Audi RS3 Performance 2022 review
A considerable improvement on the already excellent RS3; shame the UK won't get to enjoy it...
The new Audi RS3 Performance Edition is a limited run special with boosted performance, tweaked chassis and a wealth of standard-fit goodies from the RS options list. Just 300 are being built, but sadly none are coming to the UK. That’s a shame and a surprise, as the UK is traditionally a big market for hot Audis. According to Audi UK it’s a problem of supply rather than demand. With Audi AG already grappling with a two-year backlog of RS3 orders, Audi UK reluctantly decided that a very small allocation of Performance Editions was a complication it could do without.
So, what are we missing? A mild but comprehensive tweaking of the already potent RS3 recipe, the Performance Edition is faster and more powerful than any previous RS3, Dynamic Package Plus included. This means a tickle more boost (up 0.1 bar to 1.6) for the fabulous 2.5-litre turbocharged 5-cylinder motor together with a slight reshuffle of the power and torque curves. Peak power increases to 401bhp, arriving 100rpm higher up the rev range between 5700 and 7000rpm. Torque remains at 369lb ft, but the band within which that peak is achieved has been stretched by a further 100rpm, with maximum shove now arriving at 2250rpm and sticking around until 5700rpm.
Top speed has increased by 8mph to 186mph, the significance of which is more symbolic when you appreciate that equates to 300km/h, making the RS3 Performance Edition the first car in its segment to hit the triple ton. This landmark speed – which informs the number of Performance Editions to be built – is celebrated by the DRLs, which scroll through chequered flag and ‘3-0-0’ motifs as part of their start-up display.
Chassis-wise the Performance Edition features RS sports suspension with adjustable damping as standard, their bump and rebound settings having been increased compared to the regular RS3. Pirelli’s most extreme road tyre – the semi-slick P Zero Trofeo R – is fitted as standard, wrapping 19in cast alloy wheels of a cross-spoke design and dark grey matte colour unique to the Performance Edition. Within these wheels are standard fit carbon ceramic discs (380mm at the front, 310mm at the rear) gripped by blue painted calipers.
Parked in the Monteblanco circuit pit lane the Performance Edition looks extremely impressive. With the front axle wearing wider tyres than the rear (265/30 compared to 245/35) the RS3 has a barrel-chested stance. It hints at an all-wheel drive system that favours the front-end, which in most situations is the case as the system won’t direct more than 50 per cent of available torque at the rear axle. However, using Audi Sport’s RS Torque Rear mode you can momentarily send all of that 50 per cent to the outside rear wheel, with the effect of initiating a drift. Having played around on a dedicated drift area it clearly works, though the sensation is somewhat strange. How it translates when driving fast on track is something we’re about to find out.
Launching away from the pit lane it’s easy to believe the RS3 Performance Edition’s claimed 0-62mph time of 3.9sec. It fairly honks away from a standstill, Trofeo Rs clawing into the tarmac to deploy all 407PS and 500Nm with barely a scrabble of wheelspin. The DSG gearbox is typically effective but rather soulless in operation, the small paddles offering little in the way of connection or tactility. The brakes have plenty of power – more than enough to trigger the hazard lights into every braking area, which is a bit annoying – and ample stamina, which is important as the RS3 can gain serious speed between the corners.
Traction is strong (even in more relaxed dynamic modes) with grip tending to bleed away to understeer. Like most front and all-wheel drive cars, if you overdrive things get increasingly scrappy, but if you explore the Torque Rear and Performance Mode you can get the car working nicely, especially through some of the faster corners where you make one positive direction change at high speed. With practice you can have it move really sweetly, front-end initiating the turn but exiting with the rear axle just sliding under full power. It’s a satisfying and exhilarating feeling, but one which requires a particular type of corner. For the most part – that’s to say in tight and very long corners – you sense the RS3 fighting front-wheel drive urges, which isn’t so much fun.
Clearly the Trofeo R tyres make a big difference to the way the RS3 tackles track driving. The grip brings it alive, allowing you to lean on it harder and longer. Having driven a regular RS3 on less aggressive rubber I can attest to how much more satisfying the Performance Edition is on semi-slicks (as it should be!), but I’m not convinced it would be my first choice of car to take on a track day. I doubt a BMW M2 would be as effective in less than expert hands, but it would undoubtedly be more entertaining.
Unfortunately we can’t comment on the Performance Edition’s road manners as our test was restricted to the Monteblanco circuit. This said, aside from the firmer dampers – which will doubtless be just fine on smooth European tarmac – there’s nothing to suggest the Performance Edition would be anything less than blisteringly quick and crushingly capable.
Prices and rivals
So the RS3 Performance is quicker than you’d ever need to go on the public road, but that 5-cylinder engine is a far more characterful engine than AMG’s formidable 4-cylinder, and certainly a match for an M2’s turbo-six. The difference, of course, is that you can actually go out and buy those two cars – the AMG having recently been given a very gentle update, and the all-new BMW M2 coming on stream early next year.
You can also specify your M2 with a manual transmission, and thanks to the wholesale adoption of the M3 and M4’s S58 powertrain, it’ll easily out-perform both Audi and AMG with its 469bhp. At £63,820, it’s also a match for both in terms of price – the Mercedes costing from around £63k in its sole fully-loaded specification.
There is no UK pricing for the RS3 Performance, but at €75,000 for the Sportback and €77,000 for the saloon, the Performance Edition wouldn’t be far away, and if you were to specify a standard RS3 to nearer the Performance’s specification you’d be up in the mid £60k mark anyhow. Sophie’s choice; but then maybe not.