Enter the fifth dimension
Audi’s five-cylinder engine brings character as well as performance. By Ben Barry
Audi RS3 Launch Edition Month 1
The story so far Audi’s uber hatch, part 3 ★ Five-cylinder quattro goodness - £60k is a lot of cash Logbook
Price £60,460 (£60,460 as tested) Performance 2480cc turbo fivecylinder, 395bhp, 3.8sec 0-62mph, 174mph Efficiency 31.0mpg (official), 23.1mpg (tested), 205g/km C02 Energy cost 28.5p per mile Miles this month 252 Total miles 588 miles 1-2-4-5-3 – it sounds like a jazz improv band counting themselves in, but the truth is far more listenable: it’s the firing order of Audi’s unique five-cylinder turbocharged engine, responsible for one of the world’s most identifiable car-based soundtracks. Phlegmy, gurgly, fantastic.
At a time when engines are getting smaller, it’s a rare victory for cubic inches that Audi has left the RS3’s characterful, idiosyncratic 2.5-litre five fundamentally unchanged since 2011. I’ll certainly be making the most of it over the course of these long-term reports.
The five-pot’s story dates back to rallying in the 1980s, on cars that also had all-wheel drive and blistered arches, and some even experimented with a dual-clutch gearbox, based on principles still followed by the RS3’s standard S-tronic.
Given how much things have evolved since then, it’s incredible that Audi still offers a car that ticks all those boxes. Thankfully it doesn’t tick the ‘blunt-but-effective driving tool’ box, because this RS3 seems far more dexterous than those early Quattros, and mind-boggling over the tricky winter B-roads in my neck of the woods – pinpoint handling, mighty traction with a rear-biased push, and a controlled if elastic ride on adaptive dampers to make its huge speed feel calm.
One thing, though: Audi gave us the choice of winter tyres or regular Pirelli P Zeros; I chose the latter just because it’s been generally pretty warm, but the lack of lateral bite when it’s circa 4ºC and damp and the rubber’s still cold is a little alarming – possibly because the RS3 is so ‘on-the-nose’ with extra negative camber, and pivots around its front end so crisply – but once warm there’s no doubting the efficacy.
I’ll dig into all this more during upcoming reports, but I’m getting ahead of myself here; you need the basics first. This is the thirdgeneration RS3, and its vitals are 395bhp and 369lb ft, the former as per its predecessor but spread over a more generous 5600-7000rpm, the latter a 15lb ft improvement.
Audi offers the RS 3 as a five-door hatch (aka Sportback) or four-door saloon, and we’ve got the former – it’s £1k more affordable at a still teeth-sucking base of £54,405, 15cm shorter, and better for
sticking a bike on the back. I love its butch looks, like the body’s a tight T-shirt struggling to contain the muscle beneath.
The suspension is lowered 25mm versus the regular A3, the track’s wider, there are huge six-piston front brakes (no optional carbon-ceramics for our car), and there’s the extra negative camber (1º more) on the front axle, plus uprated pivot bearings and lower wishbones with stiffer bearings.
There are two big leaps for this RS3. The first is the RS Torque Splitter, with individual clutch packs to precisely control the torque directed to either rear wheel. The second is a new modular vehicle dynamics controller (mVDC) that ensures information flows between Torque Splitter, dampers and steering like a brain rapidly coordinating a gymnast’s limbs. There is simply no comparison between this and the cumbersome, laggy Haldex system in the Mk2 Audi TT 3.2 V6 I first ran at CAR.
All RS3s have these ingredients, then you choose between standard spec, Carbon Black, or range-topping Vorsprung. Ours is actually none of the above, being a now sold-out Launch Edition, which is just a little shy of Vorsprung spec. It adds a chunky £6k to the price, but to be fair the extra spec far outweighs that if chosen as individual options.
There are 19-inch black alloys, red brake calipers and tinted matrix LED headlamps, plus extra comfort features including Bang & Olufsen audio and electric seats. There’s driver-assist stuff too. I’m a fan of this tech when it’s passive, including the RS3’s 360º camera, head-up display and Traffic Sign Assist. It’s when these systems try to ‘help’ that I get irritated. I’ll give the Adaptive Cruise Assist (adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping control) a try.
In terms of the driving experience, there are two probably key bits of extra kit (‘probably’ because I haven’t tested an RS3 without them), namely a sports exhaust to give the five-cylinder engine a fuller voice and, less relevantly, top speed also increases from 155mph to 174mph.
Plenty to report back on then over the coming months. But like Walter Röhrl on gravel, we’re certainly off to a flying start. @IamBenBarry
I love the butch looks, like the body’s a tight T-shirt struggling to contain the muscle beneath