Audi RS3 Sportback review

The Audi RS3 isn’t just faster and easier to live with than most high-performance hot hatches, it also has one of the classiest interiors around too. Don’t expect all this to come cheap, mind you

This score is awarded by our team of
expert reviewers
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers
after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Outrageous speed
  • Fantastic grip
  • High-quality interior

What's not so good

  • Very expensive
  • Alternatives have bigger boots
  • Thirsty engine

Find out more about the Audi RS3 Sportback

Is the Audi RS3 Sportback a good car?

If you want a family hatchback that’s fast enough to out-accelerate most sports cars, yet also practical enough to carry four friends or a bike, then the Audi RS3 Sportback has to be near the top of your list of test drives.

This tempting blend of speed and space comes thanks to a 400hp 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine shoehorned into the practical body of an Audi A3 Sportback – although you can also get an RS3 saloon, which we’ve reviewed separately, if you put style before practicality.

Thankfully, plenty of racy touches inside mean you won’t mistake this RS for a bog-standard diesel A3. Its flat-bottomed steering wheel, for example, looks just like it was pinched from a racing car, while comfortable bucket seats, sumptuous trims and an intuitive infotainment system all make this range-topping RS model’s interior appear more modern and easier to live with than most hot hatches.

Unfortunately, the Audi can’t quite match a Mercedes A 45’s boot capacity and rear-seat space, but it’ll still swallow a few large suitcases with the back seats up and a bike with them folded away. Furthermore, four adults will sit comfortably inside, even on long journeys.

Old Audi RS3s were fast, but not necessarily fun – thankfully, this new model is an absolute riot

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

And you won’t notice the extra weight when you’re four-up, either. The RS3’s turbocharged five-cylinder engine will happily blast it from 0-62mph in a searing 4.1 seconds and on to a top speed of (if you pay extra to remove the limiter) 174mph – that’s serious sports car pace in a fairly practical five-door family car.

Even more impressive is just how easy the Audi is to drive quickly. It soaks up bumps and potholes extremely well (especially with Audi’s optional adaptive suspension fitted), feels even more agile in tight corners and has seemingly endless grip thanks to its quattro four-wheel-drive system.

Sure, it might not be quite as engaging as the no-holds-barred BMW M2 Competition on a racetrack, but the Audi’s still a real hoot to drive and mature enough to live with every day. It isn’t the most frugal five-door car on sale (even with a gentle touch on the accelerator you’ll struggle to better 25mpg) but it’s a doddle to drive, fairly relaxing at motorway speeds and safe – it’s based on the solid A3 Sportback, after all.

Sadly, the RS3 still has one inescapable flaw – its price. It’s one of the quickest hot hatches on sale but it’ll set you back more than the M2 Competition, let alone cars like the Volkswagen Golf R and Honda Civic Type R. Still, head over to our deals pages to see how much you can save on one.

How practical is it?

There’s just about enough room to bring four friends along for a ride in the RS3 but its boot isn’t quite as practical as in some alternatives or even the A3 on which it’s based

The only thing the RS3 doesn’t have more of than the standard A3 Sportback seems to be boot space – it’s around 40 litres down on its much less powerful sibling

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
280 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,120 litres

It might look like a racing car that’s taken a wrong turn into a dealership, but the RS3’s still roomy enough inside that you could live with it every day. There’s plenty of space in the front for tall drivers to stretch out and both front seats come with height adjustment as standard. Sadly, if you’re looking for a low-slung driving position you might be slightly disappointed – the Audi’s bucket seats neither feel as low nor as supportive as those in an A 45.

There’s still enough adjustment for you to get comfy, however, but electrically adjustable front seats cost extra. Furthermore, four-way adjustable lumbar support is optional too – disappointing.

Thankfully, space in the back seats is just as good as in the standard A3 Sportback. As a result, there’s more headroom than in the RS3 saloon and enough leg and knee room for tall adults to sit comfortably on reasonably long journeys. An A 45 is slightly roomier still but the Mercedes’ smaller windows and thick rear pillars actually make its cabin feel darker and less spacious than the Audi’s.

Unfortunately, the RS3’s rather hard central seat and tall lump in the centre of the rear floor means it isn’t ideal for carrying three passengers in the back at once but there’s still plenty of space for three kids to stretch out.

