Audi’s small A3, even in base 1.4-litre TFSI form, is an impressive car. In S3 guise, with a punchy turbocharged 2-litre quattro powertrain, it is arguably the best performance saloon in its class. Now there’s an even wilder version of the A3 called RS3, available only in five-door Sportback form. Could this be the best car in its class?
For starters, the RS3 is the most powerful hot hatch you can buy today. Its 5-cylinder 2.5-litre engine with 1.35 bar of boost from the single turbocharger produces a constant 465Nm all the way between 1625rpm and 5550rpm. The power output is 367bhp between 5550rpm and 6800rpm.
The concept of this second-generation RS3 is similar to that of its predecessor – a hatchback with a 2.5-litre 5-cylinder and quattro permanent four-wheel-drive. The old RS3 is exquisitely built and fast in a straight line, but disappoints with its nose-heavy feel, understeer and benign steering.
Audi’s history with 5-cylinder engines actually dates back to the 100 saloon of 1976, but the 5-pot’s rise to fame started when it was slotted into a three-door coupe called the Quattro in 1981. The engine was turbocharged, and the drivetrain was unusual in having drive to all four wheels.
It established a new standard for performance vehicles and changed the way all rally cars were built.
This sporty new 5-pot number, based on the latest A3 model, was created by Audi’s quattro GmbH (“go-faster” division), with a focus on dynamic excellence.
The major changes include the use of more lightweight materials and the relocation of the centre differential to the rear of the drivetrain to improve the car’s weight distribution.
The differential itself has been specially developed for the RS3, incorporating electro-hydraulic control to apportion drive between the front and rear wheels.
It is claimed to respond instantly to wheelspin at any wheel, and will activate the differential clutch pack to send between 50 and 100 percent power to the rear.
In addition, selective individual wheel-braking controls left-to-right traction, which is especially useful in cornering when the inside wheel is less heavily laden and prone to spinning. The front brake discs, by the way, have 8-piston callipers.
The best news is that it all works brilliantly. My long test route with this vehicle took me on unrestricted autobahns, wet roads meandering through the Black Forest, and some snow-carpeted mountain passes. Enough to discover the engine’s might and the quattro’s bite.
Immediately obvious was the car’s responsive steering and front-end grip that the previous model was so in need of.
Even on wet roads, some strewn with slippery autumn leaves, the four-wheel-drive system’s torque transfer quelled any understeer, allowing tidy power-on exits from corners.
With the brake-induced torque vectoring, there was no sign of traction loss, except when applying aggressive throttle inputs on snow-covered surfaces. In any case, electronic stabilisation control (ESC, which can be turned off if you have a huge frozen lake to play on) quickly intervened to restore traction.
Audi’s turbocharged 5-cylinder engines have always impressed, and this one, the most powerful yet, is a real monster.
The claimed 4.3 seconds to 100km/h, frankly, feels overly conservative to me.
In Dynamic drive-select mode, the engine sounds like a V10 and delivers devastating pace.
Squeeze the throttle at 220km/h and the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox shifts down a gear or two to accelerate, which it does with urgency even at that velocity. Top speed in standard specification is electronically limited to 250km/h, but an optional de-limiter pack (as fitted to my test car) tacks on an additional 30km/h.
As a five-door hatchback, this Audi is a high performer that is also roomy and practical, having comfortable seating for five adults in a cabin that is finely tailored with quality materials. Boot space has been reduced by the rear-wheel drivetrain, but the backseats do fold to increase the pure cargo capacity.
Quattro powertrain apart, what really makes the RS3 special is its monumental motor, which is the best you can find in any hatchback today!
Audi RS3 2.5 (A)
ENGINE 2480cc, 20-valves, inline-5, turbocharged
MAX POWER 367bhp at 5550-6800rpm
MAX TORQUE 465Nm at 1625-5550rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 4.3 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 12.3km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 194g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $282,800 (after $5k CEVS surcharge)