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.

Subscribe to evo magazine

Subscribe today to have every issue of evo delivered straight to you. You'll SAVE 39% on the shop price, and get evo for its original cover price for a whole year!

> 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.

More on RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 hatchback

Abt RS3 Power R – supercar-baiting 493bhp hot hatch

Extra power extracted from the RS3’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine reduces 0-62mph time to 3.7sec
19 Jan 2018
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 Sportback review (2015-2017) - the definitive super-hatch?

A step up above its predecessor but still not as mighty as the spec sheet suggests
3 Nov 2016
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 Sportback review (2015-2017) - the definitive super-hatch?

A step up above its predecessor but still not as mighty as the spec sheet suggests
3 Nov 2016
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 LMS gets off to flying start with VLN class win

Racing version of Audi's 394bhp RS3 saloon sets the pace in its first VLN endurance race
24 Oct 2016
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 v Mercedes AMG A45 - premium super hatch shootout

How do these two fast, powerful and grippy super hatches compare when pitted against one another?
23 Mar 2016
Audi RS3 hatchback

MTM builds 186mph Audi RS3

Engine upgrade boosts RS3 performance – but 200mph may not be far off
23 Nov 2015
Audi RS3 hatchback

ABT extracts 424bhp from the Audi RS3

German tuner pushes super-hatch into BMW M4 territory
21 Aug 2015
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 Sportback first drive review: price, specifications and 0-60 time

Our first impressions of the latest fast Audi
15 Apr 2015
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3: Details and pictures on the hottest new hatch

Audi's new five-cylinder hot hatchback takes the fight to Mercedes' 355bhp A45 AMG
11 Dec 2014
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3: Tech secrets revealed

We take an early look and passenger ride in the next Audi RS3, which has been out testing at the Nurburgring
16 Oct 2014
Audi RS3 hatchback

More Audi RS models on the way

Audi to introduce RS models across the range, Quattro to be cheaper
13 Jan 2014
Audi RS3 hatchback

Second chance Audi RS3 for UK

After the initial sell-out of the 500 UK-bound Audi RS3s, the company is bringing a further 250 to the country after continued demand
19 Jul 2012
Audi RS3 hatchback

Video: Audi RS3 Sportback v Volvo C30 Polestar

Clash of the warbling five-cylinder hot hatchbacks. Audi RS3 battles Volvo C30 Polestar - which is quicker? Video and pictures
12 Aug 2011
Audi RS3 hatchback

Ferrari Enzo v hot hatchbacks video

Can the latest breed of 330bhp-plus hyper hatch keep up with a Ferrari Enzo supercar? Great video here
28 Mar 2011
Audi RS3 hatchback

Latest issue of evo Magazine

Ferrari Enzo v Focus RS v Audi RS3 v Impreza, BMW 3.0 CSL v BMW M3 GTS, Audi R8 Spyder V8 review, Porsche Cayman R review, Alfa Romeo 4C photo shoot
26 Mar 2011
Audi RS3 hatchback

Geneva 2011: New Audi A3 concept

Audi gives the A3 a new look, and uses some of the technology from the 402bhp quattro concept
1 Mar 2011
Audi RS3 hatchback

Audi RS3 confirmed

Audi has revealed the £39,900 RS3 hot hatch, complete with the TT RS's 335bhp engine and 0-60mph in 4.6secs.
22 Nov 2010