In-depth reviews

Audi RS3 review

Audi’s RS3 and RS3 Saloon have been rejigged to meet new emissions laws, but it hasn’t upset the recipe

Evo rating
  • Stunning engine, quality cabin, improved dynamics
  • Expensive, composed but cold handling means it's faster than it is fun

Consider the RS3’s winning margin in the current hot hatch arms race to be over. The Audi RS3, perhaps the first example of what could be called a hyper-hatch, has recently been usurped by the new Mercedes-AMG A45 S in the power stakes, but does that mean the smallest Audi Sport product has suddenly lost its only unique selling point?

We wouldn’t go that far, for although the RS3 has lost that chip on its shoulder, its true USP has always been the distinctive and wonderful five-cylinder power unit, which despite having had a thorough cleaning to meet new emissions laws, hasn’t conceded any of its vital statistics. It may not be the most interactive of hot hatchbacks, nor a particularly affordable one, but its strength of character has always been a big part of its appeal.

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> 2019 Mercedes-AMG A45 S review - a new high water mark?

But with the aforementioned AMG A45 S promising not only a 415bhp power figure, but also a new focus on entertaining handling, the RS3 might just be under a bit more pressure than it was before, and that’s before considering the closely matched, albeit more expensive BMW M2 Competition. Times are tough in the £45-50k category, so can the RS3 still hold its own?

Audi RS3: in detail

  • Engine, gearbox and technical highlights > The RS3 has switched to a new, lighter 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine as in the TT-RS. Transmission options are limited to a seven-speed dual clutch. 
  • Performance and 0-60mph > Aside from the outstanding engine, it’s the quattro all-wheel drive system and dual-clutch gearbox that helps the RS3 produce some pretty astounding performance figures 
  • Ride and handling > The Achilles' heel of the previous RS3, the new car is a definite improvement, and wet roads help unlock more of its character.
  • MPG and running costs > Despite having one more cylinder than most rivals,  the RS3's MPG is relatively competitive.
  • Interior and tech > Largely unchanged from the previous car, the RS3's interior straddles a line between sporty and overwrought depending on what option boxes are ticked. 
  • Design > The new RS3 has an aggressive stance and attitude, but the underlying shape is rather demure and unassuming.

Prices, specs and rivals

The RS3 is a rather expensive machine when you consider its Audi A3 origins, starting at £44,290 for the Hatchback and £45,865 for the RS3 Saloon. To reflect this, Audi has been generous with standard kit, fitting automatic LED lights front and back as well as 19-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P Zero tyres. Inside, you’ll find leather-upholstered heated seats, an Alcantara-trimmed multifunctional steering wheel and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, as found in the R8.

As of 2020, the RS3’s options have been simplified, with a new Audi Sport Edition model added to the range bundling many of the most popular options including a black styling pack, sunroof, black five-spoke alloy wheels, carbonfibre inlays and quilted Nappa leather seats. Outside of this, there are further option packages, combining individual options such as the (essential) magnetic ride control, upgraded B&O sound system and keyless entry and go, among others. Opt for just one or two of these packages and you’ll be knocking on the door of a £55k RS3; a large amount of money for something based on the simple A3.

> BMW M2 Competition 2020 review – the M2 raises its game in real style

The RS3’s rivals have been through somewhat more of a transformation, with the all-new A45 S having recently entered the fold with an intensely strong arsenal of elements – not to mention its headline-grabbing power figure. The M2 Competition’s slightly higher price tag and coupe body might not make it a direct rival, but we’d challenge you not to consider one against an RS3, especially as its M3-derived S55 engine has become a very valuable element of it’s technical make-up.

Cheaper rivals also present a problem for the Audi; Volkswagen’s facelifted Golf R is more capable and premium feeling than ever, and at just over £34k in five-door DSG spec is almost ten grand cheaper. In reality it never feels much slower than the RS3, while its lower kerb weight makes it a more biddable and involving back road companion. And as the RS3 is closing in on £50k, it’s also worth considering non-hatchback rivals such as the new Toyota Supra, Ford Mustang Bullitt, and even an Alpine A110 if outright practicality is not such a big consideration.

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