First Drive: Audi RS3
Want a really fast hatch? Here are 10 things we bet you want to know about Audi's new RS3
It's here, it's finally here! We've had to endure endless teasing and endless frothing at the mouth over the last year while Audi just added to the speculation of when, or not, its RS3 might touch down in SA. Now that it's here, we fizzed some more as we put the really fast hatch through its paces on the road and track. Here's what you need to know about the baby RS…
1. The front of the RS3 can suck the oxygen out of a room
When we say 'baby RS,' we really mean that it's the lowest numerically-designated RS model in SA. It has, in fact, grown quite a bit. Audi managed to style it so that it looks mature and tasteful while adding a decent helping of out-of-the-box aggressiveness.
At the front, there's what Audi calls an RS bumper. Truth be told, there are really not a lot of bumper-esque elements here. The entirety of the front end is dominated by air-flow apparatuses such as the massive honeycomb grille that can swallow the tarmac without chewing, and considerable air intakes that keep all the go-fast components cool. This magnitude of grilles is adorned by stylish Matrix LED headlights that have a chequered flag lighting motif. We're all for chequered flags…
2. The rear pipes play an organic 5-cylinder tune
The rear of the RS3 is where the model differences come into play since both the Sportback (the hatch) and Sedan derivatives are available locally. Both models have animated LED taillights and a honeycomb-inspired inset on the rear bumper. Beneath that lives a conservative diffuser that's flanked by the gargantuan music pipes whence an iconic soundtrack emanates… Inside each amplifier pipe are a further two exhaust outlets that are geared to playing a heart-melting 5-cylinder tune with equal measure base and treble. More on that later, though.
While not necessarily related to beautiful exhaust burbles, it's worth mentioning that all RS3 models roll out as standard on 19" wheels with a 10-Y spoke design, while black 19-inchers with a 5-Y and RS badge are available as a R12,700 option — money well spent. Also as standard is the Black Styling Pack, while owners wishing to further customise the look of their RS3s, can opt for the Aluminium Styling Pack (R15,500) or the Black Styling Pack Plus (R7,000) which adds elements like black Audi rings.
3. Parts of the interior look supercar-inspired
We're not gonna name-drop on this occasion, but parts of the interior look like it may as well have been fitted to a supercar of some persuasion. We're not complaining, though, since the cabin of the RS3 looks darned good with its front-and-centre air vents that, by the way, can be specified with accent colours as part of yet another RS Styling Pack starting at R12,800. Ouch. Just include it as standard, Audi…
There's also the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel with its racing-inspired top-centre marker that not only looks fantastic but also feels the premium part. The 10.1" centre infotainment screen is seamlessly integrated into the dashboard and makes for an attractive eye-level finish to the interior.
Moving below the dashboard's horizontal split-line, though, isn't quite as attractive, if we're honest. It's not obvious at first, but the areas surrounding the gear-select lever up to the climate control switches look a bit one-dimensional in execution compared to the rest of the cabin. Also, for a super hatch fetching this price tag, we would've liked to see less generous plastic use. One could argue weight-saving, but then again, the RS3 is well over a bar…
4. Shifting gears is like playing Guitar Hero
Displaying crucial performance driving information such as r/min in place of the traditional instrument binnacle is the 12.3" Audi Virtual Cockpit display — a fully-digital element that's increasingly becoming the norm in new, upper-end vehicles. What isn't mainstream, though, is the 'RS Runway' tachometer that represents engine speed in a line that, as the name suggests, represents a runway.
It reminded me of playing Guitar Hero and shifting at just the right time is rewarded with all the right performance exhaust notes, and some valuable milliseconds around the track, of course. No 200-note streaks here, unfortunately. If you prefer a more conservative approach to how you receive your driving information, the Audi Virtual Cockpit allows several configurations including a digitised display of both the rev-counter and speedometer. It can also display your g-forces, acceleration times, active power usage, and times for both a quarter and eight-mile drag race.
5. It's not the world's most powerful hatchback
As Herculean as 294 kW and 500 Nm of torque is for a factory-spec hatchback, it's not the most powerful in the world. That honour still belongs to the Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+ which produces 310 kW and 500 Nm from its 4-cyl, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. The Audi RS3 Sportback and Sedan variants, on the other hand, are powered by a 5-cyl, 2.5-litre turbocharged engine that has access to maximum power as early as 5,600 r/min (Merc-AMG 45 S: 6,750 r/min) and maximum torque from 2,250 r/min while the Merc can tap into its maximum Newtons from only 5,000 r/min.
