Giant killers

The new RS 3 models arrive in Australia, punching well above their weight – again.

Sporting new design, cutting-edge tech and even greater performance, the new RS 3 Sportback and Sedan cements its claim on the top sport in the compact performance ranks, and then some.

James McRory

Mark Bramley

5 August, 2022

That sweet aural signature has long brought a smile to the face to a legion of performance enthusiasts

There’s some debate about whether it’s a bark or a snarl, but those who know their performance engines will immediately recognise the distinctive sound of Audi’s award-winning five-cylinder 2.5 TFSI engine – the heart and soul of the RS 3 models.

That sweet aural signature has long brought a smile to the face to a legion of performance enthusiasts and makes passersby look around to see where it’s coming from. The result of its unique cylinder firing pattern (1-2-4-5-3), it is a sound straight out of motorsport which is where it was refined after making its first appearance in the second-generation Audi 100 – 46 years ago! Providing the soundtrack and the propulsion for the brand’s legendary rally program of the 1980s and on into its dominance of the US touring car scene, Audi's five-cylinder, inline turbocharged engine has impressed, won races, awards and the hearts of performance enthusiasts all over the world for decades – and the latest version powering the new RS 3 doesn’t disappoint.

The current iteration of this powerplant in the new RS 3 models boasts more power than its predecessor, with 294kW of power and torque up 20Nm on the previous model to peak torque of 500Nm – available between 2250rpm and 5600rpm. 

This creates ‘push you back in the seat’ acceleration and a sub four-second 0 to 100km/h sprint, or 3.8 seconds to be precise – shaving three tenths of a second off the previous model’s sprint time, which is significant when you’re getting into this performance territory. This also puts the RS 3 in some rarified company as well as squarely at the top of the ‘compact performance’ category – with a blindingly fast time around the Nürburgring Nordschleife to put it beyond doubt.

The 2.5 TFSI is mated to a seven-speed S tronic transmission and of course power goes down to the road through the latest version of Audi’s quattro system – another game-changer from the rally era – for a car that not only impresses with blistering acceleration, but with handling to match.

The suspension has also been revised on the new RS 3 models, with adaptive damper control replacing the magnetic ride system that was used on the previous model. Using sensors to measure body movement, the pistons within the dampers control the flow of the hydraulic fluid to vary the damping characteristics according to the road surface and the way the car is being driven. The driver is able to tailor the ride characteristics with the push of a button using the Audi drive select system which offers settings for comfort and efficiency as well as dedicated performance and track settings.

It's this combination that saw the RS 3 take out the compact performance record around the Nürburgring Nordschleife

While the last model RS 3 was no slouch in the handling department, this new model adds a new dimension

While the last model RS 3 was no slouch in the handling department, this new model adds a new dimension with addition of the RS torque splitter. This replaces the rear diff on the previous model with a multiple disc clutch package, allowing for variable torque distribution to the rear wheels. The result of this is more agile handling and a more planted feel at speed. 

During high-speed cornering for example, torque is directed to the outside rear wheel under the highest load – so, turn in to a left hander and it’s the right outside wheel that gets the lion’s share of the torque. This results in maximum stability and the ability to get as much power down to the road as possible on exit.

The torque splitter also allows drifting when the RS Toque Rear model is selected. This system can push up to 100 percent of the power to just one of the rear wheels, allowing you to step the rear out and control it on the throttle – with some practice. There is no way to accidentally activate this mode and it is designed for use on closed roads.

Indeed the new RS 3 Sportback and Sedan, which arrive Down Under priced at $91,391* and $93,891* respectively, are very much aimed at spending time on the track, although given the level and quality of finish, appointment and technology included in these ‘compact’ luxury models, they are a far cry from track cars that forgo comfort and appointment for maximum performance.

Over and above their ‘standard’ performance inclusions, you can opt for the RS dynamic package plus which adds the RS ceramic brake system (and choice of red, blue or grey callipers) and increases the top speed from 250km/h to 290km/h. 