The Sportback’s larger rear doors and taller roofline make it easier to lean in and strap in a child than in the saloon and the standard-fit Isofix anchor points make it just as easy to fit a child seat, too. Just make sure you keep the removable plastic caps for the Isofix points somewhere safe – they’re very easy to lose.

Just like the A3 Sportback, the RS3 comes with a few handy storage bins to help you keep its eye-catching cabin looking spotless. The front door bins are big enough to hold a large two-litre bottle and the glovebox is easily big enough for you to squirrel away a few more one-litre bottles or some bulky valuables such as a camera.

There are two generous cupholders in the centre console, two more in the folding rear armrest and room for a few more family odds and ends in a storage bin between the front seats, where you’ll also find some USB ports for charging your phone. Wireless charging is an optional extra but does come with a signal booster that uses the car’s aerial to improve your phone’s reception.

Unfortunately, the RS3 Sportback’s 335-litre boot isn’t quite as roomy as the standard A3 Sportback’s 380-litre loadbay. It’s still big enough to carry two large suitcases and a few soft bags however, and only lags behind the A 45 by some 35 litres. You might struggle to squeeze in a large set of golf clubs, however.

Thankfully the boot opening is wide and square so loading bulky items won’t be too challenging and there’s barely any lip to lift heavy boxes over. The back seats fold in a handy two-way (60:40) split too, so you can carry longer luggage and a rear-seat passenger at once.

Flip all the rear seats down and the RS3’s load bay grows to 1,175 litres. That’s more than enough space to carry a bike without having to remove one of its wheels. There are plenty of tethering points and shopping hooks dotted around the boot to help stop your luggage rolling around, too.

What's it like to drive?

The RS3 is just as fast and just as much fun as many much larger sports cars. Sadly, its charismatic five-cylinder engine is very thirsty

After driving the RS3 you’ll start wishing every sports car had a five-cylinder engine – it doesn’t just make loads of power, it also produces a fabulous noise

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

The RS3 bucks the convention for four and six-cylinder engines and instead packs a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit producing 400hp. It drives all four wheels through a seriously quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic gearbox that helps it rocket from 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds – that’s slightly slower than a Mercedes-AMG A 45, but quicker than the rear-wheel-drive M2 Competition.

The RS3 is electronically limited to 155mph as standard but you can pay extra to have the restrictor removed, allowing the Audi to breeze past the 168mph Mercedes on its way to a 174mph ceiling.

Sadly, this performance comes at the expense of fuel economy. You wouldn’t expect a 400hp sports car to be particularly cheap to run but even with a gentle touch on the accelerator, it’ll burn through fuel at the rate of around 4mpg more than the A45. Audi claims the RS3 will return around 30mpg, while the Mercedes can manage a claimed 34.

Because it’s based on the A3 Sportback, the RS3’s very easy to drive around town. It’s easy to see out of and the steering doesn’t feel too heavy at slow speeds. Its lowered suspension is firmer than the standard car’s so you’ll feel potholes more through your seat. Things get better if you pay extra for Audi’s optional sports suspension. It helps smooth out the jarring thud of huge potholes and makes it grip the road even more keenly – something you’ll appreciate on a twisty backroad.

Just don’t expect the RS3 to feel quite as agile or involving to drive as something like a BMW M2 Competition. Its steering isn’t quite as communicative and the BMW’s rear-wheel-drive makes it more enjoyable to drive hard on the limit. The Audi counters with better grip from its all-wheel drive, making sure that you’ll always get reliable performance when the road is slippery, though you might not be having that much fun.

And while its burbling exhaust sounds fantastic on the outside, its characterful five-cylinder rumble doesn’t come across as quite so emphatic from the driver’s seat. It’s much better with the optional sports exhaust – banging and crackling enthusiastically when you change gear – but this option will cost you quite a bit.

It’s a similar story with the RS3’s safety kit. The A3 on which it’s based earned a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP but you’ll have to pay extra if you want adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking – a bit cheeky when you consider both are fitted to all but entry-level VW Golfs. The former helps maintain a safe distance to other cars before returning to your chosen speed when the road’s clear while the latter will brake for you to avoid a collision if it senses an obstacle ahead.

What's it like inside?

The RS3’s interior might not look quite as dramatic as the cabin in a Mercedes but you do get a super-slick infotainment system and everything feels much more solid

Next Read full interior review