- Available for £26,000
- 2.5-litre inline-five petrol turbo, all-wheel drive
- Won't be beaten by much on public roads
- May be too 'digital' for some
- Saloon version only available on dearer facelift model
- By no means fault-free though used values remain high
What was the most significant Audi ever? Depends on your viewpoint to some extent, but if you regard a massive switch in direction as significant, then the RS2 Avant of 1994 has got to be right up there on the list. In one warbling swoop, it added thundering performance to Audi's already established tick-list of efficiency, safety and quality.
The RS2's output of 311hp courtesy of a 2.2-litre turbo five seems incredible even now, but not as incredible as the in-the-moment sensation of being hurled up the road at a neck-bending rate in what was, to all intents and purposes, an everyday estate car. That got buyers' attention. The bait having been set, there was no shortage of takers when the RS treatment was extended across most of the Audi range, eventually filtering down to the '8P' A3 in 2011 in the form of the five-door RS3 Sportback. Like the RS2, the RS3 was powered by an inline turbo five, albeit with a new displacement of nearly 2.5 litres. That meant 335hp and, hooked up with Audi's legendary quattro all-wheel drive, a brilliant combination of speed and practicality.
At the back end of 2012, the third generation, MQB-platformed '8V' A3 was launched. Although there was only a one-year wait until 2013 when the 'soft' 296hp/280lb ft S3 appeared, RS devotees had to wait until April 2015 for the hardman 8V RS3. As with the 8P, it initially came only in five-door Sportback guise. By this point, the 2.5-litre straight-five engine was generating 362hp and 343lb ft. For a while (until Mercedes-Benz gave its A45 AMG a spiteful 21hp hike anyway) the 8V RS3 was the world's most powerful production hatchback. With a seven-speed dual clutch S tronic gearbox and Audi's latest Haldex system, it was good for a 0-62 time of 4.3 seconds in just about any conditions.
More importantly, the MQB platform made it a lot more driveable than the motorised ironing board to which the first PQ35-chassised 8P RS3 was likened. The 8V was also 55kg lighter, more rigid and more spacious than the 8P. It just felt a lot more 'interested' as a driving proposition. Most thought that they looked better than the 8P too. Those 2015-17 8V RS3s were nominally priced at fifty quid under forty thousand, but many buyers fell for the blandishments of the Audi salesperson and added an average of eight grand's worth of extras.
A facelifted RS3 was previewed at the 2016 Paris show, released in 2017 and put on sale towards the end of that year, first as a £44,000 saloon (in recognition of the interest in that format from China and the US) and then as a Sportback. We call it a 'facelift', but it was a good deal more than that. The engine was 26kg lighter than before thanks to a switch to aluminium for the block and oil pump, and the use of magnesium for the sump. The combination of a new peak power figure of 395hp (across a slightly higher rev band), a new torque high of 354lb ft from 1,700rpm, and a slicker dual-clutch automatic gearbox resulted in a new 0-62mph time of 4.1sec, or even something beginning with a 3 if all the stars were in alignment when you were out launching your little heart out. If, having grown tired of launching, you wanted to see how fast it would go in general, for a fee of around £1,600, an Audi dealer would de-limit your FL RS3 from 155mph to 174mph.
Six years after the arrival of the first 8Vs, you'll be looking at parting with at least £26k for a high-performance car that will very likely have had a pretty tough life. Are they worth the risk at that sort of money? Ah, well, that's the big question, isn't it? Let's have a gander.
SPECIFICATION | AUDI RS3 (2015-20)
Engine: 2,480cc inline five turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 362@5,550-6,800rpm (395@5,850-7,000rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 343@1,625-5,550rpm (354@1,700-5,850rpm)
0-62mph (secs): 4.3 (4.1)
Top speed (mph): 155
Weight (kg): 1,595 (1,585)
MPG (official combined): 34.0
CO2 (g/km): 189
Wheels (in): 8 x 19
On sale: 2015 - 2020
Price new: £40,795
Price now: from £26,000
(Figures for 2017-on facelift car in brackets)
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
By the time it appeared in the 8V, Audi's inline turbo five engine had been a company staple for nearly forty years, beginning with the Audi 100 of 1976 and famously echoing through the world's forests and deserts in the form of the turbocharged Ur-quattro rally cars from the early 1980s.
