If electric vehicles are the future of the auto industry (and they are), combustion power is not going silently into that good night. While automakers continue to introduce cars that bridge the gap between past and future, a few brands are steadfastly keeping one foot planted in the world of gas performance.
Audi is one such brand, with the 2022 Audi RS3 – winner of Motor1.com's Star Award for Best Performance Vehicle – championing the outgoing ICE era even as the broader brand introduces electrified performers. The RS3, as we covered back in November during our awards testing, works because it's a thrilling performer with immense depth of character. The RS3 doesn't just tolerate overdriving, but revels in it. It sounds fantastic, looks like a treat, and still functions in the real world. Audi may have set a stop-date for combustion engine sales, but cars like the RS3 and its turbocharged 2.5-liter are one hell of a swan song.
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|2022 Audi RS3
|Turbocharged 2.5-liter I5
|401 Horsepower / 369 Pound-Feet
|$58,900 + $1,095 Destination
Gallery: 2022 Audi RS3: Review
- Exterior Color: Kemora Gray
- Interior Color: Black
- Wheel Size: 19 Inches
The RS3 wears all the hallmarks of Audi's high-performance range: a menacing face with a mask of black that melds with the honeycomb grille, swollen wheel arches hiding 19-inch wheels on low-profile tires, and a pair of oval exhausts at either side of the reprofiled rear fascia. The design is purposeful and, when married to my test car's Kemora Gray paint, serious. The RS3's color palette, though, is not all business, with Kyalami Green, Turbo Blue, and Python Yellow producing a more playful aesthetic for this very playful car.
“Business or pleasure” is a question consumers will need to ask of the cabin, too. Black dominates, be it in plastic, carbon-fiber, or leather form, but splashes of color are available via the RS design package, which adds Micromatta Green or Express Red contrast stitching to match the exterior. The additional color is tasteful rather than excessive, with bits of Alcantara on the seat shoulders the most obvious addition. Beyond the extra color, sporty seats, and flat-bottom steering wheel, though, the cabin’s layout is identical to the A3 and S3. A splash of carbon fiber on the dash does stand out, though.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Audi RS 3
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
- Cargo Capacity: Spec Sheet Format
Despite the sporty pretenses, the RS3 gives up little in the name of comfort. The ride quality, even with 19-inch wheels and 30-series tires, is predictable and poised, with enough steering isolation to keep the RS3 manageable on rough roads. Unlike its chief rival, the Mercedes-AMG CLA45, the RS3 has a great handle on noise from the tires, and unless a sportier drive mode is active, the turbocharged 2.5-liter keeps its yap shut around town.
The front sport seats are excellent, with wide bolsters and ample support. A thigh extension provides plenty of support for longer-legged drivers, too. Legroom in the second row is tight, although the RS3's generous roofline makes ingress and egress easier than in the CLA.
- Center Display: 10.1-inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 12.3 Inches
- Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes/Yes
Audi's infotainment system and digital instrument cluster are easy to navigate and feature-rich, with the latter providing plenty of information and a number of different layouts based on the situation. Want a big map showing your route or Formula 1-style shift lights? The cluster has you covered. Nothing here really reinvents the wheel, of course. Both screens run familiar operating systems, so anyone that's driven an Audi in the past four or five years can get up to speed quickly. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as befits a premium product.
- Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter I5
- Output: 401 Horsepower / 369 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch
The RS3's turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder feels like an anachronism, from its lack of electric assistance to the odd cylinder count. But it's such a lovable thing, with abundant power throughout the rev range and an intoxicating off-beat soundtrack. Paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that provides rapid upshifts and prompt downshifts, the RS3's powertrain makes straight-line sprints an absolute delight. In fact, there's plenty of evidence to suggest the claimed 3.6-second sprint to 60 is conservative.
The RS3 is agile in a way that few all-wheel-drive Audis are, owing to the RS Torque Splitter. You can read more about the trick rear diff in my first drive from 2021, but the gist is that the RS3 has a dose of super-controllable rear-drive character – it makes this car a hoot on the track and was a big reason for Audi's win in our Best Performance Car competition. Beyond that, the adaptive dampers contribute to sharp, predictable reflexes on twisting roads, while available carbon-ceramic discs and Pirelli Trofeo R tires turn the RS3 from a quick road car to an immensely capable track vehicle. I tested both these items during my first drive of the RS3 in 2021, although they weren’t fitted here.
The one failing in the RS3 is its steering, though. It's quick and well weighted, but it feels artificial and numb, too. It's a small chink in this car's impressive performance armor.
- Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands-On)
- NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
- IIHS Rating: Not Rated
As the flagship of the A3 range, the RS3 is packed to the gills with standard active safety gear. Full-speed adaptive cruise control with lane centering, automatic high beams, and lane-departure warning are all standard and help reduce driver strain on highway journeys. As with most other Audi products, the driver aids operate with precision and predictability. The only optional safety items are traffic sign recognition and blind-spot monitoring.
- City: 20 MPG
- Highway: 29 MPG
- Combined: 23 MPG
|Mercedes-AMG CLA 45
- Base Price: $58,900 + $1,095 Destination
- Trim Base Price: $59,995
- As-Tested Price: $65,440
At $59,995, including a $1,095 destination charge, the 2022 Audi RS3 is the most expensive car in its class. But, and it's a big “but,” the five-pot Audi lives in a class of two, with only the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 serving as a direct challenger. The AMG undercuts the RS3 by about $3,000, but the RS3 makes a case for itself with options, of which there aren't many.
My tester retailed for $65,440, and the max price is around $75,000. A loaded out CLA 45 pushes past $78,000. Admittedly, the CLA 45 is a more customizable vehicle, with multiple different seat and steering wheel options, while also allowing owners to ignore equipment they don't want. But the RS3 doesn't demand such decisions. I want the good seats and fancy steering wheel in my sports sedan and the Audi provides those from the start.
RS3 Competitor Reviews:
2022 Audi RS3