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In-depth reviews

Audi RS3 review – ride and handling

The chassis has seen the bulk of engineer’s attention in this iteration, and you can tell

Evo rating
Price
from £50,900
  • Chassis upgrades have finally created a nimble and agile RS3
  • Engine and gearbox are starting to feel out of date

As a result of the chassis changes, the first time you see a big compression ahead and brace yourself for the inevitable thump into the bumpstops, you’ll quickly realise it’s already glided over it without interest. This is all after you have noticed the more compliant ride, that on good surfaces makes for an unexpected level of refinement, and on poor surfaces this is an Audi that no longer crashes and thumps across imperfections.

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So you go harder, push more against its limits and go looking for its downsides. And you rarely find any. In its comfort setting the chassis is near silent and calm without being aloof. There’s a good balance between body control and ride comfort, and on long runs, where comfort takes priority over dynamics, the RS3 makes a Golf R feel like it’s riding on bricks. 

> Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years 2023 review

It must fall apart when you start to push? Sorry, no. Within the drive select modes you can switch between the preset ones or dive into the two RS Individual modes, one of which is called RS Performance that’s been designed specifically for the track but works equally well on the road.

Here the RS3 remains calm and composed, but there are further layers of detail added. There’s more precision in how the body moves under braking and during turn-in, and while it’s stiffer, it is not Audi Sport of old ‘throw you off the road’ stiffer. You can find a balance as you turn in, let it settle, and as the load comes off as you exit the corner, it does so in a neat and linear fashion as the weight shuffles back to the centre point. It means you ask more of it than any previous-generation RS3. This also means you start to play with its party piece: RS Torque Rear, a torque splitter differential pack. Where the previous RS3 had a single-clutch pack to manage torque distribution across the rear axle, this one provides one pack per driveshaft and allows 100 per cent of the available torque to be sent to the rear axle then distributed to the outside wheel when it’s under load. And it turns the RS3 into an unexpected bundle of fun.

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It means for the first time on track the RS3 doesn’t fall over itself, the numbness replaced with an impressive level of agility. Through quick corners you can feel the torque splitter managing the torque load, the rear finding grip to give the front tyres a rest. Talking of tyres, we tried the car on the road with Bridgestone’s new Potenza Sport that’s been developed specifically for the car and it proved to be a well balanced and suitable tyre. A heavy-handed approach will still overwhelm the front tread blocks resulting in a familiar Audi push, but play to the technology’s strengths and the front tyres work well with the chassis.

On track our test car was fitted with the optional Pirelli Trofeo R, which as you can imagine provided more grip than you can shake a grippy stick at. But rather than mask the chassis’ dynamics, the track-biased tyres provide the higher grip levels and confidence for you to lean on the dynamics harder still. Unfortunately for UK buyers, you can’t have these tyres fitted from the factory because the UK product team didn’t think you’d be interested in such a performance upgrade on your near 400bhp car…

Pitch it into a corner – still mindful that a five-cylinder engine is sitting over the front axle and requires some weight management – and the nose takes a sharp line to the apex as the centre point pivots around your hips and the rear rotates with unexpected agility. It feels very together, a fluid motion that inspires confidence. Keep the throttle balanced and the RS3 slices through any corner, and in quicker stuff it feels remarkably planted as all four tyres paw at the surface, pulling and pushing you with unexpected poise.

Find yourself in an empty car park or at a trackday with a more lenient approach to you looking out of the side window, and with the traction aids turned off and RS Performance mode selected the RS3 goes a little feral in a fun way. It’s not suddenly transformed into a rear-drive car with a traditional diff where you manage the angle of the rear axle as you play with throttle and steering angles, but once you have it set early in the corner it can be made to drive through it with an impressive angle of corrective lock applied while still maintaining some punchy forward motion.

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In this regard it’s similar to the Mk3 Focus RS, but with more precision to give you more options at the limit, where previous RS3 models would have thrown in the towel soon after the front tyres began to trip over their tread blocks. It’s also a more intuitive and rewarding system than the Golf R’s drift mode.

It’s not perfect, though. If you’re too abrupt with any inputs, such as a sudden lift out of the throttle or a larger input of lock, the fun quickly stops as the torque to the rear is cut, straightening you up as quickly as possible. There are also times when the powertrain’s age can’t hide and its slow reactions make for some clumsy direction changes. Learn these traits and work with them and each mile impresses more and more. It’s more instinctive than the Golf R’s drift mode and allows you to be more exuberant than you can in an A45 S, but you can’t help but wish the car had a better engine, gearbox and quicker-reacting quattro drivetrain to demonstrate its chassis' new talents.

It’s taken a while, too long we would argue, but finally Audi has delivered an RS3 worthy of its badge. And with the chassis tech and torque splitter destined for future products further up the Audi Sport range, BMW M, AMG and Alfa Romeo will need to take a good look over their shoulder.

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