Audi RS3 Sportback first drive

Audi RS3 Sportback

Audi RS3 SportbackBorn restless is the advertising strap-line for Audi’s latest scorching hot five door hatchback

– the RS3 five door Sportback with its 2.5-litre, five cylinder, 367HP turbocharged petrol engine, S tronic auto transmission and quattro all-wheel drive.

Restless it might claim to be but in fact because five door hatchbacks of this type tend to be used daily for work or family use so they need to be compliant and useable in town traffic and on our speed restricted open roads. There are so many limitations to free use of all that power you have to wonder whether the £39,995 price tag and the huge running costs are really worth it? Top speed is limited to 155mph with zero to 62mph taking 4.2-seconds – remember these stats for comparison.

But being Audi seemingly with no shortage of customers 700 units of the RS3 Sportback are scheduled to come to the UK this year and over 70% were pre-sold before test drives by customers had even started.

Also being an Audi the price doesn’t stop at a shade under £40k because customers will need some of the options such as sat-nav which comes in the Technology package and also features Audi Connect for a mere extra £1,795. For the sake of improved ride comfort the Dynamic package which includes magnetic ride dampers will set the owner back another £2,495. The black Nappa leather S Super sports seats will add a further £795 to the purchase price. All weighed in with lots of optional extras to showcase the test car the final price was a wallet busting £51,185 – a restless mind-boggling sum for a hot family hatchback albeit an Audi.

The RS3 Sportback’s two strongest premium brand competitors are the BMW M135i five door with 362hp is considerably cheaper at £31,375 and the Mercedes AMG A45 4-Matic with 355hp costs £38,195 so it’s nearly as expensive. The VW Golf R five-door 2.0 turbocharged 300hp unit with DSG auto gearbox and 4×4 traction with a top speed of 155mh and zero to 62mph in 4.9-seconds might be a cheaper option to buy and run with not much loss of performance at £32,235. Both the Audi and the Golf use the same new VW Group’s highly praised MQB modular platform.

But further food for thought – if the Audi badge is a must-have over the Golf R, or the price of the RS3 is just too high, then the Audi S3 Sportback 300hp with the 2.0-litre same power unit, 4×4 drivetrain and performance as the Golf R costs £31,600.

The previous generation RS3 Sportback, although fast, never really had the agility to match its looks. With the new MQB platform, the revised suspension, a variable-ratio steering rack and wider front and rear tracks the new version is quicker to respond on the open road but passive enough to deal with slower moving traffic conditions. The car’s body rides flat and level during cornering with the suspension lowered by 25mm over the standard family car. Large tyres give massive grip with the quattro drive through a rear axle mounted multi-plate clutch shifting the torque delivery between the front and rear wheels. Up to 100% of torque drive is available at the rear wheels if acceleration is that hard. The other big improvement is how well the new generation RS3 rides, at least with the optional magnetic ride system. Yes it is on the firm side even in its DriveSelect Comfort setting but with the 19-inch wheels the ride can still be compliant depending on how bad the road surface is. With its expensive large alloy wheels and ultra-low profile tyres care is needed not to damage them on the edges of potholes or driving on pebbled driveways.

Audi RS3 Sportback Audi RS3 Sportback Audi RS3 Sportback Audi RS3 Sportback

The RS3 uses the relatively roomy standard A3 Sportback body but with exterior muscular additions such as the flared wheelarches, robust rear bumper, rear diffuser flanked by two huge exhaust tailpipes, extended side sills, neat rear roof spoiler, the usual black gloss RS honeycombe grille with badging flanked by two lower huge meshed grille ducts feeding air to the additional radiator on one side and the oil cooler on the other. As for braking eight-piston callipers are standard with wave-form front discs which dissipate heat better. The red painted callipers with the RS logo are a £325 extra cost option. There are front and rear LED lighting units but unlike larger RS models they do not have the turning function for corners or turning in side-roads.

