If ever there were an illustration of just how serious the hot hatch horsepower arms race is getting, the new Audi RS3 fits the bill nicely. Because its five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine develops no less than 362bhp.
That’s quite a lot from 2.5 litres, not to mention quite a lot for a five-door hatchback (hence the Sportback label).
Audi RS3 Sportback (2015): the engine room
Behind those extra air intakes is the latest evolution of Audi’s funf cylinder turbo, related to that found in the outgoing TT RS and the RS Q3. And the previous-generation RS3, for that matter.
Apart from the headline 362bhp power output, it also turns out a maximum 343lb ft of torque from 1625rpm all the way to 5550rpm – so it should be nice and flexible to drive. Should still sound dramatic, too. Audi promises a ‘hot, throaty sound’ and a free-revving power delivery. The driver can choose just how much hot throaty noise they’d like to hear via valves in the exhaust system behind the silencer, controlled by the car’s drive select system.
To slip through the Euro6 emissions net it’s gained a start-stop system and energy recuperation system along with a redesigned oil pump. As a result Audi claims CO2 emissions of 189g/km and 34.9mpg on the NEDC combined cycle.
The seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox returns as standard, with faster shifts than ever thanks to Audi’s engineers constant tinkering.
Dial up the launch control function and the RS3 can hit 62mph in 4.3 seconds. Top speed’s ordinarily limited to 155mph but can be derestricted to 174mph on request. Faintly ridiculous in a five-door family hatchback.
It’s four-wheel-drive, of course, with a new, lighter multi-plate clutch mounted at the rear axle with the ability to transfer between 50 and 100% of the RS3’s considerable power to the rear wheels. Yep, everything can go to the rear in the right circumstances. Audi says that ‘on low-friction road surfaces, drivers can even perform controlled drifts if desired.’ Steady now.
Typically, power will head to the rear on turn-in and migrate to the front axle on exit, to help pull the car straight. There’s torque vectoring, too. When the car’s loaded up in a fast corner the brakes are gently applied to the inside wheels to help keep it on its projected line.
The chassis stuff:
As you’ve probably guessed from those broad front wings and bolstered sills, the RS3’s wider than the S3 and sits on some really quite fat rubber boots. The 19-inch diameter tyres are 235/35s all round with optional 255/30s at the front and 235/35s at the rear are available.
The body’s 25mm lower than the ordinary Audi A3 Sportback and suspended by a four-link layout at the rear. Magnetic ride adaptive dampers are an option, as are carbon-ceramic brake discs at the front- further proof that hot hatches at the premium end of the market are getting ever more exotic.
At the front the RS gets different suspension settings and pivot bearings than those of the S3, and its own progressive steering setup, which varies the steering ratio with the driver’s input. Not in too horrible a way, let’s hope – ‘dynamic steering’ has been the undoing of several fast Audi products.
The magic of MQB means the new RS3 weighs 55kg less than the old one despite having plenty more kit. Inside, choose between black and grey colour schemes, standard leather sports seats, optional diamond-pattern ‘S’ seats or racy RS carbon-shelled bucket seats (which save 7kg, incidentally – although fans of lightweight cars probably aren’t shopping for a four-wheel-drive Audi anyway).
No word on pricing but we’d imagine the Mercedes A45 AMG’s £38k ask may have some bearing on it.
Adding the RS3 Sportback means there are now seven RS models in Audi’s line-up. It joins the RS Q3, RS4 Avant, RS5 Coupe, RS5 Cabriolet, RS6 Avant and the RS7 Sportback.