There was a 15-year moratorium on the five from the mid-1990s, but it made a remarkable comeback in 2009 in the 340hp TT RS, kicking off a straight seven-year run of 'Engine of the Year' awards from 2010. The Euro 6-compliant five-pot in the 8V RS3 had a recuperation system and start-stop tech to keep it relevant and legal. Its 27hp/11lb ft advantage over the previous RS3 was attributable to higher boost levels courtesy of a new intercooler and turbocharger.
Some owners had problems with the engines misfiring and the EML flashing on heavy throttle loads. Changing the spark plugs would usually fix that but if you had the work done by your local Audi dealer, it wouldn't be as simple or as cheap as when your dad changed the plugs on his Austin Seven. For the Audi, plugs were £18 a go and you'd be paying a minimum one-hour Audi labour charge of at least £150.
Three years ago, one of the big Audi-owner sites ran a poll to get a feeling for the average age of RS3 owners. The sample size topped 160, so not exhaustive by any means, but decent for a snap poll on a very specific (and not cheap) car. The poll showed that nearly half of the owners were between 30 and 39 years old, and that if you lowered the age limit to 20, the figure rose to more than six in 10. Without wishing to generalise, this youthful demographic might go some way towards explaining the interest in tuning amongst RS3 owners. Well, that and the odd fact that the RS3 didn't always feel like a 4.3-second 0-62 car. With linear power and no big torque hit to widen your eyes, it was just so efficient at accelerating that some thrill element was missing, tempting many owners to inject extra drama.
The factory RS exhaust wasn't cheap at £1,495 as part of the Dynamic Package, but it did add some burl to the audio experience. Some of those sports exhausts added more noise than they were supposed to as a result of rattling flaps. If applying a screwdriver to the flap pivot points stopped the rattling, Audi would replace the rear exhaust section. Here's a video showing that test. Pitting and corrosion could affect the black tips of facelift cars' exhausts and chrome pre-facelift pipes, but Audi wasn't so accommodating if you went to them with that problem.
Beyond Audi Sport bits and the usual remapping, popular aftermarket mods included new inlet and exhaust hardware, high-pressure fuel pumps, new intercoolers from brands such as Forge, and deleting the resonator, exhaust valve and secondary cat. A stage-two tune would take the car to around 450hp. For more in-depth old-school tuning - and spending - you could fit big-lobe Schrick camshafts to flow more fuel and get a meaty idle into the bargain. If you fancied living life at 8,000rpm, you'd be wanting new valve springs and retainers too.
Cutting out or jerkiness during low-speed driving (sometimes followed by a failure to start for a few minutes) or cold starting issues all pointed to a known problem with the fuel lift pump module. This would be confirmed by a 'low fuel pressure' error code on scanning. A recall was issued to fix this by removing the rear seat and fitting a new module. A light metallic tapping when gunning the 8V was sometimes sorted by replacing one of the oxygen sensors, but it could also end up being a faulty cat.
The 2017 facelift model had dual injection as standard, including port injection to ward off the carbon build-up that was a downside of direct injection alone. The FL was even easier to tune than the previous 8V RS3 thanks to its pleasantly accessible MED17 ECU and the ease with which you could add upgraded pumps and injectors. Some road testers noted that the wet-clutch DQ500 transmission wasn't perfect, though. The FL got new coding to allow it to shift quicker and the quattro's clutch was put on the back axle to improve weight distribution, but not everyone was a fan of the gearbox programming in urban use. It could be reluctant to move gears aside at low rpm to let the next one have a go, and could also be confused by three-cog downshifts from higher gears.
In manual mode, the box would hold your chosen gear rather than automatically changing up when the limiter was reached, which was good, but the action at the paddle could feel a trifle lethargic, prompting owners to activate it a little before they wanted the change to happen. The onus was on you to adapt to the car's foibles. It was all a bit peculiar, because that same trans seemed to work really well in other Audi products, albeit not ones with the idiosyncratic five-cylinder engine. Some owners experienced difficulties with the gear selector unit, over and above any uncertainties they may have had about its resemblance to a manual shift.
