AT A GLANCE
OMAN, on the Arabian Gulf, seems an odd location for the launch of Audi’s firecracker RS3 hatch and sedan.
Most people think of the Gulf’s less-than-challenging straight roads and endless sand dunes — not the terrain to exploit handling, traction and snappy performance.
The puzzle is solved when we leave the beachside resort town of Salalah, where Omanis escape the heat.
From Salalah, the Dhofar Mountains rise dramatically to peaks of 2500m via a series of enticing, yet slippery switchback roads — and the RS3, with allwheel drive and 294kW fivecylinder turbo, is in its element as we sprint to the clouds.
Snow is never a problem but the roads are as slippery as black ice thanks to the copious leaks of oil and grease from venerable Mercedes and DAF trucks lugging loads from the nearby quarries.
Then there is the camel poo that marks the outer edges of most corners.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive sends most of its torque to the rear wheels but reacts in milliseconds if the tail breaks away, transferring power forward. The RS3 scrambles out of tight uphill corners and reins in the wayward rear on downhill turns with little fuss.
Our test car’s optional 370mm carbon-ceramic front brake discs with eight-piston calipers get a proper workout on the long, steep descents back into Salalah — yet show no signs of fading. There is no need to shuffle down the gears to retard the progress.
The gearbox is VW Group’s trusty seven-speed dual-clutch auto with paddle-shifters.
There is no conventional manual option, which may displease those seeking more interaction with the car. Much of the RS3’s appeal comes from sensory overload, not solely when punting around the hills.
Even before setting off there is a nod to Audi’s halcyon days in rallying — start the engine and the distinctive five-cylinder bark from the twin pipes recalls its original quattro rally cars from the 1980s.
The 2.5-litre turbo engine not only gains an extra 25kW but also cuts 26kg from the front axle load thanks to a new all-alloy block shared with the TT RS stablemate and a lightalloy crankcase.
This provides a massive improvement to the feel of the front as you push on, wiping out most of the previous generation’s understeer.
When it’s allowed to wind out to its 7200rpm redline, the AUDI RS3 PRICE From $80,000 (est) SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags ENGINE 2.5-litre 5-cyl turbo, 294kW/480Nm TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch auto; AWD DIMENSIONS 4478mm (L), 1801mm (W), 1397mm (H), 2631mm (WB) WEIGHT 1515kg 0-100KM/H 4.1 secs TOP SPEED 280km/h inline five’s distinctive song is an aural delight, even recalling the V10 in the brand’s R8 supercar.
The extra power brings the 0-100km/h time down from 4.3 seconds to 4.1 , quicker than cars twice the price.
Previously only available as a hatch, the new RS3 will come in sedan form as well. The sedan will arrive in May or June, while the hatch will follow in the third quarter .
Prices will rise from the late $70,000 mark to the low $80,000s but will come with Audi’s digital cockpit readout as standard.
In what’s a familiar but successful formula for Audi’s RS interior package, minimal changes have been made to the A3’s cabin save for suede door trim inserts and diamondquilted leather seats.
The sports wheel, in look and feel, copies the latest Porsche trend and has the multifunction buttons floating off the wheel within reach of the thumbs.
External panels are largely unchanged except for marginally broader front guards to accommodate the 20mm wider front track.
It looks sleeker and fatter at the same time due to large sill extensions, a rear valance that houses the oval pipes and giant air intakes below the bumper, all signed off with signature brushed alloy highlights around the nose and on the mirrors.
The previous generation RS3 was a huge hit — Audi Australia sold 950 last year, which equates to roughly one in four A3 sales.
There’s little reason to believe the new model will be any different.
If tail-out shenanigans from a sporty European takes your fancy, stick to a BMW M2. If you seek a competent all-wheel drive mountain hugger that pumps out more horsepower than the Mercedes AMG A45, then the RS3 is well worth a serious look.