In-depth reviews

Audi RS3 review – has the five-pot hot hatch finally found its feet?

The latest RS3 now has the chassis to match its powertrain, and it might even be the best bit

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  • Engine and gearbox are starting to feel out of date

If you feel like you might already have a fairly good idea about how the Audi RS3 might drive – a high-end hot hatch with a tuneful and powerful five-cylinder engine, high-quality interior, but rather wooden and soulless driving characteristics – it’s time to put those assumptions to one side. That’s because the new third iteration has taken things in a whole new direction.

This is still an MQB-based hatchback powered by Audi’s turbocharged 2.5-litre inline-five with a DSG ’box and all-wheel drive, but the RS3’s pluses (and minuses) are very different from its predecessor. Of course, its rivals have subsequently improved, with AMG’s A45 S in fabulous form, and VW’s Golf R only a few option box ticks away from comparing on price, but we can say on good authority that Audi Sport has not held back on the new RS3’s development. 

This much is obvious the instant you look at the RS3’s front ‘mask’ and pumped wheelarches, but more than just the way it looks, never before has an Audi hot hatchback driven with such capability and engagement. There are reasons for this, and while time hasn’t been entirely kind to some of its elements, the new RS3 is finally a car worth a real car enthusiast’s attention.

Audi RS3: in detail 

  • Engine, gearbox and technical specs – Audi’s trademark five-cylinder offers no more power than before, but there are big chassis upgrades
  • Performance and 0-60 time – All-wheel drive, a dual-clutch transmission and launch control help make the RS3 astoundingly quick off the line
  • Ride and handling – The chassis has seen the bulk of engineer’s attention in this iteration, and you can tell
  • MPG and running costs – Somehow, gentle use will see nearly 40mpg on the trip, but even mid-30s is a realistic daily figure
  • Interior and tech – Ah, it was all sounding a little too good to be true. The A3’s taken a big step back compared to the last generation, and so too has the RS3
  • Design – A bit gauche in most specifications, spec subtly and the RS3 can look fantastically menacing

Price and rivals 

There are two body styles, three trim levels (ignoring the Launch Edition, which has sold out) and some lairy paint options to choose from. Prices start at £55,230 for the base RS3 Sportback, with the saloon coming in at £1000 more model-for-model. The Carbon Black upgrade costs an additional £4650, but adds matt black five-Y-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard model’s ornate diamond-cut design, an RS exhaust, matrix LED headlights and configurable DRLs, dynamic front and rear indicators, a black roof, gloss black exterior features with a black styling pack plus, mirror housings, side skirts and the engine cover finished in carbonfibre, with full decorative inlays in the cabin, too. 

For a further £2600 the Vorsprung Edition adds a sunroof, B&O stereo, Audi Drive Select, adaptive cruise, red brake calipers with RS logos, a reversing camera and advance key. Audi phone box wireless charging is also included, along with a panoramic roof, camera-based traffic sign recognition, HD head-up display, an electric tailgate and a 174mph top speed. You also get 360-degree cameras and a different design of 19-inch wheels with diamond-cut graphics.

Where not fitted on those individual models, the adaptive dampers and sports exhaust can be optioned for £960 each, while carbon-ceramic brakes are a chunkier £4455. 

In terms of rivals, AMG requires £58,725 for the single high-spec variant of the A45 S which is fitted with all the wings, splitters and spoilers, and every option in the AMG toy chest. For around £42,190, VW will sell you a Golf R. It has less power, but the saving would allow you to add the R Performance Pack (£2202), Dynamic Chassis Control (£795) and an Akrapovic exhaust (£3100). When fitted, a Golf R will easily breach the cost of an RS3. Unfortunately, and in stark contrast to their predecessors, you won’t want to swap out the Golf for the Audi, as the latest R doesn’t shine half as brightly as the previous Mk7.5.

Alternatively, until BMW’s full-grain M2 arrives, the M240i remains an intriguing option, as it’s a far more resolved sports coupe than the previous model, and appeals just as much for its generous powertrain as it does the muscular, almost exotic-looking body. At £47,515 it’s also usefully less expensive than the Audi and AMG, albeit a rung down on the performance tree.

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