The 395hp makes a lot of cares go away, though. The feeling that you were sitting behind something special started at 2,000rpm. All doubts were removed at 4,000rpm. Hard to imagine what that motor must be like in a 700kg Donkervoort D8 GTO RS. Conditions permitting, up to 100 per cent of the available torque could be routed to the rear wheels. Conditions not permitting, you still had unearthly levels of traction.
The exploitability of any RS3's performance usually translated into less than spectacular fuel consumption. The official combined figure was 34mpg, but appropriate driving would drop that to the mid or even low twenties. Motorway cruising? 30mpg. Overall, you should expect 25-27mpg.
The 10,000-mile/one year factory intervals for oil, DSG and Haldex fluid replacement are regarded as much too wide by careful owners who will halve those mileages and times at least. The first oil change service should cost between £230 and £380 at an Audi dealer depending on where you live, while the second inspection and oil change (with a new set of spark plugs) would be between £400 and £550. A Haldex lube change would be around £80, with £175-£250 covering a DSG oil and filter swap.
Of course, non-network specialists would be around 40 per cent cheaper and non-specialist local garages would do the routine service jobs for even less. If you were worried about keeping your FASH intact for the purposes of resale values as much as for the inside expertise you hoped you were getting, you might find some Audi dealers willing to price-match against specialists, though probably not to the level of £100 for an oil and filter change that we saw being offered by one ex-Audi tech near Cambridge. Supplying your own oil because you've got a cheap source apparently invalidates your warranty, though it's not clear how anyone would find out about that. Bevel box leaks have been reported but we think these were generally sorted out under warranty.
Typical annual insurance costs for an RS3 (which is in group 40 out of 50) would be around £720 for a 50-year-old driver, £900 for a 40-year old, £1,000 for a 30-year old and nearly £1,800 for a 20-year old.
For some road testers, the RS3 was not quite as engaging as they hoped it might be. On a line with 'fun' at one end and 'function' at the other, the Audi could occasionally feel like it was more towards the function end than its rivals. Steel springs were the default setup, or you could throw in just short of £1,500 for a magnetic adaptive option. The RS3's ride height was a hefty 25mm lower than that of the cooking-spec A3, but although the ride was still firm (even in Comfort mode with the adaptive system in place) it wasn't as jaw-clenchingly jittery as the old 8P could be. With torque vectoring by braking and the Haldex operating in the correct manner, the result was mega grip and iron body control.
Driving one, however, you could sometimes feel like you were in the discreet embrace of an alternative Golf R rather than the full hairy Hagrid bodygrasp of a Focus RS. That was odd really, as the componentry for the 8V's MacPherson strut front/multilink rear (a carryover from the 8P) used a lighter mix of high-strength steel and aluminium, which you would have expected to improve handling. To some extent, though, the perception of a lack of involvement was false. You could be travelling at an insane rate but the car would simply handle everything with detached aplomb.
19in wheels were standard, and red brake calipers were a £325 extra. Carbon ceramic brake discs were on the option list and were definitely worth having if you were intending to make full use of the 8V's enhanced performance at trackdays and the like - and you had £4,700 lying about doing nothing. They were 5kg lighter per corner and didn't fade after a handful of laps in the way that the steels did. Brake squeal was an issue with the steel discs too. Fitting Ferodo DS Performance pads and Reyland Motorsport discs was a recommended fix. Alcon discs also tend to be preferred to the OE ones.
Steering was perhaps the 8V RS3's weakest point. It was better than the 8P's for sure, and it did feel more jinkable, but even in the revamped 2017 model that had less weight over the front axle than before the steering was not as communicative as say the Golf R's. Some early cars had problems with incorrect rear top mounts knocking and/or causing excessive road noise. There was no official recall for that but there was a TPI (technical product info) note about it, so dealers would change them under warranty if you requested it.
From a firm like Blackcircles, a replacement Pirelli P Zero R02 in 235/35 x 19 will be £160 plus fitting, though it's common for owners to switch to Michelin Pilot Super Sports at around £10 less. You could fit 255/30s up front if you wanted to go wider. Pireli Sottozeroes were well liked for winter use.
The inside of an 8V RS3 wouldn't knock you out on first acquaintance. Some thought it was basically just an S3 with extra Alcantara. Maybe Audi had to be a bit careful not to make the RS3 too snazzy to stop folk running off with the idea that they might as well take the RS3 in preference to the more expensive (and more profitable) RS4 or RS6.
