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Audi RS 3 Saloon. Image by Audi.

Audi RS 3 Saloon
Surely adding a separate boot to the back of the Audi RS 3 isnít enough to transform it? Is itÖ?


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Audi RS 3 Saloon

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Praise be - here's an Audi RS model that no longer infuriates with its ultimately inert chassis set-up. The newly rebranded quattro GmbH has got to grips with the RS 3, and the result is a hyper-hatch that can now challenge at the top of the class. Except this particular car isn't exactly a hyper-hatch. It's a super saloon. And a bloody good one, at that.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi RS 3 Saloon
Pricing: RS 3 range from £44,300; RS 3 Saloon from £45,250, car as tested £56,785
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: quattro four-wheel drive, seven-speed S tronic automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 191g/km (£1,200 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 33.6mpg
Top speed: 174mph (limited, option - see copy)
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Power: 400hp at 5,850- to 7,000rpm
Torque: 480Nm at 1,700- to 5,850rpm

What's this?

Strike, counter-strike, disproportionate military retaliation and then a protracted campaign of nuclear carpet-bombing, as various moves in the ongoing hyper-hatch war. Once the 250hp barrier was broached in the hot hatchback world, the floodgates opened and we've been inundated with mighty performance cars in compact five-door bodies ever since. Audi was one of the first in, launching the 340hp RS 3 Sportback in 2011, but it has since been targeted by BMW (the M135i and now the M140i), Mercedes-AMG (the A 45) and Ford (with its Focus RS) in the intervening years.

And it's that pesky A 45 which represents the chief opposing force to the RS 3 in the ongoing conflict. It launched in 2013 with a 360hp turbocharged four-cylinder motor and Mercedes' version of all-wheel drive, tagged 4MATIC. That made it faster accelerating than the outgoing MkI RS 3. So Audi hit back, with the 2015 MkII RS 3 going to 367hp and beating the Mercedes-AMG A 45 for 0-62mph acceleration by three-tenths of a second (4.3 plays 4.6). Back came Mercedes, fiddling with its four-pot motor almost immediately to create the 381hp iteration of the A 45. Result? A 4.2-second 0-62mph time, and two fingers metaphorically jabbed up in the air in the direction of Audi.

Which leaves us here, at the point where we now have a 400hp hyper-hatch (Subaru might argue that 2010's four-wheel drive Cosworth Impreza STi CS400 rather beat everyone to the punch by several years, but we digress...). Audi has updated the RS 3 MkII for 2017, and the news is gains of 33hp and 15Nm from the previous car, to peak outputs of 400hp and 480Nm here; enough for a 0-62mph time of 4.1 seconds, and presumably lots of muttering of the words 'get a Black Series A 45 ready, right now' at Mercedes.

In essence, this is the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine from the TT RS, which is not just a remap of the old 2.5. Instead, Audi has changed the crankcase from graphite iron to alloy, bored out the crank within to save a kilo of weight, fitted 6mm-smaller main bearings and a magnesium sump, too. The net result is a 26kg weight saving compared to the old 367hp engine, which means less weight sitting over the front axle. Those who know that the words 'RS', 'Audi' and 'understeer' are all too often cosy bedfellows will therefore note this as being good news indeed.

Elsewhere, not much has changed in terms of the mechanical offering, with quattro 4WD still provided and a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission. There's said to be a fast-reacting quattro system underneath the Audi, capable of flinging between 50 and 100 per cent of torque to the rear axle at any given moment, and also a tweaking of the software control system for said all-wheel drive. Apart from this, though, it's 'as you were' for the RS 3 v2.5.

What is new is the addition of an RS 3 Saloon to the fold, as previously the hottest A3 was only available as a Sportback. While you can still get the rather dumpy five-door, for £950 less than the newcomer, we think the RS 3 Saloon is definitely the way to go. It only weighs 5kg more (at 1,515kg all-in), it retains a lot of the practicality (losing only 20 litres of boot space, at 315 litres, with all seats in place - even if it is significantly less roomy with the rear seats folded down, 770 litres plays 1,175 litres) and it just looks marvellous. So good, in fact, that we're moved to declare the RS 3 Saloon the best-looking motor in Audi's catalogue, right behind both versions of the R8 supercar.

Also, what are the Saloon's true rivals? Hyper-hatches are becoming thicker on the ground, if you start adding front-drive and 300hp+ contenders to the mix, like the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R and SEAT Leon Cupra 300. But how many compact four-door machines are there? Only one we can think of - the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, which is great fun but not quite the finished article.

