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…
The RS3 bucks the trend 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 0.1 seconds faster than the A45 and nearly half a second quicker than the rear-wheel-drive M2.
The RS3 also has the A45 licked when it comes to top speed. Both are electronically limited to 155mph as standard but pay an extra £1,600 to have the restrictor removed and the Audi can breeze past the 168mph Mercedes on its way to a 174mph ceiling.
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
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 6mpg more than the A45. Audi claims the RS3 will return 34mpg while the Mercedes can manage a claimed 40.9mpg.
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 but it’s still more comfortable than the rock-solid A45.
Things get even better if you pay an extra £995 for the 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.
Speaking of which, the ease with which the quattro four-wheel-drive-equipped RS3 accelerates out of tight turns – even in wet weather – makes it much more approachable than the tail-happy M2.
Don’t think this sure-footedness dulls its handling – the Audi’s responsive steering and nimble chassis help it one-up the Mercedes for outright agility. Add to this a bunch of clever electronic stability systems and you can throw this 400hp hot hatch into fast corners like a shopping trolley round Tesco on Black Friday. It’s not just fast, it’s seriously good fun.
Sadly, it’s not all good news. 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 a whopping £1,000.
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 an extra £1,250 for the Driver Assistance Pack 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.