The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.1
The Audi RS 3 takes the concept of the hot hatch to a new level. With 340bhp and a £40k price tag its only real competitor is the upcoming BMW 1 Series M Coupe.
Reasons to buy
- Stonking engine
- Massive cornering grip
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
Audi’s RS models traditionally get small tweaks to their bodywork, wheels and trim which together add up to create the desired effect. That’s exactly the approach with the Audi RS 3 Sportback, which has wider front wheel arches made from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, 19-inch alloy wheels, big front air intakes, a rear bumper with a diffuser and twin exhausts. More daring customers can choose optional matte black alloys with red detailing, which further set the car apart, but will not appeal to everyone.
What's the interior like?
In a way the interior is the area least befitting a car costing almost £40,000, but not because there’s anything completely wrong with it. It’s just that it only differs slightly from a standard Audi A3 costing much less. What you do get is a flat-bottomed steering wheel, RS instrument gauges, leather seats and metallic interior trim with lots of RS badging. The seats are comfortable, but don’t offer quite enough support for the cornering forces the RS 3 can easily generate, so the optional bucket seats are better. It’s also possible to choose an alcantara finish for the steering wheel and even consult with Audi Exclusive, who will try to create any accessory your heart desires, so long as it’s technically possible and doesn’t affect safety.
How practical is it?
Considering the fantastic new 2.5-litre turbocharged RS engine is available in either the TT RS or this car, it’s obvious which is the practical choice. With five doors, good rear legroom, five seatbelts and a boot offering between 302 and 1,032 (with the rear seats folded) litres of space, there should be no sacrifices here. The upcoming BMW 1 Series M Coupe has a 370-litre boot, while the Subaru WRX STI Hatch has 301 litres.
What's it like to drive?
The wider front wheel arches allow the wheels and tyres to be wider and further apart, enhancing grip. It’s also the lowest version of the A3 Sportback, and looks visibly hunkered down on its big alloy wheels. Despite this it doesn’t lose all its composure over lumps and bumps, dealing with them without jolting occupants too much. Turn into a corner and grip levels are so high the standard seats have a job keeping you in place. Understeer, where the nose of the car washes wide, is never an issue on dry roads, the RS 3 simply hoovers up bends and flies out the other side thanks to its quattro four-wheel drive system. It’s a very easy car to drive quickly.
How powerful is it?
The five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbo petrol has 340bhp, making it something of a super hot hatch, with a price tag to match. It’s fitted with a standard seven-speed S tronic gearbox, allowing manual shifts with paddles behind the steering wheel or fully automatic changes. Acceleration to 62mph takes 4.6 seconds, comprehensively seeing off competitors with the 1 Series M Coupe taking 4.9, the WRX STI 5.2 and Volkswagen Golf R 5.5 seconds. A Sport button opens a flap in the exhaust and enhances throttle response, turning up the volume on an already thrilling exhaust note.
How much will it cost me?
Used car valuation experts CAP reckon the RS 3 will retain more of its value than any car on sale in the UK, which will improve the model’s long-term running costs. Average fuel consumption is 31mpg, but this will require some saintly driving as it’s hard to resist using the acceleration available. Emissions of 212g/km of CO2 keep it out of the two most expensive tax bands. The WRX STI emits 243g/km despite having 40bhp less.
How reliable is it?
Robust construction should keep the RS 3 out of workshops. Many components have been uprated to cope with the extra forces at work in this high-performance model, with a very high standard of engineering evident throughout. The test cars we drove felt impressively well-finished.
How safe is it?
It’s somewhat surprising the A3 Sportback is a four-star car according to Euro NCAP crash tests, when the closely-related Golf gets five. There are all the airbags you’d expect, ISOFIX child seat mounting points, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability programme (ESP). Enormous brakes fitted to the RS 3 will repeatedly stop it from high speeds.
How much equipment do I get?
The RS 3 is fitted with xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, leather steering wheel, two-zone air-con, parking sensors and tinted rear windows.
Some will doubt the humble A3 Sportback could ever be worth £39,900, but the RS 3 is no normal hatchback. Its engine is special and it feels as quick along a twisting road as many sports cars costing twice as much.