Jack Evans has been be­hind the wheel of Audi’s lat­est RS3. The hot hatch now packs close to 400bhp - but does ab­so­lute power cor­rupt ab­so­lutely

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - JACK EVANS

WHAT IS IT? The Audi RS3 is a key pil­lar in the sports sa­loon seg­ment, hav­ing set the trend for some time now. It’s just been up­dated for 2017, and this brings even more power - now close to 400bhp - as well as a quicker 0- 60mph time of 3.9 sec­onds. That puts it close to su­per­car ter­ri­tory, in a car that will just as hap­pily trun­dle down to the shops as it’ll eat up B roads.

There’s a lot to like about the new RS3, in both sa­loon and sport­back mod­els, but it does have some se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion in the forms of the Mercedes-amg A45 and BMW’S M2, both of which are supremely ca­pa­ble and - much like the RS3 - hugely fast.

WHAT’S NEW? There have been a fair amount of changes made to the new RS3, which is based on the Audi A3 small fam­ily car. Ex­ter­nally, there are LED lights at the front and rear, with dy­namic rear in­di­ca­tors which strobe when ac­ti­vated giv­ing a real im­pact to the back of the car.

The front grille is framed with an alu­minium-look sur­round, while dual ex­hausts at the rear give some in­di­ca­tion of the RS3’S per­for­mance. How­ever, the Audi’s rel­a­tively un­der­stated looks is one of its most ap­peal­ing traits, as it un­der­plays just how fast it is. That said, it still has arches that are now wider by 20mm over the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion car.

WHAT’S UN­DER THE BONNET? Here’s where some of the big­gest changes have been ap­plied. The large, 2.5-litre tur­bocharged petrol - the only five-cylin­der in the seg­ment - has been re­vised, mean­ing faster ac­cel­er­a­tion and bet­ter econ­omy.

The en­gine is 26kg lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor, and this is down to its use of a light­weight al­loy crank­case - the older unit was cast in iron. Audi en­gi­neers have gone even fur­ther in the pur­suit of light­ness, hol­low-bor­ing the crank­shaft to make it a full kilo­gram lighter, as well as mak­ing the crank- shaft bear­ings smaller.

The changes may sound small, but they make a big dif­fer­ence. Power is still sent to all four wheels via Audi’s leg­endary Qu­at­tro sys­tem, with be­tween 50 and 100 per cent of the power ca­pa­ble of be­ing sent to the rear wheels. This gives a rear-wheel-bias which does well to elim­i­nate some of the un­der­steer seen in some Audis of old.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? First and fore­most, the RS3 is fast. Make no bones about it, the way it sets off is noth­ing short of re­mark­able. Even in the wet - and our Buck­ing­hamshire test route was sod­den in a typ­i­cally Bri­tish-weather-in-sum­mer way - it man­ages to find a huge amount of trac­tion, even un­der full throt­tle. It’s an im­pres­sively quick car, but that was to

be ex­pected con­sid­er­ing its close to 400bhp power out­put.

The ride, es­pe­cially on stan­dard steel springs, is very firm. It can make the RS3 feel un­set­tled - par­tic­u­larly around town - though in­ter­est­ingly the quicker you go the bet­ter it be­comes. That said, we tested a car fit­ted with the op­tional ad­justable dampers and, when set to com­fort, this made the RS3 a good de­gree more com­pli­ant and bet­ter suited to bumpy, un­du­lat­ing coun­try roads.

The steer­ing has also been beefed up a fair amount, but there’s not a huge amount of feel. Again, we found that this was best left in its lighter set­ting, as the ‘Dy­namic’ made gave it an un­nat­u­ral amount of heft, leav­ing it feel­ing a lit­tle un­wieldy.

So the ques­tion re­mains: does the RS3 still un­der­steer? Well, it’s a mix­ture of yes and no. En­ter a cor­ner too quickly, and the RS3 will still push on as you’d ex­pect. How­ever, ap­ply a bit of throt­tle and it will bring it­self back in tighter, even show­ing hints of over­steer at times. It’s a car that re­mains best driven neatly, though, and it’ll hap­pily do that thanks to plenty of trac­tion.

The RS3 is well ac­com­plished at cov­er­ing ground ex­cep­tion­ally quickly in all con­di­tions, and the com­bi­na­tion of four-wheeldrive and a smooth-shift­ing seven-speed dual-clutch au­to­matic ‘ box makes for a car that shouldn’t leave many driv­ers want­ing more in­volve­ment.

HOW DOES IT LOOK? You have to ad­mit that the RS3 is a smart look­ing thing. Un­der­stated yet per­for­mance ori­en­tated enough to be a true RS, it’s a very well-judged car. It’s also avail­able as a sa­loon, and this model looks sleeker still - though it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that it can’t of­fer the prac­ti­cal­ity lev­els af­forded to those who choose the stan­dard five-door hatch.

WHAT’S IT LIKE IN­SIDE? As usual, the RS3’S in­te­rior ex­hibits the level of build qual­ity and fit-and-fin­ish that we’ve come to ex­pect from Audi. You now get the firm’s ex­cel­lent vir­tual cock­pit dis­play, which com­prises of a 12.3-inch LCD mon­i­tor fit­ted where you’d tra­di­tion­ally find the ana­logue in­stru­ment bin­na­cle.

A lovely three-spoke ‘RS’ steer­ing wheel has also been fit­ted and, though a small ad­di­tion, makes a huge dif­fer­ence. It’s not too thick, and has been trimmed in al­can­tara giv­ing you plenty of grip. As one of the first points of con­tact be­tween car and driver, it adds far more con­fi­dence in the car than you’d ex­pect.

The five-door hatch RS3 ben­e­fits from 280 litres of seats-up boot space - a lot of room is taken away by the four-wheel-drive sys­tem - though this can be ex­tended up to 1,120 litres by low­er­ing the rear seats.

WHAT’S THE SPEC LIKE? Given the RS3’S £43,300 en­try price, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that there’s a good de­gree of stan­dard equip­ment on of­fer. You get LED head­lights and rear lights in­cluded, as well as the pre­vi­ously men­tioned vir­tual cock­pit dis­play.

Sports seats are in­cluded as part of that price too, along with RS’S be­spoke brak­ing sys­tem and a full satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

How­ever, our test car, when fit­ted with op­tions such as a panoramic sun­roof (£1,075 ex­tra), an in­creased top speed lim­iter (£1,600) and a sports ex­haust sys­tem (£1,000) weighed in at a hefty £56,380. This a huge amount of money for a hot hatch, and goes to show just how ‘pre­mium’ cars in this seg­ment have be­come.

We’d rec­om­mend the ad­justable sus­pen­sion (£995) and the sport ex­haust sys­tem as two stand­out op­tions to pick, but in re­al­ity the RS3 is a per­fectly well-spec­i­fied car with­out hav­ing to tread any­where near the op­tions list.

VER­DICT The RS3 is a car whose very na­ture is dom­i­nated by per­for­mance fig­ures. How­ever, it’s far more than that. Im­pec­ca­bly well-suited to the UK mar­ket, it’s a car which can re­turn al­most any­thing you can throw at it. Yes, with op­tions it is ex­pen­sive, but stay away from too many ex­tras and the RS3 is one of the best value cars on the mar­ket today.

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