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Driven: Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

Driven: Audi RS 3 Sportback
Super-fast super-hatch from Ingolstadt, but stick with the S3.


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Audi RS 3 Sportback

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: absolutely bonkers all-weather pace, unsurpassed cabin quality, sounds absolutely fantastic

Not so good: it never really lights your fire because it's just too capable, unpleasant variable steering, astonishing price

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi RS 3 Sportback
Price: from 39,620; car as tested 51,185
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol
Transmission: four-wheel drive, seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 194g/km (Band J, 490 first 12 months, 265 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 34.0mpg
Top speed: 174mph (limited; for car as tested, see copy)
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Power: 367hp at 5,550- to 6,800rpm
Torque: 465Nm at 1,625- to 5,550rpm

Our view:

The hot hatch war has escalated to the point where various armies are threatening to deploy nuclear weapons as the next step in the conflict. It was little more than a decade ago that Honda was proudly declaring the 200hp EP3 Civic Type-R as a GTI-killer, thanks to its rampant power. Nowadays, any mid-sized two-box with three or five doors that has a 'mere' 200hp is denounced as nothing more than warm.

So with a large proportion of C-segment cars found in the 250-300hp bracket, we've now got to accept the rise of the hyper-hatch, or mega-hatch, or whatever you want to call things like this brutal Audi RS 3 Sportback. Packing a 367hp, 465Nm turbocharged five-cylinder engine, this was briefly the fastest hot hatch in the world... right up until Affalterbach got a bit miffed that its A 45 had been outgunned, resulting in the 381hp, 4.2-seconds-to-62mph latest edition of the AMG that has wiped the smile off Ingolstadt's face. Still, despite the RS 3's 'second place', something that is very loosely related to a Volkswagen Golf that can crack 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and run on to 174mph (more on that later) has got to be applauded for its sheer insanity.

We said only a few weeks back when reviewing the Q3 that RS Audis are either absolutely stunning to drive or infuriatingly inert, no matter what monumental pace they can summon up. Early critical indications are that the RS 3 sadly falls into the latter camp, but we're prepared to judge it afresh here in the UK, so let's begin with the noise. To be honest, the Audi could have the worst steering in the world, suspension made out of old bits of Meccano and a gearbox fashioned from fudge, but when something sounds as good as this, you're inclined to forgive it almost anything.

Of all the five-cylinder engine/exhaust combinations we've heard, this is probably the absolute best. With an optional RS Sports exhaust (again, we'll come back to this), there are few cars of any price that have a soundtrack as spine-tingling as this. Yes, it truly does evoke memories of an E1 short-wheelbase slip-sliding through a distant forest in the hands of a mental Scandinavian rally driver. And the sensational noise, complete with pops, bangs and burbles from the exhaust on full-bore upshifts/hard-braking downshifts, overlays straight-line performance that is jaw-dropping. The Audi exhibits minimal turbo lag, leading to epic acceleration in all gears and at pretty much any road speed.

Like all good quattro RS models, the Sportback finds monster traction in all situations, making it feel even more rapid than its strong on-paper pace because it fires out of corners a good 10- to 20mph quicker than you were expecting, while body control is right out of the top drawer on the Magnetic Ride dampers (part of a package, we'll come ba... oh, OK, enough of this already). So everything is in place to make the RS 3 Sportback brutally quick, astonishingly capable in the bends and hugely desirable to all and sundry.

Except... it's all just a tad safe. The RS 3 never feels like it wants the rear axle to play any sort of part in the proceedings, despite the Haldex-based four-wheel drive system being able to deploy up to 50 per cent of torque to the back of the car. On one slippery, sharp left-hander, best taken in second gear, being aggressive with the RS 3 on turn-in and reapplication of the throttle activated the system, but it didn't feel fluid as the car adjusted line, just clunky; the sensation was akin to the feeling of too-intrusive traction control.

It also feels like anyone could get the best out of the RS 3 Sportback within minutes of getting behind the wheel. There are no secrets to learn or tricks to discover once you've taken apart the first few corners in a flurry of coolly detached four-wheel traction and if you do overcook it trying to unlock some enjoyment, then a classic fast Audi weakness makes itself known in the form of quite a bit of push-on understeer. This is surprising, because both the 'lesser' S3 and the exquisite Volkswagen Golf R - both with 300hp and the same Haldex underpinnings - never exhibit anything like this eager tendency to wash wide. The RS 3's variable steering is also horrid, being alarmingly light in the lesser modes, and sticky and weighty but lacking meaningful feel in Dynamic.

