This latest golden age of the hot hatchback has yielded more than just a flurry of fast hatches, it has given birth to a new breed of hot hatch. Equipped with all-wheel drive and enough power to put many performance cars to shame, the hyper hatch is a real and present danger to anything that calls itself a sports car. With almost 400bhp, the Audi RS3 is one of the most potent, taking on the likes of other hyper hatches like the Mercedes-AMG A45, Ford Focus RS AND Volkswagen Golf R.
|Bodystyle: 5-door hatchback||Seats: 5||Price: From £44,300-£45,250|
Did you know? You can now get the Audi RS3 as a saloon.
The Audi RS3 is a mighty impressive car that combines big power with the most competent all-wheel drive chassis in its segment. No matter the road conditions, this car can deploy its performance with confidence.
However, it comes at a price. An RS3 is considerably more costly than a VW Golf R and Focus RS, both of which offer comparable performance and – in the Golf’s case – a more comfortable everyday ride, too. The RS3 is an intense, quite unyielding car by hot hatch standards, and even an A45 AMG will ride with a touch more forgiveness.
Mind you, that ferocity will be in its favour for many buyers, and anybody after a full-on, savagely rapid hot hatch that wears a premium badge and will also do the daily commute without fluster in snow, ice and the wrong kind of leaves, should start right here.
We Don't Like
Not as fun as some rivals
High price tag
The Audi RS 3 might be expensive, but it looks every inch the premium product. It’s not just the four rings on its nose that separates it from the mainstream — the intricacies of the design and signature Audi hexagonal grille are its hallmarks.
The purposeful stance of this RS3 almost makes it look like a permanent feature of the landscape, like a mountain or a boulder forged by the elements. The front splitter, large intake, 19-inch alloy wheels, diffuser and obligatory boot spoiler separates it from its lesser S3 sibling.
It’s a handsome hatch, and whilst this car is no shrinking violet, it’s nowhere near as in your face as a Honda Civic Type R. Many will value the RS3’s more measured approach.
Audi has always known how to make a good interior – high-quality materials, unfussy design and a sense that it has been put together properly. This sophisticated space is a nice place to spend time in after a hard day in the office.
The lack of clutter serves to highlight landmarks such as vents that look a bit like jet turbines, and a metallic strip that runs the width of the cabin. An Alcantara flat-bottomed steering wheel adds a dose of sportiness, as do the optional diamond-quilted leather sports seats.
Almost every surface is covered in Nappa leather, aluminium or soft-touch materials. There isn’t a single element that feels cheap… Except for the paddle shifters. Sure, they look good, but are made of plastic. A small gripe, but it would have been nice if these were milled out of aluminium, too.
But if you want the poshest interior, you have to pay for it. The glass panoramic roof will cost you a grand, keyless ignition £400, upgraded upholstery £275, added aluminium trim nearly £300. The options list on this car can be a killer. The standard fit and finish is pretty plush anyway, so it might be wiser to save some cash here and tick a few other option boxes.
The cabin is ergonomically sound. Key controls fall to hand easily and there’s a sensible number of buttons on the steering wheel – it’s an easy interior to get comfortable in and find your way around, certainly more so than the Mercedes-AMG A45, which has a less intuitive interface and a seating position that’s less ideal, too. Visibility is hard to fault in the RS3, too, and is again substantially better than that of the A45.
A hot hatch is the ‘have your cake and eat it’ approach to fun cars. You can enjoy blasting down those B-roads safe in the knowledge that there’s enough space for the children and tomorrow’s trip to the supermarket.
Rear passengers get respectable head and leg room, that is unless you draw the short straw for the middle seat. A large transmission tunnel restricts where occupants can put their feet..
The RS 3 Saloon is a tad less practical than the Sportback with 315 litres versus 335 litres. Opting for the hatch also means that loading bulkier items is easier thanks to a wider opening. An RS3 Sportback possesses a larger boot than a Ford Focus RS, but falls just shy of the 340 litres offered by a Golf R. Fold everything flat in the Audi and you’ll have 1,175 litres to play with.
