Audi RS3 review - is the Audi RS3 the ultimate hyper hatch?

evo staff
15 Aug 2017

A polished and desirable hot hatch, but still prioritises performance over driver involvement

Evo Rating: 
Stunning engine, quality cabin, improved dynamics
Expensive, faster than it is fun

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:

The RS3 has always been an expensive car and the new one is no different. You will need over £44,000 to get one on the road in the UK so to try and justify this price the RS3 is pretty well stocked. Standard equipment includes LED headlights, leather RS sports seats, high-grade MMI sat-nav and Virtual Cockpit all standard.

The usual exterior RS appliqué also appears, including dual-oval exhaust pipes, a (fake) rear diffuser, pumped up front wheel arches and 19-inch alloys. As is becoming increasingly common on RS models, buyers also have the option of personalising their RS3 with the choice of body coloured, matt aluminium or black styling packages. These packages actually make a pretty dramatic effect on the overall look of the car, varying between being a complete Q-car and slightly obnoxious depending on your colour and spec choices.

> Click here for our review of the BMW M2

Audi also offers two option packs in the UK including the RS design pack which adds red accents and stitching in the interior, while the comfort and sound pack adds keyless entry and start, rear view camera and a excellent Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Where rivals are concerned, the RS3’s nemesis has always been the Mercedes-AMG A45. At just over £41k, the Mercedes-AMG is slightly less expensive, but then also less powerful with ‘only’ 376bhp from its highly-strung 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Mercedes is also slightly less well equipped, charging extra for the upgraded sat-nav and 19-inch wheels that come standard on the Audi.

The reason you might be more inclined to head towards the Audi dealership though is that Mercedes-AMG lacks the ultimate polish of the Audi. Cheaper rivals like the Focus RS also show up the Mercedes in handling terms, and the Merc’s the interior and exterior design is dating rather quickly.

> Click here for our review of the Mercedes-AMG A45

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. BMW’s M140i is also not to be overlooked at a tempting £34k.

At close to £45k though, the RS3 must also overcome more grown up rivals like the AMG C43 and Audi S4 saloons which could be easier to justify dropping that sort of cash on. But the biggest thorn in the Audi’s side is the BMW M2 coupe, perhaps lacking a little in practical terms, but definitely out entertaining the Audi thanks to its playful chassis.

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