Wrong. It’s great. And there goes the verdict. It would hardly have been a surprise to have said that at the very end of this article, though, because you’d have known as much just by looking at the new RS 3 Sportback. It’s an aggressive little number — with some pretty large performance figures.
Ingolstadt’s latest can hit 0 to 100kph in 4.3 seconds (which is 0.3 seconds quicker to the ton than the previous model), makes 367 horsepower, 465Nm of torque and has a top speed of 250kph, which can be increased to 280kph upon request should you feel the need. However, it isn’t just the sheer numbers that impress. Accompanying those big digits is a wonderfully throaty sound from the turbocharged five-cylinder. And superb driving dynamics. And a brilliantly snappy seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox. But hold on a second, let’s start from the top and that striking exterior, finished in Catalunya Red Metallic, which reveals much of that potential.
The front end is as aggressive as it can get. The titanium gray ‘quattro’ script in the lower section of the grille is a telling sign of things to come. It isn’t subtle, and nor is it supposed to be — this little Audi likes to shout about its performance long before you push the start button. The high-gloss black, single-frame grille features a honeycomb pattern and is wider than the unit fitted on the original RS 3. The huge inlets are able to suck up vast amounts of air to keep the Audi cool and they look rather fetching with that blade integrated into the front apron. It extends up into the inlets and forms a vertical dividing bar. The profile of this hot hatch reveals those widened front fenders, the chiselled side sills and a large roof spoiler. It also has a pronounced bumper, a high-gloss black four-blade diffuser and two large, oval tailpipes that emit a mighty roar. It rolls on a set of 19in wheels hiding 370mm carbon fibre ceramic brake discs at the front and 310mm at the back, and a smattering of ‘RS 3’ badges round off the exterior.
The interior effortlessly blends sportiness, luxury and lots of technology. The dominant colour in here is black (yes, I know, black isn’t a colour...) and the light-grey trim on the bucket seats (wrapped in Nappa leather) and centre console breaks it up nicely. The leather and Alcantara flat-bottom steering wheel is the perfect size and there are other sporty visuals in here such as the stainless steel pedals and footrest. It also has the RS instrument cluster with the obligatory black faces, red needles and white scales. Some of the standard features include the MMI infotainment system and parking system, but our test car was fully loaded. The Bang & Olufsen music system deserves a special mention for its clarity but you’ll hardly bother with it because the RS 3 has its own, boisterous soundtrack and it’s been turned up all the way, quite literally; the tester also had the optimised RS sport exhaust system, best enjoyed with the windows down and the AC at full blast. Wasteful? Yes. But totally necessary nonetheless. Better than that, though, is the way the RS 3 drives and handles.
That 2.5-litre TFSI has tremendous pulling power and is ever-so eager to rev in any gear. Nothing beats the snarl of a V8 in my opinion, but this five-pot (the most potent in RS history no less; it weighs 180kg and its turbocharger makes 1.3 bar of pressure) sure runs it close. The two flaps in the exhaust, which can be controlled via the Audi drive select system, make for an even more intensive sound that varies with engine load and speed. It delivers its peak torque at just 1,625rpm and can go from 60kph to 100kph in fourth gear in just 4.1 seconds. But it isn’t just about performance. Audi has made sure that it’s economical, too, and has added a recuperation system, a demand-controlled oil pump and a newly developed start-stop system that turns off the engine shortly before the car comes to a stop to give it a fuel efficiency of 8.1 litres per 100km. The motor is good but to get the best out of it, Audi has mated it to its seven-speed S tronic and it swaps the cogs in the blink of an eye. Manual shifting via the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel is the order of the day but if this car had a proper row-your-own gearbox, it’d take the already huge driving pleasure to new, unchartered levels.
You’re never short of grip — the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, which can send between 50 and 100 per cent of the available torque to the rear axle, sees to that. You can take corners with the throttle flat to the floor and it tackles them with gusto; the short front overhangs help keep the RS 3 tucked in and there’s no body roll to speak of either thanks to the chassis. The McPherson front suspension has been widened to a track of 1,559mm and the rear four-link has a track width of 1,514mm, and this greatly aids the Audi’s handling. It’s hard to unsettle this one, which sits 25mm lower to the ground than the previous RS 3 and which features the Audi magnetic ride adaptive damper system. You get four modes to select from; comfort, auto, dynamic and individual. My advice? Leave it in dynamic.
There is some serious competition in the hot hatch segment, with the likes of the A 45 AMG, the Focus RS and the venerable Golf R, and we’ll only know where the RS 3 sits once we assemble them all for a shoot-out. But on this evidence, the Audi needn’t feel any pressure. It has all the credentials to be the leader of the pack.