Audi’s impressive Virtual Cockpit comes standard on every RS3. The 12.3-inch display replaces conventional dials with rich graphics and an integrated map that works in tandem with the navigation. DAB radio and dual-zone climate control won’t cost you anything either.
Infotainment is handled by a 7-inch display that neatly slides out of the dash. It’s controlled by a scroll wheel and series of shortcut buttons as opposed being a touchscreen. That might initially sound like a negative, but this setup is easier to use without needing to take your eyes off the road. The software takes a bit of getting used to, with some obvious functions hidden away in sub-menus, but it soon becomes second nature.
You can option a Bang & Olufsen Sound System for about £500, which isn’t too bad considering that you’re getting 14 speakers and sound quality that any audiophile will relish.
Another option you might want to consider is the wireless phone charger. Most smartphones support wireless charging now and it removes the hassle of bringing a cable out with you.
Under the bonnet you will find something of a modern-day rarity – a five-cylinder engine. This 2.5-litre turbocharged unit produces 395bhp and 354lb ft of torque. That makes the RS 3 the most powerful hatchback money can buy, which is not something that recently dethroned Mercedes-AMG A45 owners will not be happy about.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive and a decent 7-speed dual clutch helps get the RS3 get from 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds. Top speed depends upon how much money you are willing to give Audi. As standard it will do 155mph, but for £1,600 Audi will remove its electronic shackles enabling the RS3 to do 174mph.
Acceleration is ferocious; the car just grips and goes. You’re sucked back in your seats as the horizon hurtles towards you, although there is a fraction of turbo lag that can become irritating when you suddenly feel the need for speed.
The RS3’s soundtrack is glorious, especially with the optional sports exhaust. It howls like a mini-V10 as the revs surge upwards. It pops and bangs, snarls and grunts whilst you put it through its paces.
The aforementioned automatic gearbox does a perfectly fine job when left to its own devices, but less so when gears are selected via the paddles. Requesting a downshift is sometimes met with a momentary hesitation.
Unleashing this Audi’s performance is intoxicating, but the car does it with such ease that this could well be one of the biggest licence losers on four wheels.
Handling and comfort
The Audi RS3 has four selectable drive modes; Dynamic, Auto, Comfort and Individual. Each setting scales up or down the throttle response, gear changes and steering weight.
Comfort is all you need for bumbling around town really. The steering isn’t too heavy and the car generally behaves like an S3. That combination of large alloy wheels and low profile tyres means that we would definitely recommend optioning Audi Magnetic Ride (a £995 option). In Comfort mode the suspension becomes notably more supple. It’s still firm – you never forget that this is a properly serious performance hatch, and even a Merc A45 will be a bit more supple at low speeds – but the RS3 is still easily something you could live with on Britain’s less than perfect Tarmac.
When the road starts to get interesting you are going to want to select Dynamic Mode. With everything set to angry this car covers challenging roads faster than most cars, irrespective of creed. The sheer confidence that the all-wheel drive system gives you will encourage you push harder. Precise steering and less weight over the nose than RS3s of old means that it clings to apexes with conviction.
Should you tick the box for carbon ceramic brakes? To be totally honest, no. The standard stoppers do a fine job and you will only get the benefit of upgrading if you regularly take your car to the track. Let’s be honest, how many Audi RS3s do you see on track days? At £4.6k you are better off optioning those adaptive dampers and a few other extras instead.
The Audi RS3’s pace is undeniable, but it’s far from the most enthralling hot hatch. Its steering lacks feedback resulting in less involvement. Also it feels like the car doesn’t really need you in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t demand anything of you as quattro all-wheel drive works its magic. You’re simply a passenger. It’s wickedly fast, but rivals are more fun to drive – particularly the rear-wheel drive BMW M140i.
Something you can not take away from the RS3 is its all-weather capabilities. Whilst testing this car the UK was battered by the remnants of a hurricane. Through high winds and standing water, the RS3 was totally unfazed.
Engine choice: 2.5-litre TFSI
The latest Audi A3 has yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but its predecessor scored the full five stars, so we would expect the same here.
Every RS 3 comes with six airbags including one for the driver’s knees. However, rear side airbags will cost you an extra £325.
