Meet the new Audi RS3 Sportback – a hot hatchback with supercar performance.
It’s not so long ago that the performance of supercars such as the Lamborghini Countach was considered blistering. How times have changed…
Built between 1974-1990, a V12 Countach took around five seconds to reach 60mph and topped out around 180mph.
Now, 25 years on, the second generation Audi RS3 can hit 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and has a top speed of 174mph.
Powered by a five-cylinder turbocharged engine and blessed with Audi’s legendary quattro four-wheel-drive system, the RS3 is a remarkable package.
If anything, its appearance is a little understated because here is a car that can be used as a family hatchback one minute, then rip up the historic Shelsley Walsh hillclimb the next.
I use this analogy because Shelsley Walsh hillclimb is where Audi chose to launch the RS3.
Not only did we get the chance to take the RS3 to the limits on the hillclimb umpteen times, but we shared in a bit of Audi history.
For this is where, 79 years ago, Hans Stuck competed in the 16-cylinder Auto Union Type C and Hannu Mikkola took best time of the day in an Audi Sport Quattro in 1986.
And I can report that the new RS3 certainly flattered me on the hillclimb, making no fuss as I floored it on the famous start line. It then gave a cool demonstration of the quattro all-wheel-drive system – the sheep grip offered was nothing short of astonishing.
The 362bhp on tap was more than enough to propel the RS3 up the hill in a not indecent time even with me at the wheel, with the torque cleverly spread through the range.
I should note at this stage that the RS3 we were driving at the launch was packed with extras, including the Dynamic Package which adds £2,500 to the basic £39,955.
For that you get the essential RS sports exhaust (symphonic is the word – just a shame there aren’t many tunnels in the UK), plus Audi’s Magnetic Ride with RS Sports suspension. Most importantly Audi’s engineers will also derestrict the engine, giving you access to the 174mph top speed (normally 155mph).
Inside, the RS3 shares the same premium feel and packaging as a more basic A3, but with a few extras including supportive sports seats, big RS dials and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
There’s space for five adults (just) and the boot is a decent size too. What’s more, if you can ease off on the right food, the RS3 is, in theory, capable of 34.9mpg, emitting 189g/km of CO2.
Thanks to the RS3’s drive modes (auto, comfort, dynamic, and individual), it’s possible to tootle around town in comfort with light steering and a more refined engine tone, but switch to Dynamic out on the open road and the suspension stiffens up, while the twin exhausts pop and crackle gloriously, especially on the downshifts.
This is a car that laps up the miles effortlessly and is a pleasure to drive at whatever speed, though the amount of road noise in the cabin is sometimes obtrusive, especially in dynamic mode.
As you can tell I’m a bit of a fan of the RS3, but there is one issue – price.
It may start at a shade under £40,000, but the finished product could end up costing nearer £50,000.
This is serious money for a hot hatch – however good it is.
Audi likes to compare the RS3 to its German rivals including the BMW 135i and Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, but the truth is that one of its biggest competitors is likely to be much closer to home in the shape of its Volkswagen Group cousin, the Golf R, which also has all-wheel-drive, a DSG auto box and a glorious exhaust tone – all for around £30,000 basic.
Yes, the RS3 is a premium car which Audi claims will hold its value better than its competitors, but ultimately it will be fascinating to see how many punters make that leap.
Verdict – the RS3 is an exhilarating all-round premium package that’s surprisingly practical too, but at a price.