The turbocharged inline-five returns, but the sedan-only American market still doesn’t get the hatchback.
In the 1980s, Audi gave its angular Coupe a turbocharged inline-five engine, all-wheel drive, and boxy fender flares, turning it into the legendary Quattro that became the brand’s performance standard bearer. And nearly 40 years later, that same basic formula will turn the company’s entry-level sedan into the fire-breathing 2022 Audi RS3.
Like the original Quattro and the previous-generation RS3, there’s a turbocharged five-cylinder under the hood. The new variant also touts torque-vectoring Quattro all-wheel drive, and it will be available in some markets as both a five-door hatch (Audi says “Sportback”) and a four-door sedan. That said, only the sedan will come to the American market, though Audi stopped short of denying that it was considering bringing the hatchback over, perhaps owing to the cultlike desirability of the RS6 Avant station wagon. Whatever the case, the entire RS3 family promises to be more dynamic than ever.
Both RS3 variants get aggressive new designs. The grille and its gloss black surround dominates the front end, with air intakes in the bumper corners providing additional cooling capacity – all trimmed in an RS3-specific hexagonal mesh. An LED headlight signature with a checkered flag motif does a little choreography when approaching or leaving the vehicle, spelling out RS3 in the matrix. The front fenders get slit-like vents just ahead of the door shutline, and box-style flares over the wheels add a little visual link to the original Audi Quattro.
More aggressive side skirts, a vented rear bumper with the same hexagonal mesh as the front bumper, and a subtle roof spoiler on the hatch or decklid spoiler on the sedan round out the other aerodynamic changes. The kinked-LED taillights have their own lock and unlock animation, and Audi RS–signature dual oval exhaust outlets appear on either side of a gloss black rear diffuser. Finally, the RS3 gets an available blacked-out roof panel for some added evil.
Those who want a bit more subtlety in their sporty sedan can opt for an Alu-Optic trim package that accents the front splitter, rear diffuser, bumpers, and side skirts with matte silver trim. Meanwhile, an available carbon fiber trim package for the same exterior bits does the opposite, drawing attention to the RS3’s racy exterior.
The 2022 Audi RS3’s Lamborghini-like interior gets a standard 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster and 10.1-inch infotainment display running MIB3, making the compact much easier to interact with. Sporty upgrades include an available head-up display, standard carbon fiber trim, and “RS Runway” or bar graph modes for the tachometer (making it easier to execute properly timed shifts without looking directly at the gauge cluster). RS-signature honeycomb seat quilting is available with red, black, or green contrast stitching, and an interior design pack adds even more red or green accents to the seat corners, dash, and door panels.
Show And Go
Audi claims best-in-class acceleration from the 2022 RS3, thanks in part to its 2.5-liter inline-five that’s turbocharged to within an inch of its life. The global model will produce 394 horsepower (294 kilowatts) and 369 pound-feet (500 newton-meters), but in a strange turn of events, the US model will actually make more power than its siblings on the Continent. With 401 hp on tap, the American RS3 is up only 7 ponies over the Euro version (and the old RS3), but it’s still a nice surprise. Those 369 torques are also up 15 over the outgoing compact sport sedan.
The RS3 sounds good, too. We aren’t surprised, given how exuberantly the old model sang, but it’s still nice hearing a blatty five-cylinder get flogged on a track – particularly when accompanied by a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. That transmission sends power to all four wheels via Quattro all-wheel drive with a new-for-’22 RS Torque Splitter, which replaces the rear differential to divert up to 100 percent of torque to either wheel as needed, counteracting understeer by overdriving the outside wheel in corners.
That’s not the only trick up this front-drive platform’s sleeve. There’s a unique drive mode, RS Torque Rear, that sends as much power as possible to the rear wheels, enabling lurid drifts (on a closed course, obviously). Meanwhile, the likewise-new RS Performance mode balances power distribution more judiciously, and Audi claims it nearly erases over- and understeer for truly quick motoring.
The 2022 Audi RS3 gets a standard sport suspension with shock absorbers and valving specific to the vehicle, improving response and preventing performance degradation. However, an adaptive suspension is available, with active dampers that continuously adjust based on road conditions, driver demands, and drive mode settings. In either case, the RS3 has more camber than before, an engineering choice that improves grip in corners (but may sacrifice some tire wear).
Other alterations compared to the standard A3 and outgoing RS3 are stiffer bearings, subframes, and stabilizers for the front double-wishbone suspension. Stiffer rear wheel carriers help absorb some of the lateral forces enacted by the RS Torque Splitter, and the variable-ratio steering varies its response based on current conditions. Finally, the RS3 is 1 inch (25 millimeters) lower to the ground compared to the A3, keeping the center of gravity low to improve transitional responses.
Further improving control is a set of standard steel brakes with six-piston front calipers. However, Audi will happily fit a set of ceramic front brakes and steel rear brakes that are sized larger than their standard counterparts, improving heat resistance and, in the case of the front rotors, reducing rotational mass.
The sum total of all this technology is a sprint to 100 kilometers an hour (62 miles per hour) of just 3.8 seconds, which Audi says is best in class – Mercedes-AMG claims 4.1 seconds over the same distance for the CLA 45 and 4.0 seconds for the CLA 45 S. Audi also boasts that an RS3 will hit 155 mph (250 km/h) in standard form or 174 mph (280 km/h) with an optional performance package. And if you opt for those ceramic front brakes, the RS3 can hit a staggering 180 mph (290 km/h), making it the fastest vehicle in its class.
Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!
The 2022 Audi RS3 will go on sale in Europe next month, with a starting price of 60,000 Euros for the Sportback and 62,000 Euros for the sedan – $70,832 and $73,193, converted to American dough. Of course, we’ll only get the sedan, and we’re also not subject to value-added tax, so we presume the new RS3 four-door will start at about $61,000 or so before options. It should be a bit more expensive than the 2020 RS3, which started at $57,195 before it was retired, and the new sedan will obviously sit at the top of the A3 family, which also includes the $44,195 Audi S3.