A pair of Isofix points can be found in the back to safely fit two child seats.
Automatic Emergency Braking does not come as standard and can only be had with the £750 driver assistance pack. The pack also includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Active Lane Assist and Pedestrian Detection.
A hefty £1,000 option that might be worthwhile is Emergency Assist. It comes bundled with a few other safety options, but this system will safely stop the car if the driver becomes unresponsive. Costly, but potentially life saving.
Audi offers a good range of colours for your new car, as long as you’re willing to pay for them.
The only colour you won’t pay for is Nardo Grey, which actually looks pretty good on the RS3. Metallic options are £550 as is the sole pearl effect finish. Crystal paints are more costly at £775 but Ara Blue is defiantly worth it.
Audi Exclusive allows you to pick just about any colour you like, however, it will set you back £2,400.
It’s nice and simple with the RS3 as there’s only one trim to choose from. It comes with plenty of standard kit including DAB radio, navigation, heated leather seats, Virtual Cockpit, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The only thing you need to do is decide which options you would like to add. A word to the wise… You’ll need to show some restraint because it is possible to spec an RS 3 to over £60k, which would be sheer lunacy and result in a cliff-face drop in residual value.
Get some nice paint, the Supersport Seats and tick the box for the Audi Sport Pack. It might cost £1,700 but it comes with adjustable dampers and an exhaust that sounds like it belongs on a car with this much power.
The most costly toys on the list a the £4.7k carbon brakes and the removal of its speed limiter at £1,600. In reality you don’t need either. That is unless you really intend to do 0-174-0mph runs on the M1.
Size and Dimensions
Max towing weight unbraked - braked
The Audi RS 3 might be based on an economical car, but nearly 400bhp gives it a drinking habit. Audi officially claims 34mpg combined, but in reality its closer to 24mpg. A price worth paying for the performance on offer in our book. The Focus RS and Mercedes A45 can be just as thirsty, but the Honda Civic Type R is considerably more frugal as it doesn’t have to lug around a heavy all-wheel drive system.
If the hefty price tag is a bitter pill to swallow, you can get an RS3 on PCP for around £620 per month with a £3k deposit. However, that’s still £120 a month more than a Ford Focus RS. Naturally, insurance is going to be pricey but re-sale values are good on the RS 3 so if you plan to buy outright and sell on in a few years then you shouldn’t lose any more on the Audi than you will on a Mercedes-AMG A45.
Reliability and servicing
Audi scores well when it comes to reliability. Recent surveys show the brand to be amongst the best and only really outperformed by some Japanese manufacturers.
All new Audis come with a three year 60,000 mile warranty with the option of extending that to a four year 75,000 or the maximum five year 90,000 mile warranty. The additional cover costs £245 and £545 respectively.
Audis are premium products and so you should expect to pay premium prices. An entry-level RS3 Saloon costs about a grand more than the £44k asking price of the Sportback. That’s pricier then just about all of its rivals, but it does slightly undercut the very costly Mercedes-AMG A45.
The Audi RS3 is a highly polished and well executed hot hatchback, but the fact that its starting price is so high, and you can spec one to over £60k, is a little outrageous. A Focus RS with the Mountune performance upgrade is almost as powerful, yet it’ll cost 10-grand less than an RS 3.
A Focus is considerably more blue-collar than the Audi, but even the latest Volkswagen Golf R is £10k cheaper for similar all-wheel drive performance. When you look at it that way the RS3’s list price is difficult to justify, and that’s before the princely options list.
You already get plenty of tech as standard, including Audi’s impressive Virtual Cockpit. Spec the wireless phone charger and keyless ignition for convenience.
This is not the car for you. If you’re on a tight budget you should question buying one of the most expensive cars in the class.
Supersport seats are a must! Also take a look at some of the different aluminium trims for the interior.
Great bangs for your buck and fun to drive.
Honda Civic Type R
Lacks all wheel drive, but is one of the best handling cars in this class.
Volkswagen Golf R
It might not have all of the kudos of an Audi, but it’s the sensible choice.
An explosive pocket rocket that comes with an eye-watering price.
A rare rear-wheel drive hot hatch that’s a riot to drive.