- Prodigious speed
- Cross-country ability
- Build quality
- Exhaust sound
- Purchase price
- Dull handling
If you simply must have the fastest compact five-door available, then the latest Audi RS3 Sportback is your new hot hatch hero.
Thing is, if you’re spending the thick end of £40,000 – or closer to £50,000 with the options Audi believes many customers will splash out on – you’ll want your road-going missile to do more than simply go well in a straight line. It has to entertain too.
While the latest RS3 has become the latest undisputed speed king of fast five-door hatchbacks, there’s a wealth of talented alternatives that can go almost as quickly and regale their drivers with other abilities too. Not only that, but BMW’s M135i and Mercedes-Benz’s A45 AMG are cheaper than the RS3. And so is its chief rival from within the parent company’s empire, Volkswagen’s Golf R. This is one expensive hatchback.
Delivering the sucker punch to its rivals is the latest – and most powerful – iteration of Audi’s famed five-cylinder engine. Turbocharged to increase performance, the 2.5-litre petrol unit produces 362bhp. That’s an increase of 26bhp over the outgoing model, complemented by 450Nm of torque - a rise of 15Nm from last time. In case the bellow from the standard tailpipes isn’t evocative enough for you, a far more raucous RS Sports Exhaust is optionally available. It’s probably best to advise your neighbours before you take delivery, though.
Like others in this segment, the RS3 is electronically governed to 155mph – though 174mph is possible from a derestriction at extra-cost – but more impressive is the rapidity at which the Audi bullets towards the horizon. This car will cover 0-62mph in just 4.3 seconds.
Transmitting the engine’s urgency to the road is a seven-speed S-tronic automatic gearbox and Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive system. Both have been honed to be more responsive, theoretically delivering more fun behind the wheel.
While official efficiency figures of 34.9mpg and 189g/km of CO2 best the previous-generation RS3’s 31mpg and 212g/km statistics, they’re not class-leading. In fact, they hint that this version is going to be pricy to run as well buy. Audi claims this will be offset by superior resale figures, but it means you’ll play a longer game ownership-wise.
Audi’s first RS3 wasn’t renowned for its enthralling handling so the German marque has gone some way to redressing this with the latest generation, on paper at least.
That quattro system is designed in such a way to minimise pushing wide into corners with understeer. Wider tyres at the front than the back play their part here too, and while the rear wheels can have up to 100 percent of the power sent to them to keep cornering lines in check, seldom does this actually happen.
Torque vectoring – sending proportionally more power to the ‘outside’ wheels of a corner – also helps tighten the RS3’s trajectory. Audi’s Drive Select function, switching between different driving modes, impacts the steering, throttle response, gear change points and, where fitted, the adaptive suspension’s compliance.
Subtle and luxurious
Visual subtlety remains a fast Audi hallmark, and the RS3 Sportback remains largely true to that mantra. There’s a honeycomb-pattern grille, gaping chasms cut into the outer edges of the front bumper to feed in additional cool air - bisected by a styling ‘blade’ - a rear diffuser with enlarged oval exhaust pipes emerging from either side, and a unique design of 19-inch alloy wheels. The keener-eyed will also spot standard LED headlights and 25mm lower suspension.
Inside, the RS3 remains the epitome of classiness and solidity, with the same basic dash design as lesser A3 Sportbacks. It does brandish a smattering of detail changes to reaffirm the sports model’s specialness, not least the excellent Nappa leather-wrapped sports seats. These can be replaced - for a fee - with lighter, hip-hugging race-look chairs up front.
Audi has no plans to launch a three-door RS3 but has hinted a four-door saloon may eventually go on sale. Whether this comes to the UK remains to be seen.
Read on for Parkers full Audi RS3 Sportback review to find out how satisfying this hyper hatchback is to drive.