Exceptionally capable hot hatch goes straight to the top of its class.
The RS 3 is a high-performance version of the five-door A3 Sportback, fitted with a 362bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol engine which drives all four wheels through a seven-speed S tronic semi-automatic gearbox. Its closest relation, and one of its greatest competitors, is the Volkswagen Golf R, which is slower but cheaper and can be had with three or five doors and manual or automatic transmission, a range of choice not offered by Audi.
Other rivals include the Mercedes A 45 AMG and the forthcoming Ford Focus RS. Along with the Golf, they form strong opposition, but the RS 3 is an excellent car which bears comparison with anything else in the class.
By pressing the accelerator and brake pedals as hard as you can and then releasing the brakes, you can make the RS 3 accelerate from a standstill to 62mph in just 4.3 seconds. The top speed is normally limited to 155mph, though you can have this raised to 174mph, an option which makes practical sense only if you regularly use a German autobahn.
The engine doesn't produce maximum power until it's revving at just over 5500rpm, but it's very flexible. Over 100bhp is already available from around 1600rpm.
Pushed hard, the engine emits a fabulous five-cylinder howl, but in gentler motoring its sound is well suppressed. The S tronic gearbox generally shifts smoothly, particularly under hard acceleration, though it can behave clumsily if you slow down, but don't stop, at a junction.
Ride and Handling
Audi has a chequered history when it comes to high-performance cars. There have been several glories, but also a few horrors, even in recent years. The RS 3 is unquestionably one of the former. Despite its very low-profile 35-section tyres, the ride quality isn't too uncomfortable, and the handling is sensational.
Even on a test track it's difficult to find even a hint of either oversteer or understeer. The car simply accepts full throttle, retains its front-rear balance and blasts on to the next straight without so much as a squeak from the tyres.
Importantly, it's equally capable when you're driving it much more gently. On a gentle country run it feels like a slightly jiggly but otherwise comfortable A3, hiding its enormous potential until you're ready to make use of it. On the downside, this does mean the RS 3 can feel rather sedate at normal speeds, a feeling not helped by rather inert steering. The Honda Civic Type-R feels much more alive and buzzing with feedback, even at lower speeds.
The 2015 Audi RS 3 Sportback hatchback has superb grip, even on a test track it's difficult to find even a hint of either oversteer or understeer.
Did you know?
The RS 3's engine was the runaway winner in the 2.5-litre category of the 2015 International Engine of the Year Award. Audi has won the same award every year since 2010.
Interior And Equipment
The interior design will be familiar to anyone who has driven another Audi. It's not particularly adventurous, but as usual there's a sense of very high build quality.
The cabin dimensions are almost identical to those of the A3 Sportback as far as passengers are concerned. But, moving the battery under the boot results in a 100-litre drop in luggage space, meaning that the RS 3 offers only 280 litres (not much more than the best city cars) with the rear seats up and 1,120 litres when they're folded down.
Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, DAB digital radio, all-round LED lights and leather upholstery, but there are many high-tech options, along with Active Lane Assist and, from late 2015, carbonfibre-reinforced ceramic brake discs. Specify a lot of these and you could easily add £10,000 to the price of the car.
Although the RS 3 compares very well with other cars in the same sector, it's not competitive on price. Without options, it costs £39,950, a little more than the A 45 AMG and much more than the Golf R and Civic Type-R. With options, it could set you back more than £50,000.
Combined fuel economy is unimpressive by current standards at 34.9mpg, or 6mpg short of the Mercedes, and of course you won't get anywhere near that if you use the available performance. The 189g/km CO2 emissions mean that Vehicle Excise Duty will cost you £265 each year, and Benefit In Kind taxation will rise from 32 per cent now to 37 per cent in 2018-19.
Pricey to tax, the 189g/km CO2 emissions mean that Vehicle Excise Duty will cost you £265 each year
The RS 3 is an expensive car to buy and run, but that's not to say this will put off potential buyers. Those who choose to send their money Audi's way will find themselves owning a superb hot hatch with storming performance, even better handling and excellent build quality. This is one of the finest hot Audis ever, and a car that other manufacturers would be well advised to study closely.