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First drive: Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.

First drive: Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition
Audiís RS 3 micro-supersaloon is back and itís as beguiling as ever.

 



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Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition (2019MY)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Following a WLTP-enforced absence of around a year from the Audi UK pricelists, the RS 3 hyperhatch is back - and, if you don't like the five-door Sportback shape, then you can still have it as the deeply alluring Saloon variant instead. Also, we don't know what's in the water at Audi Sport GmbH right now but the boffins there seem to be on a roll, because this remains one of the most engaging Audi RS products yet built.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition
Pricing: RS 3 Sportback from £46,285, RS 3 Saloon from £47,285; Sport Edition from £51,285, car as tested £52,855
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder petrol
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, seven-speed S tronic automatic
Body style: four-door performance saloon
CO2 emissions: 194g/km (VED Band 191-225: £1,280 first 12 months, then £465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 29.7mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited; option to raise limiter to 174mph)
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Power: 400hp at 5,850-7,000rpm
Torque: 480Nm at 1,950-5,850rpm
Boot space: 315-770 litres

What's this?

An Audi RS 3, which hasn't really changed much since last time we saw it. And if you're wondering why it's been away, then one highly exciting word for you: legislation. The Worldwideweb Harmonising Lightswitch Vee-hick-ule Tomfoolery, or whatever it is that WLTP stands for, meant the Audi models fitted with this glorious 2.5-litre turbocharged five-pot motor had to be put on hold while emissions testing under the new regime took place. Oh, and there's a load of European sound laws also coming into force, which means the new RS 3 has a petrol particulate filter (PPF) and it's a teensy-tiny bit quieter than it was before.

Other than that, it's business as usual for this quattro-equipped, 400hp/480Nm loon. It's available as a Sportback five-door hatch or a four-door Saloon, and there are two model grades: regular versions of each are beneath the £47,500 mark and come generously equipped; but, above this, there's a spec called Sport Edition. It's a nice, round £4,000 hike on both RS 3s (taking them beyond the £50k threshold, regrettably) and it's well worth it, because you can't actually specify much of the styling accoutrements it brings in on the regular RS 3s - this being a decision by Audi UK to keep Sport Ed buyers (of which 70 per cent of RS 3 customers are expected to be) happy that they're in the flagship.

For your Sport Ed premium, you get upgraded, glossy black 19-inch wheels that are, infamously, half-an-inch wider on the front axle than they are on the rear, to promote front-end grip and quell understeer. For the Sportback Sport Edition, these are five-arm 'Blade' style, while for the Saloon Sport Ed they're five-arm 'Rotor' items; on the standard cars, it's the inverse way around and in silver (so the Sportback gets the Rotors and the Saloon the Blades - no, not Sheffield United, thank you). Audi fans will be excited to know that this is the first time the Rotor rims have been available on the RS 3 Saloon, as well.

Beyond alloy-wheel hierarchies, the Sport Editions enjoy black exterior detailing (door mirrors, Singleframe grille, window surrounds and rear diffuser insert), carbon inlays in the cabin, Super Sports Seats up front with an embossed RS logo and fine Nappa leather upholstery, a panoramic glass sunroof, a rear spoiler (Saloon only) and the RS Sports exhaust system. With sales expected to be split at 450 units each on Sportback and Saloon, it's surprising the more practical, cheaper hatch doesn't take a bigger share of the market... apart from the fact that we're telling you right now that, if it were us walking into an Audi dealership to buy an RS 3 of some sort, we'd undoubtedly have the extra grand in our mitts that would allow access the wonderful-looking Saloon - and it'd be a Sport Edition, too, please and thank you.

How does it drive?

Realistically, we shouldn't be saying anything here other than 'read our RS 3 Saloon review above', because nothing has changed - beyond the PPF, of course. But... that doesn't quite seem to be the case.

When Audi upgraded the 2.5-litre engine from the older 367hp lump to the newer, 26kg lighter 400hp five-pot in 2017, it had a transformative effect on the nose-heavy handling of the RS 3. We drove a Sportback 367hp in 2015 and were less than impressed with it; that 2017 RS 3 Saloon, though, garnered 4.5 stars.

And yet, somehow, without any mechanical changes being made, we feel as if the RS 3 has subtly evolved again. It's the steering, you see. For so long now a weak point of fast Audis, it has at least in recent years developed to the point where it's acceptable, rather than unappealing. Now, though, we'd go so far as to say the RS 3 Saloon's rack (steady...) is actively pleasurable. It feels more consistent off-centre, has more bite and feedback coming back through the rim, is just generally nicer at directing the car and allows you to better exploit the front-end grip.

Which is phenomenal. Again, Audi said nothing has changed chassis-wise, but the way the RS 3 scythes into corners with an instantaneous eagerness is nothing like we remember from our experience of the push-on-every-time 2015 RS 3; the RS 3 now has that steadfast cornering attitude that denotes all the best quattro Audis. Of course, you're reading this and thinking 'ah, but it's probably so grippy and safe that it's dull', but we really don't buy this argument - sure, if you want your hot hatch/small saloon to go around every corner with 35 degrees of opposite lock on, smoke pluming off the rear tyres as it fries its rubber, this is not the car for you. But, in low-grip conditions (like the plentiful Scottish rain we drove it in), you can flick-flack it straight across roundabouts and it will very easily move to a stance of neutral drift, confirming that the quattro system will fling up to 60 per cent of the torque rearwards in Dynamic mode when circumstances dictate; this is a trait you'll praise later on, when you've got the car loaded up mid-bend on its outside suspension and then you decide to tighten your line with a lift of the throttle. In short, driving an RS 3 quickly is most emphatically fun - and that counts beyond the obvious enjoyment of letting that five-banger rip in a straight line.

Quick additional note: we later drove a non-Sport Edition Sportback and it, too, is a fine performance car. However, without the Sports exhaust and the Sport Ed styling, and with the slightly blobby frame of the five-door Audi overall, it didn't float our boat quite as much as its taut little four-door sibling.

Verdict

No major changes for the 2019MY Audi RS 3 but then, since the introduction of the 400hp engine in 2017, it didn't really need them. It's not perfect: a starting price of approaching £52,000 for a Saloon Sport Ed is what can only be described as 'whopping', and the handling still errs on the side of sure-footed security rather than thrilling edginess; however, it can find quite startling traction in wet and slimy conditions, without becoming too remote and aloof in the dry, and it will always, always have that sonorous, sublime engine. Furthermore, there's little else like the RS 3 Saloon - in terms of its shape, power and performance - on sale, so it remains a thoroughly remarkable and completely delightful supersaloon, rendered in miniature.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 May 2019









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2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.

2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi RS 3 Saloon Sport Edition. Image by Audi UK.








 

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