dan

JakeT

2,156 posts

56 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
rosino said:
Is it wrong to prefer a m135i with LSD?

6cyl inline turbo noise. Rear wheel drive. Real adjustability under throttle. Surely not as good looking thing but behind the wheel surely more satisfying ? How does it compare ?
The beauty of the human mind is everyone is different. As long as you're happy that's all that matters.

I do happen to agree with you, though.

JackReacher

1,296 posts

151 months

Wednesday 15th April 2015
quotequote all
Is this just the latest car for the upturned collar polo shirt man, who wants to "beat" everything on the road with a smug grin?

You know the type, had an Impreza STI in mid 00's, then moved onto a remapped edition 30 gti, then M135i, Golf R and now this?

I'm sure it's quick and nice to own, but can't see it being satisfying to drive.