Remarkably comfortable and easy to live with, the RS3 sedan has few direct competitors.
– Lime Rock, Connecticut
After bombing around a race track in the Audi TT RS, will the RS3 sedan feel tame and boring in comparison? Yes, it has the same powertrain, brakes, and suspension as the TT, but the A3-based RS model is saddled with an extra 287 pounds and two more doors. And it’s a sedan, after all.
Then again, the TT RS is the closest competitor the new RS3 has today. More affordable small performance cars have much less power and tend to be boy-racer hatchbacks – Focus RS, Civic Type R, for instance. Yet you’ll have to pay a lot more to find another car with as much power and the same type of performance stats as the RS3. It’s also a big step up from the existing Audi S3: 108 extra horsepower, $12,000 more expensive to start. So, yes, my mind keeps drifting back to that saucy TT RS as the closest rival to – and slightly sportier version of – this sedan.
The turbocharged inline-five engine pulls hard through the gears with a nice vocal snarl.
Yet as I hurry around Lime Rock Park, there’s no doubt the RS3 is just as much fun as its coupe sibling. The turbocharged inline-five engine pulls hard through the gears with a nice vocal snarl. Sixty miles per hour arrives in 3.9 seconds, three-tenths slower than the TT RS but still fantastic for a car like this. I can put that power down early in turns, too, as the Quattro all-wheel-drive system diverts power to the appropriate tires.
Diving into turns is huge fun, thanks to the quick ramp-up in steering response off-center, as well as the poised suspension that keeps the car hunkered down to the pavement. The RS3 sets a fast pace around this track, even as I scramble to learn its many twists and turns after only a few laps. Sure, I sit a little higher up than in the TT RS, and there’s some extra mass to haul around, but the RS3 is no slouch.
Not surprising, given the hardware on tap. The 2.5-liter inline-five engine is turbocharged to the tune of 400 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission sends power to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and upgraded front brakes measure a whopping 14.6 inches and have eight-piston calipers. The standard rolling 19-inch rolling stock wears generously sized 235/35R19 summer tires all round.
The car is still huge fun, of course, when you dial everything up to Dynamic mode and start to link together tight turns, but it can also be extremely civilized.
The Audi RS3 stands out visually, too, thanks to a new front fascia with a “quattro” logo below the lower grille, and a pair of oval-shaped exhausts protruding from under the rear bumper. Compared to the standard car, the RS3 is widened by 20 millimeters (0.8 inch) in front, to fit the new wheels and stronger, wider front wheel hubs. Add to that standard LED taillights, a trunk spoiler, and new wheel designs, and it has a fair bit more visual punch than a regular S3.
Where the RS3 stands out in a bigger sense is on the public roads near the track. In part because it’s riding on 19-inch wheels instead of the optional 20s on the TT RS test cars I’d driven earlier (20s are not offered on the RS3), the sedan is compliant over rough roads. With the adaptive suspension set to its comfort mode, generous damping soaks up impacts without trouble.
The car is still huge fun, of course, when you dial everything up to Dynamic mode and start to link together tight turns, but it can also be extremely civilized. To that end, the cabin is quiet, with engine noise only really intruding as I lay into the throttle. That noise, by the way, is all natural from the intake and exhaust; there’s no artificial sound trickery in this car.
Take it anywhere, from a race track to the suburbs, and you’ll have a great time behind the wheel.
For all the fun on offer, the RS3 is still a practical car, with a reasonably roomy back seat, a generously sized trunk, and of course, all-wheel drive as standard for driving in inclement weather. Yet after spending time in the TT RS, the sense of occasion is notably subdued inside this car’s cabin. The RS3 lacks the TT’s fancy R8-inspired steering wheel or console-mounted exhaust button, for starters. Power seats are unavailable (though power lumbar is standard) at any price, whereas they’re standard on the TT. Nor is the wonderful Virtual Cockpit full-color instrument cluster included unless you go for an option package.
Then again, the RS3 is an entire $10,000 less expensive to start than the TT RS, at $54,900 before any options. Audi expects pretty much every buyer will pay for the $1,600 Dynamic package that includes 19-inch wheels with summer tires, red-painted brake calipers, and a sports exhaust. Most will probably also want the $3,200 Technology package that includes Virtual Cockpit, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, and the MMI navigation system. As on the TT, the RS3 can be had with a Dynamic Plus package ($4,800), which raises the top-speed limiter from 155 to 174 mph, installs carbon-ceramic front brakes, swaps the adaptive suspension for a fixed RS-specific one, adds a carbon-fiber engine cover, and upgrades to a direct tire-pressure monitoring system (which can measure exact temperature and pressure). All told, it’s easy for RS3 prices to cross $70,000, especially given that you’ll also pay extra for things like adaptive cruise control and even rear side airbags.
With the existence of hot hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf R, Honda Civic Type R, and Ford Focus RS, why won’t the RS3 come in that configuration? Well, Audi already sells the A3 and S3 as sedans here, making it cheaper to bring the RS3 also as a sedan. Moreover, product planner Anthony Garbis says it would be difficult to convince buyers to spend nearly $60,000 on a five-door car: “Americans do not like paying a lot for hatchbacks,” he concedes. Volumes for the RS3 have not been specified but should be fairly low: The S3 sold fewer than 5,000 units here last year.
The RS3 also squares up against the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 and BMW M2 in terms of pricing and power. The Audi is far less frenetic than the CLA, but perhaps ultimately less involving (no manual is offered, after all) than the BMW. It may, however, be the most well-rounded choice, able to do fast and friendly all in one package.
That breadth of capability is where the RS3 shines. Driven normally, this car can be almost as pleasant and as sedate as any other Audi A3, yet it still packs all the walloping punch you expect from something with an RS badge on the trunk. Take it anywhere, from a race track to the suburbs, and you’ll have a great time behind the wheel.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com