► Revised Audi RS3 tested
► Five-door Sportback hatch
► 395bhp, 0-62mph in 4.1sec
Pinch yourself – you now live in the same world as a 400-horsepower production hatchback. The sort of exotic output once reserved for multi-cylinder monsters is now available in the Audi RS3.
This power hike is part of a wider refresh; more tech, less weight, better fuel economy, sharper dynamics and a plusher ride for Audi’s mega-hatch.
Most importantly though, the RS3 is once again more powerful than its arch-rival Mercedes-AMG A45.
Was the previous RS3 a slow car?
Not exactly, but the 2.5-litre turbocharged five-pot borrowed from the TT RS means a 0.2 second improvement from 0-62mph, knocking a tenth off the aforementioned Merc. It is still almost half a second behind its supercar-shaming coupe engine donor - the price of usable back seats and a capacious boot.
Activate launch control by setting the ESC and gearbox to Sport and the RS3 feels brutally fast off the line, although not quite as terrifying as its 4.1 seconds to 62 suggests, due to its predictable and linear power delivery.
There’s no redline rush but the torque band is appreciably wide, providing 354lb ft between 1700rpm and 5850rpm, above which it develops peak power of 395bhp (it’s only 400hp if you reference cheeky European horses) up to a distinctly un-turbo-like 7,000rpm. Sounds fantastic, too.
It’s mad to think this frankly bonkers performance is A) available in a family hatchback and B) represents the entry point to RS ownership. This car is barely 20bhp down on 2005’s V8 powered RS4 and its fabulous engine offers way more intrigue than any of its 2.0-litre rivals.
The appeal of all that shove and character combined with five doors, two Isofix points, roof rails and the capacity to haul 335 to 1175 litres of luggage is undeniably strong.
Snore. Go back to the improved dynamics
A rather sore point for the old car this – particularly when the Drift-Mode-enabled Ford Focus RS came along with the ability to make you laugh like an idiot behind the wheel at a significantly lower asking price.
This facelifted RS3 Sportback wades in with a not-insignificant front-end weight reduction of 26kg (thanks to its aluminum block and oil pump, lightweight crankshaft and pulleys, plus magnesium oil pan) bringing with it sharper turn-in and better agility.
Other handling improvements have largely centred around the tuning of the Quattro all-wheel drive system and its multi-plate clutch. This can send between 50-100% of the engine’s torque to the rear, dictated by your driving style and whether you’ve got the Audi drive select system in Sport or not.
Does it do massive powerslides now?
While these improvements don’t translate into lurid, artificial-feeling Dagenham oversteer, on the tight switchbacks of the RS3’s Oman-based launch we found the rear axle to be quite mobile indeed, albeit if provoked with a late brake and flat-footed throttle application.
The back end stepped out progressively even with full traction control activated, but set the car to its special half-off Sport ESC mode and the RS3 gives you freer reign to express yourself before nipping one of the brake calipers to pull everything back into line with a bit of post-drift lag while the Quattro system divvies up the power.
It’s worth pointing out the roads were coated in a fine dusting of talcum-like sand and felt noticeably less grippy than UK tarmac, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares here.
At its heart though the RS3 follows tradition with massive, trustworthy traction levels and a tendency for the front end to push wide in slow corners - it makes nearly 400bhp on a short wheelbase feel quite benign and usable, which is remarkable when you think about it. And at the end of the day, isn’t that exactly what an Audi RS car is for?
Anything else new?
Essentially this facelift brings the RS3 in line with the recently updated A3 so you now get LED headlights (with optional Matrix upgrade) and the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel with configurable displays.
The suspension is 25mm lower than the A3 and there’s a 20mm wider front track plus the usual RS styling upgrades – honeycomb grille, ‘quattro’ front bumper logo, larger air intakes, flared wheel arches and massive oval tailpipes.
Carbon ceramic front brakes are an option, as is the wider-ranging magnetic adaptive damping system, more supportive RS bucket seats and the 'Audi phone box' with its wireless charging pad.
The biggest headline, however, is the launch of the RS3 Saloon – the first time Audi has fitted a transverse five-cylinder unit into such a body style. Proportionally it looks like an older, more compact A4 and presents a tempting four-door AWD rival to BMW’s M2.
Pricing for the new RS3 isn’t confirmed yet but we expect it to be around £45,000 for the Sportback. Go a bit options-mad with magnetic ride, carbon ceramics and a sports exhaust and you’ll find yourself with a mid £50k hatchback in no time flat.
Make no mistake; that is a serious amount of wonga in anyone’s book, not helped by the fact that the spectrum of practical to entertaining hot hatches has been sewn up by the VW Golf R and Ford Focus RS, both of which are slower but have a starting price beginning with a three.
That said, with easy-access PCP finance the RS3’s bottom line is perhaps as relevant in the real world as the Blue Oval’s drift mode. Your move, AMG.
Click here for CAR's review of the 2015-spec Audi RS3
And click here for our track test of the TCR racing version, the Audi RS3 LMS