What is it?
The RS3 is Audi’s belated entry into the realm of serious hot hatches. Like an S3, but faster. It goes on sale in spring 2011, priced at £39,900.
It’s essentially a TT RS with the added practicality of a five-door hatchback body, so there’s that sonorous five-pot turbo up front and all-wheel drive, while a seven-speed, double-clutch paddle shift gearbox comes as standard.
What’s it like to drive?
On the chilly blacktop of northern Quebec, it’s terrific. On the pure snow and ice – and on winter tyres – it’s absolutely brilliant. It starts with the engine note, all deep and rich and smooth and it’s strong, right from the flick of the key.
The gearbox is as fast and slick as you expect of a DSG, but it does make launching it difficult. Get it right, though, and there’s a fury of glorious noise and a brief scrabbling of 19in rubber.
It might not be as focused a drive as the BMW 1-Series M Coupe, but it has a broader range of abilities, as evidenced by its ability to easily, progressively, hold long four-wheel drifts on ice and snow and still have the balance to be flung between tarmac esses. It’s also faster. Well, it feels faster and a 4.6sec sprint to 60mph is just three tenths slower than the R8 V10 and the torque is so strong, it’s always ready to go.
Still, its steering isn’t brilliant but the rear differential does its best to compensate, as does the gearbox.
How does it compare?
The undeniably fun and talented Mini John Cooper Works, Ford Focus RS and Renaultsport Megane 250 are well over ten grand cheaper, but then they are only front-drivers. Then there’s the AWD 268bhp Volkswagen Golf R (essentially the same as the RS3, minus a cylinder, and £32K in comparative spec). But the speed, sound and badge cache should sway plenty of people towards the Audi.
Anything else I need to know?
There are a couple of oddball things, not least of which is that it will only be on sale for around 18 months, because that’s when Audi stops making A3 bodies. The first is that the front wings are carbonfibre, to accommodate the 22mm wider track, while the rears are wider only through fiddling with the wheel offsets. Another is that the front tyres are 235/35 R19s – which are 10mm wider than the rear boots. That’ll be fun come replacement time...