Open gallery Close by Matt Saunders 26 October 2021 Follow @TheDarkStormy1 Share
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There’s an admirable belligerence about Audi Sport’s thinking with this third-generation RS3 mega-hatch. It hasn’t been made a crime just yet, after all, to put a big engine into something relatively small and create an amusingly alternative driver’s car in the process, much as a great many of Europe’s CO2-based taxation regimes would already suggest it ought to be.
It really would be an aberration, though, if Audi’s excellent EA855 five-cylinder performance engine, motivator of the likes of the Audi TT RS and RS Q3 and winner of more International Engine of the Year awards (yes, they do exist) than you can shake a golden crankshaft at, were taken from us any earlier than was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, it hasn’t been, so the ‘net zero glidepath’ can get back in the sea for the next 1000 words at least.
Hot hatchbacks like this used to be a little bit more common, but the RS3 has become the last of that over-engined breed, with motors significantly bigger, more powerful and more mechanically exotic than you expect to find in any humble five-door and something of the aura of the custom-built, engine-swapped hot rod about them. When I started out writing about cars and not long thereafter, there was a Volkswagen Golf R32, an Alfa 147 GTA, a five-pot Ford Focus ST and a straight-six BMW 130i about which to get excited – and I did. Now, every other hot hatchback seems to come with a samey four-pot turbo. Whatever the planet may make of it, my inner 20-something thinks that’s a great shame.
Available in both saloon and five-door hatch Sportback bodystyles, the new RS3 has Audi’s updated 2.5-litre five-cylinder lump, which now produces 394bhp and 369lb ft of torque (15lb ft more than it did last time out). There’s plenty else that’s interesting about it, but that fact alone is enough (if you tick the right options boxes) to give this little Audi a top speed of, get this, 180mph.
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Imagine, if you will, the look of crestfallen incredulity on the face of the besuited driver of a BMW X6 M550i or Mercedes-AMG E-Class Estate, on his morning autobahn commute between Karlsruhe and Pforzheim, when he’s passed at that kind of speed by an Audi A3. It might even be worth the price of admission – although, as we’ll come on to, it’s quite a high price.
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Audi Sport has certainly pushed the boat out for this car. Significant effort beyond the scope of that involved with any RS3 before it has gone into the car’s chassis and suspension overhaul. This also becomes the latest fast five-door with an electronically controlled, torque-vectoring rear differential – and, of course, a drift mode (although traditionally demure Audi doesn’t label it as such).
The work started with widely revised wheel hubs and axles. The RS3 rides 10mm lower even than an S3; on special uprated dampers that don’t appear on any other VW Group relation; on widened 19in wheels with front tyres wider of section than any on a previous version; with a front track some 33mm wider than the last version’s; and with increased negative wheel camber, for enhanced cornering grip, featuring at both front and rear.
The new RS3’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has a wider spread of ratios than it used to, for faster acceleration and better cruising efficiency. (It’s the first one that’ll crack 62mph from rest in less than four seconds). There’s a new active exhaust for an even more expressive five-cylinder sound. There are new and enlarged standard steel brakes with six-piston calipers, too. Or, if you prefer, you can have optional carbon-ceramic brakes, which come packaged with adaptive dampers, as part of Audi’s RS Dynamic package. Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres are optionally available in other markets but, for reasons unknown, Audi UK isn’t offering them.