Audi RS 3 first drive
Behind the wheel of Audi Sport’s all-new giant killer.
Officially launched to the international press in Greece last week, the new RS 3 has big shoes to fill – but fill them it does, in fine style.
26 October, 2021
This car is configured to grip and hold the tarmac like no RS 3 before it has
The ‘baby’ of the Audi Sport RS range – the RS 3 – has never been accused of being shy or retiring. With its high-performance five-cylinder powerplant, quattro all-wheel drive and compact, muscular form, it has developed quite the following in Australia and the new models – Sportback and Sedan –promise to more than live up to its giant-killing reputation.
The most powerful iteration of the 2.5-litre, five-cylinder powerplant and a host of technological advancement make these the most potent versions of the compact, performance models yet, and while customers Down Under will have to wait a little longer to sample the new car, the first reports are in after the international press got their first taste of the new RS 3 models in Greece last week.
The third-generation Audi RS 3 Sportback is out to ruffle some feathers – that much is written throughout its mechanical makeup and specification, right down the wheels and tyres.
This car is configured to grip and hold the tarmac like no RS 3 before it has, with wider alloy wheels up front than any of its predecessors as well as quite a lot more negative wheel camber on the front axle. The car’s front track has been broadened by some 33mm too, which, on a car of this size and type, is no small amount.
But this is also the first Audi RS car to be offered with ‘semi-slick’, road-legal track day tyres, although the Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tyres will not be offered as an option in all markets*. The Audi RS 3's five-cylinder, 2.5-litre inline turbocharged engine makes 294kW at peak power, as well as 500Nm of torque (which is just a shade more than its forebear). Those power outputs coming from five warbling cylinders is more than enough to grab your attention and then wrestle it into a headlock.
Visually, the car comes with plenty of fresh aggression. It’s got Audi’s ‘blistered’ front wheel arch look, menacing radiator grille styling that could clear a highway lane quicker that you could reach for the headlight flash stalk, and some cool design details to go with it all. When you unlock the car, its grid-patterned LED running lights illuminate in sequential order with the letters ‘R’ and ‘S’, and then the number ‘3’.
On the inside, practicality varies depending on whether you’ve gone for the five-door Sportback body style or the four-door Sedan, but there's space for four adults either way. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Plus digital dials are standard and have their RS-specific special display themes. You can add a dose of interior colour to your car if you go for the RS Design pack which brings with it appealing, exterior-paintwork-matched accents for the car’s seats, air vents and steering wheel trim.
The Audi RS 3's five-cylinder, 2.5-litre inline turbocharged engine makes 294kW at peak power, as well as 500Nm of torque
And the car’s ride is sophisticated – never brittle or unyielding, and becoming surprisingly gentle if you dial up ‘comfort’ driving mode
Some things about the RS 3’s driving experience feel quite familiar, while others are new and interesting. That five-pot engine gargles its appealing mechanical two-part harmony when you use the sportier driving modes (among them the usual Dynamic setting, but also new RS Performance and RS Individual programs).
And, needless to say, it makes for a pretty savage turn of pace when it’s really on song – after all, this the model that recently set a class record round the Nürburgring. There’s just a little bit of latency about the RS 3’s engine response at lower revs, suggestive of a turbocharger that’s big enough to drag a lot of power from a relatively modest engine capacity, but that needs just split second to spool up after a dig into the accelerator travel.
When the boost comes, it does so initially in an enigmatic wave of boost and with a buzz of revs, and what is supplied feels all the more potent for the punctuation in the style of delivery. But mostly because it is potent. The car takes off from about 3500rpm with a delicious blend of fury and turbine smoothness, and ultimately feels every bit as quick as Audi’s performance claims of 0 to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds.
All-new dampers deliver usefully taut body control; steering is discreetly tactile when the car’s set up just so, and mixes on-centre moderation with real grip and tenacity quite cleverly. And the car’s ride is sophisticated – never brittle or unyielding, and becoming surprisingly gentle if you equip the car’s magnetic suspension and dial up ‘comfort’ driving mode. There’s plenty of ready balance, absorbing driver reward, and even a little throttle-adjustability to be had from the car’s handling if you go looking for it.
The latter quality comes courtesy of the RS 3 Sportback’s headline technical feature – its RS Torque Splitter active rear differential, which can vector big helpings of drive asymmetrically between the rear wheels either to help pitch the car into a corner, to stabilise it on the way out – or even to help you drift (on track, of course). You need to use ‘RS Torque Rear’ driving mode to make the rear axle really work hardest, and when you do it rotates the chassis better in longer, arcing bends than through tighter, slower ones. But it does work – as a few laps of a drifting piste specially set up by Audi at the car’s international press launch in Greece clearly demonstrated. This is a four-wheel drive RS Sportback that’s very ready to powerslide its way into your affections, if given the right stage on which to do so.
As well as being as fast and audibly charismatic as ever, then, the new RS 3 Sportback feels newly agile, fluently balanced at a fast stride, and absorbing with its handling in a way that anyone could appreciate, but that existing owners probably won’t see coming. They’ll certainly hear it, of course; and they may just about see which way the car went the first time they encounter it on the road, provided they’re paying attention. Unless they’re watching it fly by on derestricted German autobahn, that is, at anything close to it’s frankly incredible top speed – in which case, all bets are well and truly off.
That’s because this, dear reader, is an Audi A3 five-door capable of a maximum speed of 180mph – or as near as damn to 300km/h in the metric. Apologies – I probably should have mentioned that earlier.
*Pricing and specification for the RS 3 Sportback and RS 3 Sedan will be confirmed ahead of their arrival in Australia in the first half of 2022.
As well as being as fast and audibly charismatic as ever, then, the new RS 3 Sportback feels newly agile, fluently balanced at a fast stride, and absorbing with its handling
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