So what’s the big deal about RS 3 Sportback?
Well, 4.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint for a start. In hot hatch terms, that’s 0.3 quicker than the Mercedes-AMG A45 generally considered to be the current torch-bearer. And equally swifter to the ton than the old RS 3.
Old RS 3? Where? When?
Yes. Not in Australia. Previous generation.
The old RS 3 – the first generation version – didn’t make it locally due to "ADR issues", suspected to be due to that car having carbonfibre front guards.
Fine. But what does this new RS 3 bring to the table?
At 270kW and 465Nm, it’s the most powerful series production hot hatch the Aussie peso can buy. That’s only five kilowatts over the A45 but, as they say, a win is a win.
We’ve just driven the Euro-spec version and, crucially, Aussie buyers will get the whole gamut of standard and optional features Europe gets – unlike the S3, which is watered down, engine tune wise, for local consumption. Carbon-ceramic brakes and carbon-shelled fixed-back racing seats, to name two, will be available as an option.
It’ll also be not simply the most affordable RS model in the seven-strong RS range when it goes on sale late this year, it’ll be the most affordable. In fact, the most affordable RS ever.
How much then?
Audi Australia hasn’t confirmed an actual figure yet, but it’s being touted to be a couple of grand cheaper than the $81,900 RS Q3.
And a little better, too, we hope.
Well, yes it is. Like the RS Q3 and old-gen TT RS, it runs a 2.5-litre five-banger. Pretty much the same engine internally bar semantics such as piston rings, though there are some fiddles to the inlet and exhaust tracts. But the RS Q3 only makes 228kW and 400Nm…
Oh, and ticking the ceramic brake and race seat options will likely push the price to six figures.
So more hard-core, then? More honey-I-shrunk-the-RS 4 Avant?
Appearance wise, it’s a little tame to be honest. It’s aggressive nose- and tail-on, though style in-between hardly screams purpose. And the cabin treatment has Audi’s usual prestige richness though isn’t a big departure from, well, an S3.
It’s more understated, sonically and visually, than an A45. And the RS 4 and RS 6 Avant war wagons, it must be said. Not that it’s lacking potency in spec. There’s plenty of firepower under the skin.
What sort of hardware is that ‘mature’ look hiding then?
Massive eight-pot 365mm front brakes, for a start.
Shoehorning the five cylinder in transversely into the MQB platform was, engineers admit, tricky. It’s got a really wide (1559mm) front track, bespoke front axle architecture and pumped guards under which everything fits snuggly.
The quattro system isn’t the same one as the S3. It’s actually closer in spec to the new (MQB-underpinned) TT S and, unlike S3, can fire 100 of torque to rear axle (from a static 50:50 split), which is where the electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated multi-clutch Haldex system is located. So the rear axle is essentially a TT S lift.
100-percent rear torque? So it drifts then?
That’s what its maker is claiming. However…
We had a hard crack around Italy’s Vallelunga race circuit and found it virtually impossible to hang the tail out under power. It seems that the RS 3 will fire all torque to the rear boots but only under certain conditions. And those conditions require the front wheels to break traction first.
On surfaces of compromised grip – ice, snow, gravel, wet concrete, etc – we’re told it’ll tailslide under power like a champion. But on a dry high-friction circuit, presumably where most owners will uncork the RS 3’s inner demon, it’s simply fast, grippy and neutral.
It’s playful enough, but you have to lift off to make that rump boogie. In most corners it demands understeer minimization, keeping the nose tidy and patience on the throttle. Even with those fatter front tyres…
Fatter front what?
Oh yeah, on the Euro options list is a package that fits 255mm wide Pirellis up front and leave 235mm hoops – fitted all round as standard - up the back. It must be the only car on sale with wider fronts than rears.
And the RS 3 certainly points with confidence, and the steering is clear, crisp and precise. But it does feel like the front footprint is a compensation of sorts. After all, of its 1540kg mass, about 59 percent of it is up front.
So what’s the verdict? Good, bad or indifferent?
Good. At least for my tastes. Just because it’s likely to be fastest hatch Aussie money will soon be able to buy, it doesn’t have to be the most hard-core, brutal experience of the current hatch crop.
I imagine it’ll nicer to live with day to day than an A45 – or indeed an RS 6 Avant – which is, frankly, how most owners will use it. It’s not the type of car to tuck into the garage for sunny weekend punts.
Though to really extract its dynamic talent, you might actually be praying for rain…
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged 5cyl, DOHC, 20V
Power: 270kW @ 5550-6800rpm
Torque: 465Nm @ 1625-5550rpm
0-100km/h: 4.3sec 0-100km/h (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited) (280km/h optional)
Pluses: Five-cylinder cred, it’s quick, surefooted, liveable, nicely appointed
Minuses: Not as edgy as some rivals, pricey, drifting talent too conditional