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Audi RS3 review – can the premium hyper hatch justify its price tag?

evo staff
15 Jan 2018
Verdict:

The RS3 is typically polished performance Audi with huge performance but it’s somewhat sanitized.

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
£45k
For 
Stunning engine, quality cabin, improved dynamics
Against 
Expensive, faster than it is fun
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As one of the main players unashamedly triggering our current-day hot hatch arms race, the Audi RS3 has had a mixed reception in the evo office in the past. Despite being supremely polished and desirable in the company of some pretty rowdy competitors, the RS3 has always struggled to win our affection due its numb driving experience. 

So along with a mid-life refresh, the 2017 RS3 has also undergone some mechanical and setup changes, with Audi proclaiming it has significantly improved the RS3’s driving dynamics, as well as retaking its position as the most powerful hot hatch in the business. Launched alongside a saloon counterpart for the first time, will the new RS3 be able to overcome the numb handling and overly sensible demeanour that plagued its predecessor?

Audi RS3: in detail

Performance and 0-62mph time > Aside from the outstanding engine, it’s the quattro all-wheel drive system and dual-clutch gearbox that helps the RS3 produce some pretty astounding performance figures. 

Engine and gearbox > The RS3 has switched to the same new-generation 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine as the TT-RS. Transmissions are limited to the S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox.

Ride and Handling > The Achilles' heel of the previous RS3, the new car is a definite improvement, and wet roads help to unlock its character - but its limits are so high that at typical road speeds there's little real enjoyment or interactivity.

MPG and running costs > Despite boasting one more cylinder than most rivals, the RS3’s MPG is relatively competitive. 

Interior and tech > Largely unchanged from the previous car, the RS3’s interior straddles that line between sporty and overwrought depending on which option boxes are ticked. It is still beautifully designed and executed, though.  

Design > Building on the updates shared with the standard A3, the new RS3 has an aggressive front and rear bumper treatment putting it in line with other RS models. 

Prices, specs and rivals:

At £45k, the Audi RS3 is unquestionably expensive, especially when you consider its A3 origins. Recognising this, Audi has been generous with standard kit, fitting automatic LED lights front and back as well as 19-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P Zero tyres. Inside you’ll find: leather-upholstered heated seats, an alcantara-trimmed multifunctional steering wheel and Audi’s Virtual cockpit, too.

Special paint finishes and diamond cut wheels increase the price but add a personal touch to the boisterous exterior. Certain exterior combinations lend the RS3 an understated Q-car look, while others accentuate the sporting, RS brief. The RS design pack introduces more leather and alcantara to interior tactile surfaces, as well red stiching and accents for the seats and air vents respectively, for £900.

> BMW M2 review

Of the performance options available we’d select magnetic ride (as mentioned in ride and handling) and the RS Sport exhaust system, both are £1000 if added separately but are paired in the Sport Pack for £1,700. For £4,695 the ceramic brakes are unnecessary, unless you’ll be taking your RS3 on track regularly.

Turbocharged, four-wheel drive and also bearing a £40k-plus price tag, Mercedes’s AMG 45 is the closest rival to the RS3. Similarly quick it sprints from 0-62mph in 4.2sec courtesy of 376bhp, although it delivers a largely anodyne driving experience lagging far behind other hatches for thrills.

BMW’s M140i is £10k cheaper and the performance reflects that: 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque is generated by the turbocharged straight-six which revs cleanly to 7000pm. 0-62mph is dispatched in 4.8sec in the manual (the automatic is 0.2sec quicker), almost a second slower than the RS3. The rear-drive chassis won’t lend itself to damp conditions as well as the RS3’s does, but its adjustable character delivers a more involving and diverse driving experience. And, of course, BMW has the M2 coupe on its books for the full M Sport hit minus the practicality of a hatchbacked rear. 

> Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

Cheaper rivals also present a problem for the Audi though; Volkswagen’s recently facelifted Golf R is more capable and premium feeling than ever, while at just over £34k in five-door DSG spec is almost ten grand cheaper. The Ford Focus RS offers a more visceral experience at an even more affordable £32k, but definitely lacks the premium elements that help justify the Audi’s price tag.

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