Engine and Gearbox
The five-cylinder turbo engine returns impressive numbers – 362bhp from 5550-6800rpm and 343lb ft from 1625-5550rpm – and in general the car’s straight-line performance is very good. It doesn’t feel wantonly over-engined, though, and you’d be hard pressed to identify the extra power over a VW Golf R without driving them back-to-back. At least the exhaust note is much more evocative although some may actually find the optional sports exhaust a little too much for a hatchback.
Throttle response is okay but no more than that, although the engine does have a good appetite for revs for a five-cylinder turbo unit.
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The 7-speed S tronic twin-clutch gearbox swaps cogs cleanly and quickly in auto mode and in the manual setting the shifts themselves are rapid. The problem is that there’s sometimes a delay between pulling the paddle and the shift actuation, and when you’re really hustling the car you don’t always get downshifts when you want them.
The ‘box will actually hold gears in the manual mode rather than automatically shift up, sitting the engine on the limiter, which is useful when you want to hold a gear as you dive into a corner. With the slight delay in upshifts, though, you do need to learn to tug the right hand paddle a heartbeat before you want the next gear if you’re to avoid an uncomfortable head-butt into the limiter.
On the way soon is the RS3 saloon, and this brings with it an even more powerful version of the 2.5-litre five-pot. Maximum power rises to 394bhp, while torque climbs to 354lb ft. We'd expect the RS3 Sportback to adopt the same increased outputs when the saloon arrives.