£38,500 - £41,000 Price range
While fast hatchbacks are often christened ‘hot hatches’ the Audi RS3 is so quick it can rightfully be called a super hatch, one that can out run a basic Porsche 911 to rival – the Volkswagen Golf R, Mercedes A45 AMG and the BMW M135i.
Power comes from a 362hp, five-cylinder petrol engine that’s turbocharged for extra performance, it’s enough to get the Audi from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and on (if you pay to get the 155mph speed limiter removed) to a top speed of 174mph. Four-wheel drive means you can catapult out of corners at an alarming rate, but also makes the RS3 rapid on wet or slippery roads.
Like any Audi, the RS3 has a high-quality cabin that has the measure of the competition. An infotainment screen that rises from the dashboard allows Audi to cut down on conventional buttons to avoid clutter. Tall adults will fit in the back, even if the front’s occupied by people of a similar size, and the boot’s about big enough for a week’s worth of their luggage, but is smaller than you get in the regular Sportback.
If you aren’t sold on the RS3 Sportback’s hatchback bodystyle, the company is rumoured to be launching an Audi RS3 Saloon.
Standard equipment includes an aggressive body kit, Nappa leather interior with heated front seats, a Bluetooth phone connection, front and rear parking sensors, but no sat-nav and no reversing camera. Two pieces of kit you could reasonably expect to get in a car of this price.
Open the RS3’s driver door and its body-hugging front sports seats are the first sign that this is no ordinary A3. The flat-bottomed, thick-rimmed steering wheel is another hint of the car’s sporting intent, while aluminium trim finishes off the look. You can pay extra for carbon fibre inserts and, although at £750 they are a pricy option, they make the interior feel even more premium.
Touches unique to the RS3 add to the standard car’s already class-leading interior, which is composed of high-quality soft-touch plastics and features turbine-style air vents and a seven-inch colour display that rises from the top of the dashboard.
Audi RS3 Sportback passenger space
Combining performance with a practical interior is one of the central appeals of a super hatch like the RS3 and, while there are more spacious cars on sale, the Audi is infinitely more usable than a sports car with similar performance. That means adults can fit easily in the back, even if tall passengers in the front will have to give up some of their legroom to do it.
Audi RS3 Sportback boot space
The RS3’s 280-litre boot is smaller than the ones you’ll find in the Mercedes A45 AMG and BMW M135i, but the hatchback opens wide to make it easy to load even bulky items. Drop the rear seats down and maximum capacity leaps to 1,120 litres.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a 362hp hatchback might feel intimidating to drive, but the RS3’s performance is as manageable as you could ever hope it to be. The car’s 19-inch alloy wheels allow for huge tyres that offer acres of grip, so much so that you’ll be struggling to find the car’s limits, even if you take it on track.
Its four-wheel-drive system means you can get the power down without the wheel spin you would encounter in a two-wheel-drive car and its huge brakes (even more powerful carbon ceramics brakes will be available soon) mean you can scrub off speed even quicker than you build it.
A seven-speed S tronic automatic (a DSG with a different name) is fitted as standard and it changes through the gears quickly, either in automatic or manual mode. Downshifts are accompanied by highly addictive cracks and pops. Choose the Dynamic Plus pack (£2,495) and you get a sports exhaust (that sounds even better), plus magnetic dampers that constantly adapt the suspension to specific driving conditions. The pack also removes the speed limiter – so top speed rises from 155mph to 174mph.
If we had any complaints they might be that the RS3 is low on interaction – you know you’re going ridiculously quickly, but it never feels as fast as it is. Although the steering offers little real feel, the grip levels are so strong that this is rarely a problem
With 0-62mph taking 4.3 seconds and 0-124mph coming up in just 15.8 seconds (on the way to a top speed, when delimited, of 174mph) the RS3 Sportback is among the fastests models in its class.
For comparison, a BMW M135i gets from 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds, while a Mercedes A45 AMG is the fastest – covering the benchmark in 4.2 seconds.
The RS3’s 343lb ft of torque (which gives the car its get-up-an-go) is available from just 1,600rpm so you don’t have to work the engine hard to extract the best performance.
The downside of the RS3’s impressive figures is fuel economy of 34.9mpg, which is a few mpg off its main rivals, and CO2 emissions of 189g/km that mean the car costs £265 per year to tax. These running costs are to be expected in a car offering this performance.
The Audi got the full five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2012, with a 95 per cent score for adult protection. Full safety specifications for the new RS3 have yet to be confirmed, but those powerful ceramic brakes and the grippy four-wheel-drive system will reduce the chances of it ever being involved in an accident.
All A3s come with standard safety features that include usual suspects such as traction control and stability control. But also more unusual features such as a popup bonnet that protects pedestrians from the hard engine in the event of an impact and Secondary Collision Brake Assist. It applies the brakes automatically after an accident to stop you rolling into the path of another one.
Although the RS3 costs about £2,000 more than the Mercedes A45 AMG and a hard-to-ignore £7,000 more than the BMW M135i, Audi expects it to hold its value (after three years or 36,000 miles) better than both. It should be worth 51 per cent of its original price at the end of that period, with the Mercedes holding on to 43 per cent of its list price and the BMW 41 per cent.
The RS3 combines a practical interior, with devastating performance and four-wheel drive grip – allowing it to demolish UK roads (whatever the weather) in a way that its rivals can’t match. Sure, a BMW M135i may be more engaging but, if you want to make rapid progress quickly and safely, then the RS3 is the car to go for.