It's also a hefty car at 1,520kg, but enough of the road-holding gripes - the biggest 'woah!' comes when you see the price. Audi quotes 39,620 but the actual on-the-road price is 40,795. And this car, as tested, would retail at a whopping 51,185. Despite this exorbitant fee, this is just a few of the expected premium essentials the RS 3 lacks: electric adjustment for the seats; cruise control, adaptive or otherwise; keyless entry and push-button go; and a reversing camera, among more.

Some of the options, like metallic paint (550), the S Super Sports seats with quilted leather (795), the carbon inlays on the dash (750) - they can be left alone, but there are a few option boxes it's worth ticking, so while atypical RS 3s might not be 51,000 they're likely to all be in the mid-40s. The Comfort and Sound Package, for 1,150, is one such upgrade. It brings in cruise control and a massive, 705-watt Bang & Olufsen surround sound system... as well as some fancy interior lighting and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. For 1,795, the Technology Package featuring Audi Connect (which sounds like a collaboration pop act; maybe it should be 'Technology Package Feat. Ow-D Qonekt') upgrades the navigation system to its most fulsome specification, while it also makes the car a Wi-Fi hotspot.

And the final bundle, Dynamic Package Plus (we said we'd come back to it...), is 1,000 more than the 1,495 Dynamic Package, which adds Audi Magnetic Ride with adaptive dampers and the superb RS Sports exhaust. So what is the extra grand for? Raising the electronic speed limiter from 155- to 174mph - meaning, theoretically, your hot hatch is as quick as relatively modern supercars like the Ferrari 348, Honda NSX or Lotus Esprit V8. Legally, it's a total irrelevance.

One last note on options: the OE rims are 19s with 235/35 R19 tyres, but there are three upgrades, all 19-inch items too - and the two most expensive, at 795 and 895, make the front wheels half-an-inch wider, at 19 x 8.5J compared to 19 x 8J. That necessitates something we've never seen before: bigger tyres on the front axle than the rear, 255/30 plays 235/35, which probably says volumes about the nose-led forces of physics the RS 3 is grappling to overcome. We've also heard anecdotally that those 255/30s are near impossible to get hold of, save direct from Audi.

We've not quite finished yet. We saw just 18.9mpg over a 200-mile week. On a steady, 30-mile drive on country back roads and lightly trafficked A-roads into our local town, the RS 3 returned 27.8mpg. But then one single strop over the hill from the neighbouring village to our own - a distance of two miles - dropped that figure to 20.5mpg, which should give you some idea of how bad on fuel the RS 3 is when driven as intended. And, to our eyes, the Sportback is least attractive of the four A3 body styles. Whereas you can get that aforementioned S3 in two- (open-top), three-, four- and five-door shapes - with the best being the S3 Saloon.

We tried to love the RS 3 Sportback and in many ways, it is a sure-fire hit. It's so, so fast, it sounds magnificent and like any good Audi, it's polished to a remarkably high standard inside and out. That'll win it enough fans to make Audi deem it a success. But regrettably, it's another one of the many RS Audis of recent years that's very easy to admire but next to impossible to love. You'll get more fun behind the wheel of any number of cars back in that 250-300hp bracket we mentioned at the outset and given they're (in some instances) half the price of this specced-up RS 3, the Audi's stand-offish nature merely leaves us feeling cold.


BMW M135i: it's lost against this sort of firepower and grip, but in terms of putting a smile on its driver's face, the rear-wheel drive BMW is miles better than the RS 3.

Mercedes-AMG A 45: recently given 381hp to counteract the RS 3 so it's even quicker, believe it or not. Also revoltingly expensive but recent chassis updates have enlivened the Merc missile.

Volkswagen Golf R: while it's obviously a direct rival for the S3, the fact the Golf R is a much more entertaining steer than the RS 3 makes its 30,820 starting price tag look positively cheap.

Matt Robinson - 16 Dec 2015    - Audi road tests
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2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback. Image by Audi.


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