AUDI RS3 SPORTBACK

The most po­tent hot hatch money can buy is equally at home on sunny days and in the sop­ping wet. Raw pace isn’t ev­ery­thing, though

Evo - - CONTENTS REGULARS - Antony In­gram (@evoantony)

BBLAME RS3 DRIV­ERS IF WE have a par­tic­u­larly wet and windy au­tumn. Each and ev­ery one of them will be pray­ing for rain – per­fect con­di­tions in which to ap­pre­ci­ate the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Audi’s new su­per-hatch.

We’ve been here be­fore, of course, hav­ing al­ready driven the up­dated RS3, al­beit in sa­loon form, on the ultra-smooth desert roads of Oman ( evo 235), but there’s noth­ing quite like a bumpy Bed­ford­shire back-road to un­mask a new hot hatch.

And this lat­est RS3 is one of the hottest. Its re­freshed 2.5-litre, five-cylin­der TFSI engine pro­duces 394bhp – up from 362bhp – in turn mak­ing this the most pow­er­ful car in its class. The 0-62mph claim of 4.1sec is two-tenths quicker than be­fore, a tenth quicker than a Mercedes-amg A45’s and a fur­ther tenth clear of a Dct-equipped BMW M2’s.

That five-pot mo­tor is now 26kg lighter, too, thanks largely to the use of an al­loy crank­case, but also con­tribut­ing is a hol­low-bored crank­shaft that cuts 1kg in ro­tat­ing mass. How­ever, the car’s over­all kerb weight is down just 10kg to 1510kg (the A45 is 1480kg, a DCT M2 1520kg).

Like the AMG but un­like the BMW, the Audi sends its power through an all-wheel-drive sys­tem, where up to 100 per cent of the engine’s torque (and never less than 50 per cent) can be di­verted to the rear axle. A sev­en­speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion han­dles the gearchanges.

Much is made about the qual­ity of Audi’s in­te­ri­ors and con­struc­tion, but the RS3’S real qual­ity is most ap­par­ent when you start up the reworked pow­er­plant: its gar­gling idle and cul­tured tone are not a mil­lion miles re­moved from a V10 R8’s. And in truth, the RS3 is not all that far off in terms of per­for­mance, thun­der­ing off the line and howl­ing to a spinet­in­gling red line in each gear with nearin­stant changes from ra­tio to ra­tio. That it’ll do the same on a wet, greasy road is all part of the ap­peal.

In the past, in­ci­sive han­dling hasn’t been part of that ap­peal, with joy­less all-wheel-drive sys­tems, nose-heav­i­ness and numb steer­ing con­spir­ing to chip away at the car’s de­sir­abil­ity. In the new RS3, and in the wet specif­i­cally, those first two com­plaints have di­min­ished sig­nif­i­cantly – this grown-up hot hatch dives into cor­ners with con­vic­tion and re­mark­able grip, the rear axle slip­ping just enough to aid agility with­out mak­ing the chas­sis feel too ner­vous. It han­dles bumps well too, with an un­der­ly­ing firm­ness but not one that sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mines the car’s com­fort.

Get on the power early and the driv­e­train di­verts more torque to the rear wheels, fir­ing you out the other side of the turn with ruth­less abil­ity and, just oc­ca­sion­ally, the need to un­wind some steer­ing lock to main­tain your cho­sen line.

It’s a sat­is­fy­ing sen­sa­tion, but there are still prob­lems. The RS3’S steer­ing re­mains as mute as ever, with de­cent weight­ing and ap­plaud­able ac­cu­racy but lit­tle in­di­ca­tion as to whether the front wheels are claw­ing into the road sur­face or not. They al­most al­ways are, but you must op­er­ate on trust rather than feed­back.

And im­pres­sive though the RS3 Sportback’s abil­i­ties are, its lofty per­for­mance lim­its goad you into ex­plor­ing speeds that make you ner­vous on pub­lic roads. Back off a lit­tle and you’ll still be going very quickly in­deed, but the fun fac­tor quickly fiz­zles out.

Audi’s weight-sav­ing proves the old adage that less is more, but a lit­tle less still – weight, grip and speed – might have gone even fur­ther.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Dean Smith

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