New Audi RS3: less weight, more power, more aggression

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We’ve been used to the RS3 as a sportback, but Audi has now decided there should be a saloon version. At first glance that may seem a slightly strange decision. And at a second glance. But we’ll look deeper.

Generally, the UK hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for compact performance saloons. But often that’s because to British eyes they just didn’t seem to look right. The RS3 saloon certainly looks right, helped by a track widened by 20mm at the front and 14mm at the rear. It looks purposeful, with those 19in rims filling the wheelarches and with the more aggressive styling cues.

And that aggression is backed up by more power and less weight. The engine has been lightened by 25kg by using more expensive metals and the 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit has been given more power to the tune of 395bhp. With a weight of 1515kg this is now lighter than a BMW M2.

Audi RS3 2017 Audi RS3 2017

With as near as damn it 400bhp on tap, the quattro system has some work to do, with torque vectoring definitely not getting the day off. The effect is quite startling. The way this car accelerates and keeps on going can cause the odd eyebrow to raise – I know, hysterical. You’re very aware of that engine powering through that powertrain, with the whole car based around its antics.

The S tronic seven-speed gearbox works smoothly most of the time, channelling that power well. But if you use the paddles it feels rather bitty, not helped by the paddles themselves being too small. The transmission can just occasionally tie itself in a knot, dithering, unsure what to do for the best, and that’s not great when you’ve got your right foot planted.

However, the handling is even better than in the sportback, even with the standard passive suspension. There’s a touch more give in it which is very welcome. If you go for the option of the Sport set up, with the adaptive dampers, perhaps ironically their best attribute is that they make the Comfort mode a pleasure, although at the other end of the scale the full sporty settings are just too firm.

Add in steering which just doesn’t involve and never quite feels right and real, as well as that occasionally flustered transmission, and you do have some irritations in the mix. 

However, the cabin is sharp, sporty, beautifully made and comes complete with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit as standard. But, surely, the RS Sports exhaust ought to be standard, not a £1000 extra?

Overall though this is a handsome addition to the RS family, and one that will probably prove popular in the US. The performance is really stunning, over and above what BMW can offer with the M2, or Mercedes with the A45 AMG. It looks right, and has the practicality of being able to lay all that grunt down pretty much whatever the weather or road condition. That’s all quite a combination in such a compact package.

Specfications

Price £45,250
Engine Five-cylinder, 2480cc, turbocharged, petrol
Power 395bhp at 5850-7000rpm
Torque 354lb ft at 1700-5850rpm
Gearbox Seven-speed dual-clutch
Kerb weight 1515kg
Top speed 155mph
0-62mph 4.1sec
Economy 34.0mpg
CO2/BIK tax band 188g/km, 36%

Graham Scott is a writer for AutoCar.

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