It’s a brave statement to open this article with but Audi have quite possibly gained that status in a very bold segment with many a debate to be had over who is king, however for most modern drivers when they hear the name Audi they will think one of the many things; Vorsprung Durch Technik, Reliable, Good Quality, High End, Expensive, Mundane, Last Forever, Family Car and of course the old Northern Ireland favorite; Diesel.
Now these are all pretty acceptable answers that I would expect to hear from varying walks of life and from varying ages with differing needs from motoring, though when it comes to those with a bit of a passion for cars, and indeed a petrol head you will hear answers such as; GrpB Rallying, 24hr Racing, Touring Cars, Quattro, Fast, S and RS Models and these are the answers that first sprung to my mind.
When Audi UK confirmed that I was getting their latest RS3 Sportback for a week to review I must admit, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from it as any RS (standing for RennSport which translates from German to English more or less as RacingSport) model I had driven before would have been the larger RS4 and RS6 which are huge in comparison, much heavier and have larger V6 or V8 engines with mental power as a rule of thumb.
This lack of knowing got me excited for it to arrive as I have heard great things of the RS3 from colleagues, with many stating that it was without a doubt the best car they have driven all year and thus the hype was built and expectations were high.
On arriving home one Monday afternoon I was greeted by a rather stunning rear end in front of me as I pulled into the drive with two very large oval exhaust pipes poking from the gloss black diffuser that contrasted the metallic white paint perfectly and as I raised my eyes a very meaningful roof spoiler stood out.
RS Audi’s usually have very meaningful expanded arches, however the RS3 is quite sedate on its girth and this is something that I think helps it blend in rather than stand out like a streaker on sports day. On walking round the car though, I couldn’t help but notice the HUGE floating brake discs and red calipers which reminded me that this car means business.
The front end of the RS3 is rather aggressive looking and if in the rear view mirror perhaps a little menacing with its mass of gloss black grills aiding the cooling of its heart. We will come to the heart shortly as I want to chat about the inside for now. When I opened the door for the first time I couldn’t help but want to sit in the seats.
Beautiful cross stitched, perforated leather reclining bucket seats is the easiest way to describe them with their one piece back and more than generous bolsters all round to help hold you in no matter what the terrain or speed.
Once belted in the next thing that caught my eye was the machined alloy on the climate control unit knobs which continued around the heater vents. Great attention to detail and incredibly rich looking indeed as was the half leather / alcantara flat bottom steering wheel. The carbon fibre dash and door inserts really put a smile on my face and may not be available to order in the UK market as yet however once they are available I feel they are a must have option, just stunning.
Being of average height I would sit reasonably far back and despite this I found the electric window controls on the door and also the large infotainment control knob a little too close, I was having to twist myself to use these comfortably which is a minor grip, but one which did keep niggling at me.
Whilst giving some small criticism I will also say that if I was spending over £50k on a car (RS3 models start from just shy of £40k, plus options) I would want electric chairs up front, however I do understand that being an RS model this car is kitted with the manual seats to save weight.
Whilst mentioning the infotainment system (audio, media, Bluetooth, navigation etc), it was very easy to understand from the motorised screen which appears out of the dash and indeed the “Bang & Olufsen” audio (part of a four figure options kit) was incredible.
So far we have established a huge amount of quality and indeed a huge price tag, especially compared to the likes of the VW Golf R or the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG which would be a fair enough comparison in the class. However from my own point of view the inside and outside of the RS3 is most definitely a cut above the rest of the cars in the hot hatch class.
After getting to grips with the cosmetics and finding my bearings with the electronics it was time to “Fire Up The Quattro” and see what all the fuss was about. Well at this point I very nearly fell out of the sumptuous seat as this has to be one of the most glorious sounding engines around.
Audi’s roots and success in rallying back in the mid eighties was with a five cylinder engine and the RS3 gets a 2.5 litre 5 cylinder turbo petrol engine with the sound track to match the heritage and stigma that goes with such an engine configuration.
With 367bhp and 343lb/ft going to the ground via the seven speed S-Tronic semi automatic gearbox the RS3 is most certainly no slouch and with a manual shift option via the gear stick or paddles on steering wheel as well as a sport mode in auto this car has an option for everyone.
There is even launch control as per most modern hot hatches and the Audi system is most certainly one of the most aggressive I have come across, once the car launches and the traction system sorts out optimum grip it propels you like a homing missile, incredible technology that really works.
When driven in a spirited manner using the S auto mode I must also admit, it’s the best gearbox I experienced for holding gears and predicting what gear you need to be in, I had several blasts along meandering side roads and found it faultless and indeed never struggled with gears at all and the brakes, well I reckon they could have stopped the Titanic from a pending iceberg.
This sportiness is all well and good and fun to be part of when you’re in a car that is aimed directly at having fast fun in, however when “moving” the economy will drop to the mid-teens which isn’t ideal when it comes to the daily commute so a real world late twenties was achieved on mixed driving when left in D auto mode with the stop/start technology activated.
The RS3’s ride quality was firm at best but very grounded and predictable with reasonable feeling via the steering wheel, it is that quick point to point you would often find yourself braking for most corners as it gathers speed like a fighter jet before cornering like a spitfire.
So is it the king of hot hatches? Well as far as a hot hatch goes in my head no, as a hot hatch should be something that needs driven at ten tenths, a car that you get out of shaking as it has been on the absolute limits.
However the modern day hot hatches will never do this as technology and safety has progressed so far and indeed the modern day hot hatch is far removed from the 205GTi’s and Mk2 Golf’s we once fell in love with so bearing this in mind I will make my decision based on what a hot hatch has now become.
Yes I do believe the Audi RS3 sits on the hot hatch throne due to its sheer pace alone! It is also the roomiest inside thus being a perfectly practical daily that could easily absorb the odd track day at a local race circuit. Yes ok it’s £10k more than some of the rivals but I could easily talk myself into that extra spend!
Words & Photos: Graham Curry
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