Remember our anecdote on the sound of the RS3? Well, that one-of-kind, 5-cylinder noise is produced using a cylinder firing sequence of 1,2,4,5,3 with the help of fully-variable exhaust flap control; a musical blueprint, we guess, that can be likened to sheet music… Listen to us trying to sound clued up on musical theory. What we do know is that it makes some beautiful noises…
6. It's the world's fastest factory-spec hatch… on paper
So, this is a bit of a complex one. For some, fastest means how quickly a car can lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife. In the case of the Audi RS3 Sedan, it set a record-breaking time in the compact production category of 7:40.748 minutes using all the performance witchery at the car's disposal including semi-slick tyres — an option Audi has now availed to its customers, by the way. To give you some perspective, with this time, the RS3 is in the company of the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, McLaren-Mercedes SLR and the 2009 Porsche 911 GT3. So yes, it was the sedan derivative that set the time, but by extension, this applies to the Sportback as well.
In terms of top speed, the Audi RS3 can sprint to 290 km/h should owners wish to deactivate the limiter that governs it to 250 km/h. Its top speed is 20 km/h more than its closest rival, the Merc-AMG 45 S. With the help of the quattro system and launch control, Audi claims that its baby RS can sprint to the benchmark 100 km/h in a matter of 3.8 secs. 0.1 secs quicker than, you guessed it, its AMG nemesis that's also helped by an all-wheel-drive system.
7. It has an RS torque splitter
A first for the Audi brand, the RS torque splitter allows the Audi RS3 to corner like a Gecko on velcro. Without getting too technical, this apparatus uses a clever clutch system to independently distribute that 500 Nm of torque between the rear wheels. When cornering left, torque gets sent to the right rear wheel and the opposite is true during right-hand cornering.
According to Audi, and through some clever formula that we won't even pretend to understand, in extreme situations, up to 1,750 Nm can be sent to a single wheel to get the perfect line out of a corner. Similarly important, though, the RS torque splitter was conceived to combat the known tendency of quattro systems to understeer. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
8. The mechanical hoodoo works. It works well.
We've all heard the promises before: this will combat that, and these will help a driver go 0.0001 secs quicker without real tangible proof. On the road then, it's hard to pinpoint exactly how it all gels together. It's also on longer stretches of blacktop, where the most unlikely aspect of the RS3 shines through with its grown-up nature wherewith it hardly provokes you to stomp on the loud pedal. It really is quite comfortable, especially considering the no-nonsense nature of the RS3. Dial it into its Dynamic Mode, however, and it tightens up; its character changes and it's ready to bite. Press on that loud pedal with caution 'cause it'll leap forwards at a rate that belies the cool and composed nature it presented just seconds ago while cruising about.
On the track, and in its element, the Dynamic Mode holds true to its name. It shoots out of corners like a cheetah out of the blocks with the digitised speed indicator just blurring to a conclusion. When the time comes to brake, the R122,000 RS Ceramic Brakes - as part of the RS Dynamic Plus Package - fitted to our unit brought with it rapid deceleration as the rear got light and danced around ever so slightly.
Then comes the time to activate RS Performance and the Dynamic Mode quite simply felt conservative in comparison. It becomes something different altogether as the entirety of the car's character changes. It almost feels malicious in its execution of speed. But thanks to all the mechanical components working seamlessly to optimise every turn of the wheel and press on the accelerator, it's near foolproof. It bites into a corner and won't let go until you command a fast line out of it. It grips, and grips until, eventually, the tyre's lateral grip gives out. Shoot down to the next corner, work that 7-speed gearbox, rinse, and repeat.
9. This may very well be the last RS3 as we know it
That sub-heading pretty much sums it up, but with the walls closing in on the performance-focused ICE engine, chances are that this is the last, unadulterated petrol-powered RS3. Savour the moment since the future of the performance car looks to exchange exhaust burbles and claps with an electric hum. A silent but speedy eS3 anyone?
10. The Audi RS3 starts at over a bar
It was shock, horror and cries of despair when Mercedes-AMG launched its A45 S and it breached the R1m marker. Something no one thought would happen until such a time that hatchbacks could fly. And now, it's the Audi RS3's turn to overshoot that abstract 'it's-damn-expensive' line. Call it inflation, call it developmental overheads or whatever justification is appropriate but the fact of the matter remains that at R1,215,000 for the Sportback and R1,245,000 for the Sedan, it's not exactly accessible performance — the idea on which hot hatches were conceived.
Add to that an extensive options list to specify the Audi RS3 you'd really, really want and you'll be in for over R1.6m faster than it accelerates. MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch… R39,300. Get a data plan and download Google Maps — TopGear SA's tip of the day… Our unit had the interior styling pack that adds red accents on the vents and red contrast stitching; R16,500. We believe Audi can afford to offer a lot of these added niceties with the sticker price.
Still, the Audi RS3 is a fantastically capable performance machine that's been engineered to the point of overcoming lady physics' stringent rules, and that's what it's ultimately all about. If I had the money, consider me sold.