► Audi RS3 Sportback driven
► Full road test on track and road
► Can Audi's hot hatch justify £40k price?
The new 2015 RS3 Sportback arrives in summer 2015 to pitch Audi back into the hottest of hot-hatch heartland. Everything about this car is big, from its 362bhp output to its £40k price tag (routinely swollen to nearer £50k, according to Audi).
We’ve driven it on road and track to discover if the big numbers are warranted or a warning. Read on for our full RS3 review.
Hold up! I mean back up a second, but hold-up is probably more apt: £50k for an A3 is daylight robbery!
Well technically the list price is £39,950, but Audi reckons most buyers will spend an average of £8k on options. That makes for one very expensive posh Golf, but there’s clearly a market for it. Audi UK sold four times the number of old RS3 models it had expected to shift and reckons it’ll do 1000 of the new ones each year.
The last RS3 was fast, but blunter than a toddler’s colouring-in pencil at day’s end. Why shouldn’t this one be any different?
There’s certainly no change in the fast department. In fact, it’s even fleeter this time because the 2.5-litre inline five has been boosted from 334bhp to 362bhp, torque is up 11lb ft to 343lb ft, and the kerbweight has been slashed by 55kg to 1520kg - still portly, but competitively portly, at least (a Golf R is only 25kg lighter).
Zero to 62mph is gone in 4.3sec and, for an additional fee, you can have the 155mph limiter pointlessly upped to 174mph. That weight reduction, achieved in part by shifting to VW’s aluminium/steel hybrid MQB platform should also help the handling. Market disinterest means there’s no three-door, just the five-door Sportback for now, but expect a four-door version to appear in mid-2016 for the US and China.
Good news first. There is good news, right?
There is. The five-cylinder engine, as seen in the RS Q3, has a huge spread of torque and makes a great yowl, providing you’ve remembered to spec the optional sports exhaust. And compared with the leaden mess that was the old RS3, the new one feels much more poised.
There’s some newfound tactility to the swift two-turns steering, and if the promise of sending up to 100% of torque to the rear never results in anything resembling rear-drive lairiness, at least not in the dry, you can definitely feel it very subtly swivelling the car around its centre axis to point the nose into corners.
And the brakes - steels on early cars, with ceramics optional from autumn 2015 - are strong and deliver a nice firm pedal. It all adds up to a car that can be good fun on the road (and less so on the track), if you favour unflappable grip and four-wheel drive security over flamboyance.
And the not so good?
It’s not just the engine’s five cylinders and resulting vibrato that hark back to the 1980s, the economy and emissions do too. In relative terms the RS3 is filthier than a wino’s mattress and will cost more to run than its rivals, although the promise of class-leading residuals promises to offset the pain.
And while the interior detailing is typically gorgeous, we can’t help feeling the exterior looks oddly plain, and well, old besides the sharp-suited, muscly RS6. The boot’s a diddy 280 litres too, even if the rear cabin space is good.
But £50k! Let’s get back to that price for a minute
It’s a lot of money, and things you’d expect to be standard, like the adaptive dampers and sports exhausts (you’ll need both), sports seats (which you’ll want), and even sat nav, all cost extra. Our immediate reaction is to suggest the £10k cheaper Golf R is a much better buy.
But head over to the VW configurator and spec a Golf R with five doors, the 19in wheels, heated Nappa leather, and DSG box that you get standard on the RS3 and you’ll discover that you’re within a few grand of the Audi but still short 67bhp, those cool LED headlights and the street-cred of that RS badge. The thing is, and it’ll take a twin test to be sure, we strongly suspect the Golf is the more exciting car to drive.
Forty-plus grand is an awful lot of money for a hot hatch, but there are clearly people happy to pay it, and more. Clearly it’s nowhere near as satisfying to drive as the Porsche Cayman S you could buy with the same money, but we can’t imagine much cross-shopping. The Audi is just as rapid and far more family friendly.
We like this new RS3, and if you buy into the safety fast rapid Audi philosophy, so will you. Just don’t expect any fireworks. Well, maybe one of those Vesuvius ones that sits on the floor spewing out sparks.