However, if you looked more carefully, you would see lots of purposeful but beautifully understated RS3 details, like the boost gauge inside the tachometer - an ideal juxtaposition for judging launches. The excellent MMI infotainment system (DAB, Bluetooth etc) ran on a slightly old-looking retractable 7in screen. The RS-embossed heated seats were supportive but £795 was well spent on Super Sports seats with diamond stitching. For rather more money and 14 fewer kilograms, you could opt for a pair of carbon bucket seats.
Red accenting for the mats, belts and air vents was available if you felt the need to tone up your RS's visuals. An Alcantara-rich RS3 style pack was an option, as were 4G connectivity and a £750 Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker audio system that was an appreciable step up in terms of sound quality. The volume control for the infotainment was in a peculiar spot to the right of the gear selector, making it vulnerable to accidental knee operation and unexpected ear-busting in right-hand-drive cars.
This may come as a surprise to those who have a certain fixed view on Audi build quality, but the RS3 was by no means immune to cabin rattles, usually in the areas of the driver's door card, the glovebox or the rear-seat bench catch.
The RS3 was visually differentiated from the boggo A3 by its normal RS accoutrements, i.e. gloss black grille, roof spoiler, rear diffuser, model-exclusive bumpers, big arches to accommodate the 19in wheels and tyres and big twin tailpipes. Matrix LED headlights were an £895 extra but then you got the throbbing indicators at both ends. If you only wanted to look like a throbber from the rear, the standard LED lights had conventionally winking front indicators.
Oddly there wasn't a lot of difference in the cargo space between the saloon and Sportback, but it was harder to shove your stuff into the saloon's boot because of the shape and size of its opening. Creaking from the sunroof when it's cracked open is not unknown.
Would you take an RS3 over something like a Golf R, M3, M140i, M240i Coupe or Focus RS? That might depend on whether you prefer sushi to fish and chips. Both taste great, but at the right moment and in the right environment the more expensive choice might not always be the best one. Some might find the RS3 to be a smidge too 'digital' compared with something like, say, an E90 M3.
We're not saying the Audi is soulless - far from it, and the 1-2-4-5-3 firing order of an inline five never gets old, but you might find yourself spending a fair bit of cash on liberating the noise to a level vaguely approaching that of Mikkola's quattro rally weapon. There are compensations, however. Although the RS3 was a long way behind a Cayman S on pure driving pleasure, it was as quick cross country as the Porsche, and in Sportback guise at any rate, a lot more practical.
Then again, if you were tipping more towards practicality than performance, a Golf R was almost £10k cheaper than an RS3 when both were new. You'd have to spend a few bob on the VW to get it up to the same level as the Audi on some spec levels (five doors, 19in wheels, heated leather seats, DSG box, etc), but you could also say that you would have to spend on the Audi too to get things that maybe should have been included for free, like the sports seats.
Anyway, how much will a PFL (pre-facelift) 2015-on RS3 cost you? Quite a bit. We've seen cars for under £26,500, but they've all had more than 100,000 miles on them. For £28k, you'll get something with 70-75k miles on it, but for a mid-mile (60k plus) car with the popular options of mag ride, sports exhaust and B&O audio, you'll be over the £30k mark. Really low mileage PFLs like this 12,000-mile Sportback will rush you £38,500, even though they're from 2016.
The saloon option wasn't available on PFL cars, so you'll be into the higher FL price zone for one of them. This 35,000 mile, four-door in the always fetching hue of Nardo Grey was going for £38,480. The most affordable 362hp PFL RS3 on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this 52,000-mile 2016 example in red at £29,495. The cheapest 394hp car was the aforementioned saloon, followed closely by this lower-mileage Sportback at £38,500.
There's a whole bunch of cars for sale between £40k and £42k, and another slew at between £45k and £50k. The six dearest RS3s on PH were all over £50k, and all saloons. Read into that what you will. If you want to trump your mates without all the faff and expense of aftermarket tuning, why not go straight to one that's already had lots of money spent on it? This privately owned stage-two 2016 38,000-miler in Nardo has 447hp, 522lb ft and silver leather, all for £34,000.
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