This is the facelifted Audi RS3. No joke. It’s obviously a light update, but one that comes with the significant addition of one of those onerous, back pressure-boosting particulate filters required to meet the current Euro 6b requirements. We say significant because their fitment in performance engines tends to mean reduced power outputs; see the Golf R and even S models from Audi’s own range for examples. Yet when it comes to the 2019 RS3, Audi Sport’s engineers claim to have clawed back every last horsepower and pound foot of torque from its characterful five-pot regardless of WLTP.
The firm quotes 400hp and 354lb ft of torque for the refreshed car, as before, as well as an unchanged 4.1 second 0-62mph time. But take a closer look at the specs sheet and you’ll see that peak twist now arrives from 1,950rpm – which is 250rpm later than it did before. And the eagle-eyed may also notice that the Sportback has gained 20kg, at least some of which can be accounted for by the extra hardware clamped to its exhaust downpipe, bringing the total kerb weight up to 1,530kg. Small alterations, but ones with potentially noticeable results.
Audi is happy to admit that the five-pot motor under the RS3’s snout is the car’s USP among similarly-rapid four-cylinder rivals, but in order to appease buyers further, the updated car has been given a few aesthetic tweaks and extra standard kit. There are new 19-inch wheels, standard LED headlights and Nappa leather inside, as well as wireless phone charging. There’s also a new Sport Edition pack (which costs four grand more but, significantly, only equates to £50 extra a month once residuals are factored into PCPs) that adds popular UK options such as black trim, ‘Blade’ alloys and a panoramic sunroof, as well as the more vocal RS sports exhaust and slimmer-fitting sports seats.
That so many details of the RS3’s cabin feel somewhat dated speaks volumes for the pace of change in the automotive industry these days. The screen atop the dash looks tiny, while the climate control knobs that sit beneath it – as refreshingly simple as they are to use – are clearly from a previous generation of Audi architecture, as are the buttons on the transmission tunnel. The 12.3-inch instrument cluster is the dash’s saving grace as its operating system is bang up to date, meaning it’s among the very best examples available. But now most VW Group cars get their own version, it’s no longer a segment USP.
The five-cylinder under the bonnet is, however – and from the very instant it fires up. We drove a Sportback with the optional RS exhaust, which adds bass to the warble, and which remains as evocative as ever no matter the filter upstream. It transitions from deep bottom end to digital crescendo that’s not a world away the R8’s battle cry. The motor pulls so enthusiastically all the way past 7,000rpm that it’s easy to send it banging into a hard limiter if you don’t glance at the rev counter. There’s just no drop-off in power to cue you into fatigue; it genuinely feels like the unit could spin beyond 8,000rpm with its momentum. It remains a wonderful example of German engineering.
Do you notice the ever-so-slightly slimmer peak torque window when you’re on it? On a few occasions during our Scottish Highlands test route, where the seven-speed DSG ‘box was in a high gear at 1,700rpm or so, perhaps it does feel a little hesitant - but that’s always been the case with Audi’s inline five, it’s a motor that needs working. If the altered torque curve has slightly emphasised this aspect, then it’s only on a negligible scale - and is only likely to needle you if you’re in the position of demanding grunt unexpectedly and in too high a gear. As before, dropping two cogs and pinning the throttle against the bulkhead solves the issue fairly rapidly.
We’d be lying if we said the extra 20kg added to the RS3’s underside was noticeable on greasy Scottish tarmac, with the passive dampers doing a relatively decent job of soaking up trouble while keeping the body tensely in check. Previous experience suggests that Audi’s optional adaptive dampers extend the ride’s parameters sufficiently enough to justify their selection, but the standard setup is not among the harshest you’ll find among very fast hatchbacks.
It tends to be on consecutive bends that the RS3’s best and worst handling traits come to the fore. On the one hand, it’s remarkably composed and predictable, pushing into gentle understeer for a tenth before biting and changing direction with such reserves of grip that even a suicidally heavy right foot won’t unstick it. Its clutch-controlled Quattro all-wheel drive system is extremely effective in building confidence; but it doesn’t concern itself enough with building excitement at the same time. So on the other hand, you revel in the ferocity of the five-pot - and even marvel at the ease at which its fury is being applied to the ground - but that’s about it for entertainment.
Business as usual, then. Which, from Audi’s point of view, ought to mean that WLTP-satisfying RS3 ought to continue selling strongly. Apparently its buyers tend to acquire their cars with with low deposits and high monthly PCP payments, and will likely chop it in for another car in 12 months - which rather suits the wham-bam nature of the model. Anyone hoping for a deeper, more meaningful connection with their hot hatch will search in vain at the RS3’s steering wheel. But for anyone after the best combination of engine and packaging, there’s still no need to look further.
SPECIFICATIONS – AUDI RS3SPORTBACK
Engine: 2,480cc, 5-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, Quattro all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@5,850 - 7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 354@1,950-5,850rpm
Top speed: 155mph (or 174mph derestricted)
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