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
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.