Inside it is classic Audi, high quality, well laid out and of supreme quality if a little dull being all black. There is the usual leather covered flat bottomed steering wheel with DSG gear shift paddles behind it, round air vents along the fascia, and the cowled instrument binnacle right in front of the driver. However it is a pity that this space is not yet used for the sat-nav display such as already in use for other new Audi models such as the TTs or even the new VW Passat. For the price of the RS3 why sat-nav is not a standard fit item seems to me to be Audi being greedy. Between the two front seats is the console housing the seven-speed S tronic auto gear selector, the control unit for the MMI multi-media functions and the electric parking brake. The optional Super Sports seats, yet another £795 option, give excellent support and thankfully are wide enough to be accommodating for the fuller-figure.

Apart from its visual looks and vastly improved agility, new platform and ride compliance the biggest change over the previous RS3 is of course under the bonnet. The same capacity 2.5-litre,TFSI, five cylinder turbocharged petrol engine configuration is maintained but it is now EU6 compliant for lower CO2 emissions, better fuel economy despite giving more power and more torque. With a new intercooler and revised turbocharger now delivering more boost pressure there is an additional 27hp and 15Nm of torque. This produces 367hp and 465Nm of torque from 1,625rpm. The engine is red-lined at 7,000rpm. Top speed is limited to 155mph but it can be de-restricted by an Audi dealership to reach 174mph. The zero to 62mph acceleration time is just 4.3-seconds and bear in mind this is a five-door family hatchback.

No more words are really needed to describe the performance. It is stunning but not in a restless way as their advertising claims. It is strong and progressive with a big boost of power available when needed starting at a shade over 1,600rpm and continuing through a wide power-band. This huge supply of torque is hugely useful and enjoyable at lower to mid range speeds for overtaking slower traffic without the auto box selecting several lower gears. On that point the software upgrades for the S tronic DSG auto box have resulted in faster and seamless changes.

When it comes to running costs these are as extravagant as the purchase price. Officially the RS3 will return 34.9mpg in the Combined Cycle with CO2 emissions of 194g/km. On my week long driving experience, which at this holiday traffic time of the year sees congested motorways, busy country and side roads with rat-run traffic plus country folk with tractors/combines and other equipment loathed to pull-over to let traffic past, the figure was 29.4mpg – it could have been worse with clearer roads. The CO2 emissions are 189g/km so VED road tax is £490 for the First Year rate and £265 thereafter. Company car drivers will fork-out 33% in Benefit-in-Kind tax and insurance is Group 40.

The RS3 Sportback is a hugely impressive performance car and more fun and nicer to drive than its predecessor. No wonder the sales demand is so strong despite the high price which is hard to justify for a family hatchback. The VW Golf R with the same top speed and only marginally slower for the zero to 62mph looks a better financial option. Or if the alternative hot family hatchback must have an Audi badge the S3 Sportback, again with more or less the same performance, is around £8k cheaper and more in tune with our congested roads.

MILESTONES: Audi RS3 Sportback 2.5 TFSI quattro 367hp, S tronic auto. Price: £39,995 (£51,185 as tested). Engine/transmission: Euro6 compliant 2.5-litre, 5-cylinder, turbocharger with intercooler petrol, 367hp, 465Nm of torque from 1,625rpm, 7-speed S tronic auto, quattro AWD. Performance: 155mph restricted (174mph unrestricted), 0-62mph 4.3-seconds, Combined Cycle 34.9mpg (29.4mpg on test), CO2 189g/km, VED road tax £490/265, BIK company car tax 33%. Insurance group: 40. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles.Dimensions/capacities: 5-door,4/5-seater, L 4,343mm, W 1,800mm, H 1,411mm, boot/load space 280 to 1,120-litres. For: More lively and agile than the old model, sharper handling, relatively comfortable ride, improved/uprated engine and transmission, insanely fast for a family hatchback, plush interior, impeccable build quality, glorious exhaust note, selling well. Against: Costly to buy and run, too many options which should be standard at this price, no manual gearbox option, the Golf R and Audi S3 Sportback are better value options. Miles Better News agency 

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