The new 395bhp engine is better than ever, but the RS3 Sportback’s overall drive experience isn’t class-leading
This five-door RS3 Sportback is the most powerful and fastest-accelerating hot hatch on the market. It’s £950 cheaper and 5kg lighter than the four-door saloon RS3, which has a wider rear axle and a marginally lower roofline.
We tried that RS3 saloon a week before the Sportback. It had wider 19inch wheels on the rear than the front, and adaptive-damping ‘magnetic ride’ RS Sport suspension. Our Sportback test car had the same wheel set-up, but it didn’t have the £995 damper option. After trying it, we reckon you’d be well advised to tick than box.
Before we get to the detail on that, the first job is to get used to the RS3’s oddly pumped-up responses. Initial brake action is powerful to the point of abruptness. The ‘progressive’ steering is super-direct away from the straight-ahead, but too light to tell you that loads are building up on the front wheels. With the standard non-adaptive suspension, the ride is annoyingly firm on bad roads and over-damped when it’s compressed by intrusions both large and small.
Audi RS3 Sportback
Engine 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Torque: 354lb ft
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual-clutch
Kerb weight: 1510kg
Top speed: 155mph
CO2/BIK tax band: 189g/km, 36%
Only at high autobahn speeds does the RS3 suspension start to make some sort of sense. The slower you go, the more fidgety it gets. The Mercedes-AMG A45 is much better at blending body control with bump absorption.
On the positive side, the Audi’s suspension does give it very direct and agile handling in everyday driving, but even in ‘dynamic’ mode the over-assisted steering leaves you pretty much in the dark as to where the bite point might be going into a corner. It does bite as you turn the wheel, and there’s a stronger sense of balanced than there was in the last RS3. Understeer is unlikely to show up anywhere other than on a racetrack, and even there you’ll only find it by giving it plenty of gas in the middle of a bend.
So, the RS3’s chassis still isn’t its best point. That would be the 2.5-litre, 395bhp engine. Connected to a rapid-action seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, it sounds fantastic and delivers even quicker acceleration times than Audi is claiming for it.
In 2015, the last RS3 took 4.1 seconds to get to 60mph and 10.3 seconds to reach 100mph. Away from our normal test surface (and measured in two directions), the new RS3 recorded 3.9 seconds for the 0-60mph and 9.7 seconds for the 0-100mph. That’s proper sports car fast. In D or S modes it’s almost too quick through the gears to let you enjoy the noise. For that, you need to pick a high gear in manual mode and tramp on the pedal. Watch the digital speedometer that comes with the standard Virtual Cockpit pack, though, because even without downshifting the RS3 will rack up very high speeds before you know it.
The Audi RS3 is most definitely a performance car. Its engine is remarkable, but the normally-suspended chassis is out of kilter with it, just as it is in the saloon version. Given the money, we’d be walking past the Audi dealership and heading into a Mercedes-AMG, BMW or Volkswagen one for an A45, M2 or Golf R.