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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - RS3 Sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Ripper five-cylinder turbo engine, all-round dynamic performance, bang for buck, restrained good looks, classy cabin, easy going demeanour in urban driving
Room for improvement
Controls a bit fiddly, sat-nav not the easiest to read on the fly


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15 Jun 2017

DRIVING back from Tasmania’s Baskerville Raceway to Hobart airport at dusk in Audi’s new RS3 sedan with four people on board after an exhilarating day of high-performance driving on road and track, it dawned on us that we could be cruising along in any Audi A3.

That is not meant as a criticism of the hottest small sedan in captivity, but a compliment. After all, even the most ardent sports sedan fan needs to go into cruise mode now and again.

And this is the four-door RS3’s strength: it is a car for all seasons – looking cool but not ostentatious, riding firmly without crashing through every road imperfection, accommodating a family with few compromises and driving easily and comfortably until the driver wants otherwise.

About here, you might expect us to say that all hell breaks loose when the class-leading 2.5-litre engine spools up with 294kW of power and 480Nm of torque and rips all four tyres into a cloud of smoke.

Well, no. Exciting yes, fast for sure, but even when the RS3’s dander is well and truly up, it keeps a grip on the situation via its legendary quattro all-wheel-drive system, big brakes, well-weighted steering and sporty but reasonably compliant suspension.

The torque comes on strong from 1700rpm, meaning the driver does not need to row the car along in the urban grind. A manual gearbox is not available, and we did not miss it one bit, such is the slick-shifting action of the dual-clutch transmission – a format that Audi and the broader Volkswagen Group is finally fully nailing.

Hot laps in the safer environs of the race track only underscored the laid-back competence of the RS3, even at pulse-heightening, knuckle-whitening nine-tenths action. Yes, we did experience tyre-squeaking understeer when we went into corners a bit hot, but good road cars do that.

For the most part, it was a case of brake, point, turn and squirt, each time drifting out to the exit while grabbing the up-shift paddle for a higher gear and the run to the next turn. Repeat.

This was all accompanied by the distinctive soundtrack of the snarling, cracking and popping five-cylinder turbo engine with its bi-modal exhaust valve on the fun setting and the driving mode set to “Dynamic”.

Lighter, more powerful and cleaner than before, the thoroughly new five-cylinder engine is the only one in the small-car class that can kick sand in the face of Mercedes-AMG’s A45 and CLA45, mostly because at 2.5 litres, it has a size advantage over the 2.0-litre four-cylinder Benz barkers.

But with a $7300 price advantage over the CLA45, the RS3 sedan is a lot of car for drivers not welded to the three-pointed star.

In our one-day program, we missed a few experiences, such a testing the launch control system and trying the various digital dash alternatives, but we will happily take an RS3 for a longer test on home ground to sift through this almost bewildering array of electronic controls.

A reliable fuel consumption reading will also have to wait. Audi is claiming 8.4 litres per 100km, but with a couple of hours of pedal-to-the-metal track action in our mix of test driving, the on-board fuel reading was skewed way high. It will probably be higher than the fuel consumed by the rival CLA45 with its smaller engine, though.

Some potential buyers might be a little disappointed by the restrained body treatment for such a potent car – 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds and 280km/h top speed – but we suspect the target market of mostly male aspiring executives in the 30-45 age bracket will like the style that we think could be described as reserved menace. Lots of black bits, muscular mudguards, big-bore exhausts and meaningful but not over-the-top aero treatment is the basic story.

Still not convinced? The good news is that a revamped RS3 Sportback hatch is in the works and ready for a Q4 launch in Australia. It gets the same snorting powertrain, right down to the same gear ratios.

Inside, the RS3 sedan is all class, with Audi Sport sports seats cloaked in soft, quilted leather and high quality finishes from roof lining to floor mats.

The sat-nav screen could be a bit bigger and a bit easier to follow, and some functions such as the driving mode button a little easier to find for novice drivers, but the RS3 ticks many boxes with its great ergonomics, high levels of safety and relatively refined operation.

Rear-seat accommodation has adequate knee room for tall adults, although head room back there could be an issue for the tallest passengers.

The boot is a little tighter than the standard A3 sedan, due to the placement of the 12-volt battery under the floor for a better driving balance, but it is still sufficiently large for baggage to cover a small family holiday. Folding rears seats provide further load flexibility.

We are guessing that most customers will probably skip the optional ceramic front brakes ($9500 – phew) and opt instead for the $7300 performance pack that bundles extras that could make a difference to the ownership experience – upgraded alloy wheels, magnetic ride suspension, Bang & Olufsen premium sound system and carbon fibre interior trim.

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