But the RS 3 is just as happy on a winding mountain road or a leisurely cruise in the country where the razor-sharp handling and almost instant acceleration make for an engaging and rewarding drive whenever the roads and a conditions allow. Out on the freeways, the RS 3 lopes along effortlessly kilometre after kilometre, and while nothing makes city traffic ‘fun’, it’s a supremely comfortable and luxurious cabin to spend time in when you inevitably find yourself wheel-to-wheel with commuter traffic.

Featuring carbon-fibre trim, the interior is slick and elegant, its design obviously centred around the driver in terms of the display positioning and controls, but nevertheless providing a luxurious environment for all occupants.

Fine Nappa leather adorns the RS sport seats (which are electric with four-way lumbar support and memory up front) with the RS embossing and the distinctive honeycomb stitching which is available with Express red or Micrommata green contrasting stitching if the black isn’t to your liking. 

While nothing makes city traffic ‘fun’, it’s a supremely comfortable and luxurious cabin to spend time in when you are caught in the gridlock

This is a classic RS interior that leaves nothing out in terms of its luxury finish

An RS design package plus is also available, with the seat shoulders and the accents around the air vents also finished in matching red or green, as well as special floor mats with contrast stitching and RS embroidery, Alcantara steering wheel and seatbelts with matching coloured edges. 

The rear seats split in the now familiar 40:20:40 split for maximum flexibility for storage bulky items and the mood of the cabin can be tailored to suit your own with the colour ambient lighting.

Of course the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit is a standard inclusion and displays your performance-oriented information from g-force meter to lap times and acceleration times, while an RS-specific shift indicator flashes the rpm display red for optimal change times when using the manual shift mode through the wheel-mounted paddles. A 10.1-inch touch displays car-oriented information like coolant, engine and transmission oil temperatures, as well as the g-forces and the tyre pressures, while Apple CarPlay is standard equipment along with a head-up display for the first time in an A3 model.

Beautifully detailed and executed, there is no denying the sports nature of the interior, but that said, it’s certainly no stripped back track car. This is a classic RS interior that leaves nothing out in terms of its luxury finish, and yet is perfectly set-up for time spent on the track.

Likewise the exterior styling which has effectively taken the A3 Sportback and Sedans and put them through a rigorous training regimen. This has resulted in significantly more muscular bodies, with huge guards flared out over 19-inch cast alloy rims in a five-spoke Y-style design and a 33mm wider track at the front and an additional 10mm increase at the rear axle.

The width is accentuated by the honeycomb front grille which sits lower and flatter and is flanked by huge air intakes on either side – which are not for show. Above these sit the Matrix LED headlights with their distinctive daytime running lights that mimic a checkered flag design as well as spelling out RS 3 as part of a new welcome light show.

Behind the front wheels, flared air vents add to the overall muscled appearance, along with a new RS-specific rear bumper with built-in diffuser and the familiar RS exhaust system with its big twin oval tailpipes. 

You can elect to have touches like the wing mirror housings, mirror caps, rocker panel inserts and the tailgate and roof edge spoilers, finished in carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic to further sharpen the overall look, and the eight colour options range from the subtle Kemora grey to the very distinctive Kyalami green (pictured here on the RS 3 Sportback).

More muscular, angular and aggressive in appearance, the RS 3 is the ultimate interpretation of the A3 range

Although it may technically be the ‘baby’ of the RS family, once again the RS 3 is big league in every department

Although it may technically be the ‘baby’ of the RS family, once again the RS 3 is big league in every department. It’s a leader in the compact performance segment, although the term compact is almost leading when you consider the interior space and practical nature of both cars.

Most owners won’t initially be attracted to the RS 3 because of their practicality or because they have plenty of space for luggage and golf clubs or cases of wine in the boot. Initially, it’s the pure performance on tap that’s the biggest drawcard – with appreciation for the other things coming later on. And that’s the beauty of these giant-killing track performers – the fact that they deliver blistering performance on the track or exhilarating drives away from the cities without compromising luxury and cutting-edge equipment is a compelling proposition.

Very much a case of having the whole cake and eating it too.

(*Manufacturer List Pricing [MLP] – excludes dealer delivery and government statutory charges)