I like this car – a lot. But first, a bit of back story.
About a year ago, I had the privilege of sampling the then-new 2017 Audi R8 Spyder in Barcelona – the life of a car journalist is such hardship, I know – and during that trip the president of Audi Sport, Stephan Winkelmann, said there are more cars like the R8 Spyder on the way. Growing its high-performance arm is a top priority for the company.
Alright, so how many cars are we talking about here? Eight, according to Winkelmann, over the next 18 months dating from the fall of 2016.
Well, here we are a year later, and not only do we now have the R8 Spyder in market, but we also have the RS 5 coupe, the TT RS coupe (I’ll have more to say on that one next week) and the subject of TWPC, the RS 3 sedan. Add in a couple of RS 7s and the Audi Sport model range now stands at six with more on the way.
The RS 3 sedan comes to us by way of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB (modular transverse matrix) platform, which underpins a growing roster of cars within the VW family these days. Everything from the compact Golf hatchback, to the full-size, seven-seat Atlas SUV is based on it, not to mention the Audi A3 family and a whole whack of Seats and Skodas, brands we don’t see in North America, but with models built on MQB nevertheless.
As it is for all performance vehicles, power is key and the RS 3 comes packed with a ton of it. Audi engineers have stuffed a 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder powerplant into the engine bay of the RS 3 that cranks out 400 horsepower and 354 lb-ft. of torque, eye-popping numbers for what remains a compact car.
Putting that power to the ground has been tasked to Audi’s seven-speed S tronic (dual-clutch) automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels via the company’s quattro all-wheel drive system.
Not surprisingly, with all that power the RS 3 is a very fast car: 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h. My tester is equipped with a sport package (a $1,750 extra) that boosts that number to 280 km/h. See below for the full list of optional equipment.
Aesthetically, the RS 3 has the appearance of a gussied-up A3, and I don’t mean that in a bad way – it’s an attractive car, but it isn’t worlds apart from its sibling. Finished in Nardo grey, a solid wet cement-coloured shade that really flatters my tester’s generous helpings of blacked out trim (black optics package, $850), the RS 3 retains the A3’s angular lines and Audi family design cues such as the hexagonal grille, wedge-shaped LED headlights and a tidy back end that features progressive turn signals.
Contemporary Audi, in other words – just a lot more aggressive.
Side skirt package here, large blacked-out diffuser there, and hey, what are those peeking out from behind the front wheels? Those would be optional ceramic front brakes, complete with red calipers. Can’t get those on an A3.
Inside the cabin, the RS 3 presents a comfortable, handsomely-finished space for occupants, especially the driver. Leather-trimmed seats with red stitching, a flat-bottomed leather and alcantara steering wheel, along with optional carbon fibre trim inserts give the car a distinct performance feel.
As for the visuals, the virtual cockpit screen that occupies the instrument cluster looks great. Customizable, and with pin-sharp graphics, its presentation perfectly suits the car’s performance character. In addition to the usual information (speedometer, tach, etc.), the RS 3 also has a boost gauge that displays real-time horsepower and torque output, along with a g-sensor. These displays are functional, sure, but they’re also visual entertainment – and I am entertained.
The 7-inch infotainment that rises and falls out of the top of the dash is also a good example of functional entertainment. The screen operates with a slick efficiency and the visuals are impressive, but watching the screen rise and drop out of sight as the car is turned on and off is great fun – including the little door in the dash that closes when the screen is retracted. Great attention to detail there.
Alright, so how does this thing drive?
Like a bat out of hell. And you don’t even need to flick the drive mode selector to dynamic – the RS 3 is twitchy in normal mode with the gear selector in D.
Tap it back into S, and toggle the drive select to dynamic, though, and watch out – this compact is now a rocket.
Step on the accelerator with moderate force, and you’ll be well past posted speed limits in no time. The 2.5-litre five growls louder as the revs climb and the S tronic holds the gear just long enough before slingshotting into the next cog up – simply delightful.
Just as much fun is listening to the exhaust under braking as the S tronic cycles down through the gears – bap, bap, bap – when slowing down or coming to stop. My tester is equipped with an optional sport exhaust which, in my view, is well worth the extra cost ($850) for the delightful soundtrack it produces.
The RS 3’s ride is quite firm – you’ll want to watch the speed over rough pavement and speed humps – but the car’s handling feels true with very responsive steering and minimal body roll through corners. I haven’t had the pleasure of tracking the RS 3, but I’m confident its sharp reflexes would shine on a closed course.
As for drawbacks, I didn’t really find much wrong with the RS 3.
Its sedan layout, complete with a useable back seat, trunk and AWD makes it inherently practical, although both the trunk and the rear seating area are on the small side. As it is for all cars, how big of an issue this is depends on your circumstances. For someone like myself (single, no kids), it’s not a big deal, but if you have a family, the RS 3 could become a bit confining.
With a $62,900 base MSRP, the RS 3 can also get a bit pricey once you start ticking off boxes on the order form. With destination and delivery included, my tester checks in at just under $80,000 before taxes and licensing, which is a lot for a small car, impressive performance profile notwithstanding.
My advice? Go easy on the optional kit – the car is well-equipped in base form. Many of my tester’s add-ons are strictly cosmetic and don’t alter the core driving experience much.
That said, the RS 3 is a fine gateway entry into Audi Sport. If you’re looking to join the brand’s ‘league of performance’, it presents a powerful argument in favour of taking the plunge.
Next week: 2018 Audi TT RS
SPECIFICATIONS – 2018 Audi RS 3
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $62,900 / $79,040 (incl. $2,095 destination)
FINAL ASSEMBLY: Ingolstadt, Germany
ENGINE: 2.5L turbocharged inline 5-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 400 hp @ 5,850 – 7,000 rpm
TORQUE: 354 lb-ft. @ 1,700 – 5,850 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,630 kg
CONFIGURATION: front-engine, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 12.4 / 8.3 / 10.5
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: BMW 340i xDrive, Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400, Mercedes-AMG C 43
Audi Sport Package for RS 3 ($1,750)
- RS fixed Sport suspension
- Carbon fibre engine cover
- 280 km/h top speed increase
Technology Package ($1,400)
- Active lane assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop & go
- Audi pre-sense front
- High beam assist
Black Optics Package ($850)
- Black exterior mirror housings
- Black front lip with quattro script
- Black rear lip spoiler
Accessories and / or Stand Alone Options
Front ceramic brakes ($5,800)
Carbon fibre inlays ($900)
Sport exhaust ($850)
19-inch 5-arm rotor wheels (anthracite) ($400)
Total – $11,950
Photography by Lee Bailie