Small, classy and perfectly engineered
INTERNATIONAL LAUNCH/ Audi’s baby-faced V8 assassin bites harder and louder than ever, writes Michael Taylor
The five-cylinder thing has always been an Audi staple, with YouTube full of the soundtracks of Quattro Group B cars bellowing around the world’s rally roads.
While the RS3 Sportback was always a very good car, it’s now available as a sedan, which should broaden its appeal even further. And it’s better, faster and more mature than ever.
It took the arrival of Stephan Winkelmann to convince Audi Sport that the hard-hitting, fivecylinder RS3 should be built as a sedan as well as the traditional five-door hatch.
He ordered them to start transferring all their upgrades for the new RS3 Sportback into the sedan bodyshell as well. And what a masterstroke that’s turned out to be, with the threebox sedan leading the little car’s charge into North America.
Its handling makes the Mercedes A45 AMG seem ponderous in corners, while its allwheel-drive system makes it more of a real-world fast car than BMW’s magnificent M2, though the Bavarian is probably faster on a racetrack.
Winkelmann found time to oversee the marriage of the A3 body with the TT-RS’s new, lightweight five-cylinder turbo motor, complete with 450Nm of torque and 294kW of power. By far the cheapest car Winkelmann has ever launched as a CEO, the RS3 sedan will punch to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and keep going to 280km/h, if you ask Audi Sport nicely to move the speed limiter northwards.
It borrows the launch control system from the TT-RS, too, so it can do that sort of 0-100km/h sprint in repeat sets, with the rear hang-on differential capable of swallowing up to 2,000Nm in a single bite, and Audi Sport programming it to behave like a rear-wheel drive most of the time. It funnels its drive through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission only.
There are enormous brakes inside the 19-inch wheels and tyres, and the option of even more enormous carbon-ceramic brakes, all squashed by eightpiston calipers at the front, and a choice of either fixed-rate dampers or constantly variable magnetic ones.
Most importantly, it’s coming with that unholy ruckus of an engine. It starts with a sharp braaap as it spins to around 4,000 and then it gives a pop and bang that will wake the neighbours. And that’s in the quieter default mode.
Make no mistake, as good as everything else in the car is, the RS3 is always dominated by the performance and the song of the engine. To think otherwise is like going to an AC/DC concert for the majesty of the speaker cable arrangements. It’s always there, always threatening, menacing, bellowing, barking or popping and burbling. With a 12-4-5-3 firing order, it’s a unique combination of belligerent and sophisticated, of raucous and operatic, of brutal and smooth and often all at the same time. Very few engines have had this one’s ability to be so many things at the same time, and to that list you can add “unforgettable”.
Audi Sport tried to make the RS3 as emotional as it could, and that sometimes meant forgoing the last scraps of ultimate performance and grip. The thinking was that you couldn’t drive flat out all the time, so why not make the RS3 as lovable as they could for as much of the driving time as possible.
It has flat torque and power curves, and that takes away some of the linearity of its delivery, which means it doesn’t quite climb to a crescendo like it used to and you can smack into the limiter when you think you’re still about 1,000r/min short of it.
The engine cracks to its sonorous best early and works to hold the note as it gets louder, rather than tweaking the timbre and pitch as the revs rise. But that’s a minor criticism, given what else it does.
The old engine used an iron engine block, which has been thrown out in favour of an aluminium one. Instead of 250kW (or 265kW in the TT RS Plus) it now has up to 1.35 bar of turbo pressure and 294kW. Only the bore and stroke dimensions remain in an engine that refuses to share a single bolt with the one it replaces. It also has the indecency to be more frugal and lighter, shedding 26kg where it counts: over the front axle.
The steering is sharp and accurate and beautifully weighted, though it’s a bit short on feel and nuance. The roads of Oman often feel like driving on a wet road, thanks to the combination of sustained heat pulling oil to the surface, sand and camel poo. The sedan whips into its cornering stance with tremendous strength and security, with eight-piston front calipers washing off the speed without wavering, and there is enough turn-in grip to enjoy the show in relaxed concentration.
If you push it in slippery conditions, it will slide the front a touch before the diff gets to work and makes it more neutral, letting the back swing out ever so gently and predictably. It lets you hold any slides without being very taxing on the skill levels, too, and the skid-control system only chimes in when things look like they’re going horribly wrong.
While the suspension is taut, it’s not uncomfortably so. Push the car hard and faster and you can expect it to ride better. It’s plush enough in comfort mode that you could realistically use it as a cross-country cruiser.
The overall result is a magnificent combination of classy design, great packaging, crisp handling and oodles of power, performance and a soundtrack ripped from the hands of the gods themselves.
The interior is both sporty and classy and the Virtual Cockpit gets a few RS touches.