Small, classy and per­fectly en­gi­neered

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAUNCH/ Audi’s baby-faced V8 as­sas­sin bites harder and louder than ever, writes Michael Tay­lor

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

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.

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