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Driven: 2022 Audi RS 3. Image by Dean Smith.

Driven: 2022 Audi RS 3
Is the latest-generation RS 3 Sportback good enough to reach the top of the hot hatchback tree?

   



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2022 Audi RS 3

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With the arrival of a new Audi A3 comes a slew of new spin-off models, and perhaps the most desirable and dramatic of those is the new RS 3. As before, it's powered by a five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that sends its power to all four wheels, but the skin has changed and so too have the oily bits. The question is, can the RS 3 retain its place among the greatest hot hatchbacks going.

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Quattro 400 Launch Edition S Tronic
Price: RS 3 from £52,520 (£60,460 as tested)
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power: 400hp
Torque: 500Nm
Emissions: 205g/km
Economy/Range: 31.4mpg
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Boot space: 282 - 1,104 litres

Styling

The new RS 3 is based on the A3, so for the casual observer, there isnít that much to separate the two cars. Look more closely, however, and youíll spot the flared arches, the massive exhaust tips and the more aggressive bumpers of the sportier model. To be honest, itís a bit too Max Power for our liking Ė weíd have preferred something a little more restrained Ė but Audi knows its customers and this is what they want, apparently.

Interior

Audi interiors have traditionally been a highlight, and although the latest-generation A3 doesn't feel as solid as its predecessor, the RS 3 cabin still scores well in terms of technology and quality. The basic architecture is much the same as that of the standard A3, but the RS 3 gets some supportive, figure-hugging sports seats and some carbon-effect trim on the dashboard. The latter effect is a bit cheap, especially in a £60,000 car, but the seats are brilliant, and overall build quality is good.

There are a few issues with the plastics lower down in the cabin, but generally speaking, the RS 3 feels robust and premium. We're also big fans of the physical heater controls, which have been swapped with touch-sensitive switchgear in the A3's sister cars, including the Volkswagen Golf.

That said, the Audi's technology is bang on the money, with the brilliant Virtual Cockpit driver display joined by an impressive touchscreen infotainment system with crisp displays and slick functionality. In fact our only gripe is that the RS 3's cabin is a little dark, and perhaps it doesn't feel quite special enough to justify the mountainous price tag.

Practicality

The whole point of hot hatchbacks is to mix the pace and handling of a sports car with the practicality of a family hatchback, and while the RS 3 Sportback certainly meets one of those criteria, it struggles to achieve the other. Space in the front is ample, but those in the back won't be flush for head- or legroom, and seating five across the rear bench won't be much fun. That's what Ron Dennis would call 'sub-optimal' but the boot space is even more of an issue. Thanks to the all-wheel-drive system under the floor, the RS 3 Sportback only has a 282-litre boot. That's 10 litres smaller than the luggage bay in a Ford Fiesta.

Performance

Under the bonnet, and lurking behind that enormous grille, is a 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol engine shared with the TT RS. Five-pot engines are becoming a rarity in the new car market, but this one is a hidden gem, producing an enthralling soundtrack and more punch than is strictly necessary. Some 400hp and 500Nm of torque, in fact.

To deal with that kind of power, the RS 3 comes with Quattro all-wheel drive as standard and fat, sticky tyres, allowing it to get from 0-62mph in a frankly outrageous 3.8 seconds. It's only a few tenths slower than a rear-wheel-drive Audi R8. The top speed is, of course, 155mph. Because Audi.

Somewhat less Audi-like, however, is the fuel economy. We're used to fuel-sipping estate cars and electric SUVs, but this Audi is a little more yobbish in its approach to, well, everything. Officially, it'll do 31.4mpg, and we managed to top 30mpg on a long run, but if you drive it as that engine demands, you're looking at something in the mid-20s. You'll have a lot of fun doing it, though.

Ride & Handling

The RS 3ís straight-line speed is impressive, but thatís not what makes that five-cylinder engine the highlight of the RS 3 experience. The noise is perfectly judged, with this characterful woofle that gives it an air of effortlessness and boundless power reserves, even when itís working quite hard. It isnít as boy-racer-ish as some hot hatchbacks, and thatís a very admirable trait in our book.

But the engine is the most characterful thing about the car, and although the way it rides and handles is impressive, itís almost too stable and too secure to be properly good fun Ė especially within the bounds of the law. The way the body stiffly declines to roll in corners or the endless grip from those massive tyres means cornering at outrageous speeds feels as natural as can be. Thereís nothing threatening or even exciting about it at all. Itís only when you glance at the speedo that you realise youíre in danger of losing your licenceÖ

Normally, such handling stability would be joined by a bone-shaking ride quality, but the RS 3 actually soaks up the bumps quite well. Itís no Rolls-Royce, but the high-speed ride is particularly good, and that makes long drives a doddle. Sure, the ride deteriorates at lower speeds, but itís still better than most cars with this kind of performance.

Value

With prices starting from £52,520, the RS 3 Sportback is not what you'd call cheap, but at least it comes with plenty of power and plenty of equipment. You get part-leather, part-Alcantara upholstery as standard, as well as satellite navigation and climate control. The Virtual Cockpit instrument display is a real advantage, too, and that's before we get on to the mechanical updates that mark the RS 3 out from the standard A3. But with performance cars such as this, equipment does not equal value, and the RS 3's price tag remains difficult to justify.

Verdict

The RS 3 is unbelievably competent and that five-cylinder engine is a gem. With all that performance and the ability to be quite cossetting on a long journey, the Audi is a brilliant all-rounder. But despite the stellar engine, the RS 3 just lacks a little bit of character that would make it one of the all-time greats. It never gets under your skin in the way the now-defunct Honda Civic Type R or the old Ford Focus RS would, and that's a real shame.



James Fossdyke - 21 Jul 2022



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2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.

2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback Launch Edition. Image by Dean Smith.







 

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