So, the RS 3 has the firepower, looks and of course the interior - it's a smasher, replete with RS-branded sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit and a seven-inch MMI Navigation infotainment system all fitted as standard - but we must address the, um, Nardo Grey elephant in the room. When it launched in 2015, Audi (just about) managed to give the 367hp RS 3 Sportback a basic UK list price starting with a three. Those days are gone. The 400hp Sportback is beyond £44,000 without options, the Saloon is costlier again: £45,250, to be precise. And although the standard spec is generous, there are options. Steep ones, too. Like Super Sports seats, for £795. Or nearly £4,700 on carbon ceramic brakes. Or a grand for the almost-essential RS Sport exhaust. Or £995 on Audi Magnetic Ride dampers. Or, perhaps most astonishingly of all, £1,600 (SIXTEEN-HUNDRED!) to have the speed limiter raised from 155mph to an equally unobtainable 174mph.

This means that, with a few choice toys, you can easily be looking at an RS 3 that's much closer to £60,000 than it is to £40,000. We drove two cars on the day of the test, which were a Saloon with lots of kit added but no carbon brakes, and a Sportback with the uprated stoppers and pretty much every conceivable toy fitted. The former was £56,785 OTR, the latter £59,475. Gulp. So the new RS 3 had better be good, given the last time we drove it in the UK, we were less than impressed with this hyper-hatch...

How does it drive?

Crikey! This cannot be the same car as the 367hp model underneath, surely?! OK, 26kg less at the front and a slightly sharper-witted quattro system are welcome improvements, as is the addition of the 400hp headline figure, but the RS 3 is transformed. Gone is the infuriating aloofness that pervaded in the Sportback we drove not 18 months ago, replaced by a car which feels more lithe, inviting and - crucially - hugely engaging.

Preserved, though, are all the RS 3's traditional strengths. The most obvious being its utterly blinding turn of pace, coupled to that fabulous, sonorous, off-beat bellow (provided, geeky types, by a cylinder firing order of 1-2-4-5-3, just in case you're interested) that all Audi fives seem to have. Pick-up from standstill or moving speeds is eye-widening, even if you're only in Comfort mode. Stick it in Dynamic and the results are genuinely startling, no matter what the road conditions. We happened to drive the Audi on a glorious example of a UK August day... i.e., it was absolutely leathering it down for the entire time and about 12 degrees Centigrade outside. So, perfect conditions to show off quattro, then, and the almighty traction the RS 3 possesses.

Yet it's the lack of early-onset understeer which is most heartening. Sure, you can get the nose to wash wide if you absolutely want to, but you have to be driving the Audi so badly to get it to tip into push-on characteristics that you really ought to have your licence revoked. In reality, the front axle has oodles of grip and there's a genuine sensation that there's less weight over the nose than there was before, the RS 3 feeling like a precision sports car tool, rather than a simple 'smash the throttle once you're all straight' lumphammer. Even better, in the wet it will slide the rear in its relaxed halfway-house traction control mode, while there's now a feeling of rear-axle cornering interactivity that just wasn't present in its immediate predecessor.

Wonderfully, the RS 3 still functions as a reasonable daily driver. It'll ride smoothly enough on its 19-inch wheels and it's of course perfectly practical in terms of outward visibility and switchgear layout, because underneath it all this is still an Audi A3. Thus, it finally seems to be all things to all men and nigh-on unbeatable.

However, the RS 3 isn't perfect. The variable steering, also seemingly vastly improved from what went before (it's much more consistent and pleasant to use here than on the 2015 car), nevertheless lacks enough weight or true feel in Dynamic mode, robbing you of the final few degrees of involvement. The S tronic gearbox, normally unflappable, can get caught napping if you bury the throttle when the car is least expecting it, causing ungainly downshifts and a momentary hesitance before it hooks up a cog to that mighty five and pelts the RS 3 off down the road. And you still have to be going at a fair old lick to start unlocking the Audi's chassis potential; a BMW M2 or Focus RS would be more fun for their driver, more of the time.

But the step up the RS 3 has made as part of the 2017 transition is enough to have us drooling at the thought of an inevitable 450hp model with a 'performance' tag somewhere further down the line, when Mercedes-AMG has obviously taken the A 45 to 420hp or somesuch...


Super-hot Audis have always been a bit hit-and-miss over the years, although regrettably the RS 3 was generally more miss. Bonkers quick, tuneful, grippy and beautifully finished, yes, but invigorating to drive? Not so much. This new 400hp variant, though, finally chucks in some driver involvement to go with everything else the RS 3 has always been capable of. That there's also now a deeply cool Saloon model - destined to be outsold three-to-two in this market by the Sportback, for reasons which must purely be down to practicality - makes this creation, if not class-leading, then much closer to the top dogs in the sector than it ever has been before. And it's one of our favourite RS Audis yet made, to boot. This is a cracking update from the German firm.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 31 Aug 2017    - Audi road tests
- Audi news
- A3 images

2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.

2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.2017 Audi RS3 Saloon UK drive. Image by Audi.


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