Review: 2018 Audi RS3
Sep 16th, 2017
I’ve always had a thing for five-cylinder engines, especially in Audis. They sound and feel like nothing else, and some of the greatest Audis of all time have been powered by inline-fives, particularly turbocharged ones: the original Quattro, the first S4, and the TT-RS have all left strong impressions on anyone that drove them. So when the new RS3 was announced, powered by a new, aluminum-block inline-five and turbocharged to produce 400 horsepower, it had potential to be one of the great Audis.
If you haven’t noticed, Audi Sport (view our inventory in Vaughan
here) has been on a bit of a tear lately, with a raft of product introductions plotted to take it into the stratosphere of high-performance machinery you can actually drive and use every day. From the 605-hp RS7 to the latest R8, RS5, TTRS, and more, each new Audi Sport model is substantially faster and more technologically-advanced than its predecessor, while simultaneously upping the quotient of everyday usability and luxury.
Unlike their track equivalents, the new Audi Sport models are equivocally not extreme, power-sliding, harsh-riding extreme performance cars with huge depth but limited breadth; instead, they are spectacular all-rounders that can essentially be whatever you want them to be. On track, the RS3 LMS is a fire-breathing, two-wheel drive race car with blistered fenders, a huge hydraulic handbrake, and the potential to tear your face off; on the street, the RS3 is almost as fast with a far broader breadth of talents.
Fire it up and the first thing you notice is that, even when fitted with the adjustable sport exhaust system, it isn’t obnoxiously loud. There’s a deep throb that seems to envelop the whole car, for sure, but as you pull away, it isn’t overwhelming. Indeed, you’re more struck by how easy it is to wheel this bottle-rocket sedan around town. The steering, controlled by a beautifully-crafted alcantara wheel, is light and precise; visibility is excellent through the upright greenhouse, and the ride quality on adjustable dampers, keeps even the biggest bumps at bay.
Indeed, in many everyday driving situations, the RS3 feels like the world’s most luxurious and optioned-up A3. While that sounds damning, it isn’t; the A3 has, in my opinion, the best interior of any current Audi, solidly built out of the best materials, but completely devoid of superfluous styling touches. The RS3’s cabin feels a lot more special, if still fundamentally the same; flourishes include the gorgeous steering wheel, high-backed leather bucket seats with diamond-patterned contrast stitching, a killer sound system, the latest version of Audi’s MMI interface including Apple CarPlay, and the new Audi Virtual Cockpit, with its fully-configurable, multi-functional digital instrument cluster.
Situated in the single row of hard switches at the bottom of the dashboard, however, is the Audi Drive Select control, which lets you switch between comfort (what you likely rolled away in), dynamic, automatic (which engages dynamic) and individual modes. Controlling variables such as steering weight, transmission programming, throttle response, front/rear torque split, damper stiffness, and even exhaust loudness, it’s the key to unlocking the other aspects of the RS3’s personality.
Flip it over to the most extreme mode, and the RS3 is transformed. The suspension stiffens up – it’s almost too stiff to use on the street – and the engine note moves up several notches in aggression and volume, taking on a hard-edged warble when you’re on the gas, and farting riotously during gear changes on the overrun. The seven-speed S Tronic transmission wakes up, leaving behind the slurred, smooth gearshifts in comfort mode for snap-crackle-pop changes with each pull of the paddles.
Make no mistake, this is a riotously fast little sedan, one that can, when you lay into it, scorch past any posted local speed limit in a couple of blinks, and one in which you really need to pay attention. Thanks to an odd, but very functional, staggered-tire setup that puts wider 19-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zeros at the front, the RS3 is an unbelievably grippy, unflappable, confident handler in pretty much any condition. You find yourself circling on-ramps at hyper speed, bombing along winding roads, and zipping around town wondering why everyone else is going so slow, and realize that it’s not other cars that need to speed up, it’s you that needs to slow down. The quality of the ride, the excellent refinement and solid construction, contribute to an unstoppable quality that is no doubt even further magnified in the winter, once you throw a set of high-performance snow tires on.
Like most modern performance cars, the RS3 needs some time and attention to find an ideal setup between all of its adjustable bits; after a couple of days, I’d settled on the most aggressive drivetrain calibration, with the lightest steering setting and most compliant suspension for the best feel, at least on the street; you can save your favourite settings in the individual mode within Drive Select. Cornering ability in this individual setup is barely diminished (in fact, in some situations, it’s improved, because the car isn’t knocked off-course by mid-corner bumps), city driving is measurably better, and the steering feels its most natural without any artificial weight added. As for the exhaust, you decide how much you want to annoy your neighbours, or not, every time you turn the car on and drive away…
Over $70,000 for what is, in essence, the ultimate souped-up version of Audi’s smallest sedan, which starts at under $35,000, seems like a lot of money, and it is. But start looking at the stats the RS3 is in many ways, truly more than twice the car: it has more than twice the horsepower, its list of standard features is as long as your arm, and the performance, when you want it, is electrifying – and on the level of some cars that cost twice as much again. That all of it is wrapped in a conservative, versatile, if beautifully-sculpted body that blends in when you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, is probably the coolest thing about the RS3.
Pfaff is your Audi Sport expert. view our inventory in Vaughan