Published on Sunday 1 May 2016 09:03
There aren't too many hatchbacks that you would class as properly extreme but Audi's RS3 Sportback certainly falls into that category. It packs a massive 337bhp haymaker which is enough to give it the firepower to embarrass some very senior performance cars and with an all-wheel drive quattro transmission, it steps off the line as if it's been rear-ended by a wrecking ball. If you want a car that's low key but highly effective, this could be your thing but does it make a solid used buy? Let's have a look.
5 dr family hatch (2.5 petrol [RS3])
Of course, we've had no shortage of hilariously rapid Audi models in the past. Who could forget the Porsche and Cosworth developed RS2 or the ballistic V8 RS4 models? The TT RS is also a much underrated weapon of choice if you like the feeling of longitudinal g. The RS3 Sportback joined this club in 2011 when it was announced in November 2010 for 2011 model year production. By then, the A3 platform had seen quite some service. This second generation model was introduced in 2003 and the all-new A3 platform, based on the modular MQB chassis was already well under development for its 2012 launch. So Audi knew that it was working with something that was always going to be a run-out special, a last frenetic hurrah for the second generation A3. And so it proved.
The take-up for the RS3 was so frenzied that by the time Audi announced its UK allocation, all the cars seemed to have been accounted for. The original press launch was a little apologetic in that regard, Audi informing journalists that it didn't really matter what they wrote about the car for all UK-bound examples had been pre-sold. As it turned out in fact, the RS3 got a broadly favourable review, with most pundits recognising that here was a uniquely effective hot hatch. Encouraged by the strong sales, Audi managed to 'find' a few more RS3s to import which took it to the end of 2012.
What You Get
The standard Sportback is a good-looking platform to build from and the RS3 looks resolved in a way that few range-topping sports variants manage. Like all Sportbacks, the RS3 enjoys an 83mm increase in body length and extra wide opening rear doors over a three-door A3 which means easy accessibility and far better rear knee and head room. A flat-bottomed steering wheel looks suitably racy and makes getting in and out that little bit easier. Space up front is equally good, the transverse engine and front-wheel drive transmission minimising intrusion into the passenger cell. The luggage compartment of this five-door car features 370 litres of fresh air with rear seats in place and then 1220 litres with them folded.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Audi RS3's 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is as tough as old boots and can shrug off big mileages. Look for accident damage repairs as the RS3 is so quick that an inexperienced driver can get into a lot of trouble fast. The alloy wheels are spectacularly prone to kerbing so take scuffs and chips into account when negotiating on the vehicle. Check the condition of the front tyres as wear rates can be high. Check that the twin-clutch S-tronic sequential transmission engages all gears cleanly. Audi issued an RS3 recall in late 2011 to improve ventilation and update the software on the gearbox and the satellite navigation.
(approx based on an RS3 2.5) RS3 parts are broadly reasonable if they're generic A3 Sportback bits, but prices are faintly eye-watering for RS-specific items. A starter motor is a comparatively inexpensive £175. An alternator costs in the region of £185, but front brake pads are £125 a set and the RS-3 specific Continental ContiSportContact 5 P tyres are £300 a corner. And yes, the front ones are supposed to be wider than the rears.
On the Road
It's not immediately easy to get a handle on quite how punchy the Audi RS3 is. Its 343bhp power output sounds plenty, but what does it mean in real life? It translates to a power-to-weight ratio of 218bhp per tonne, which is better than a Maserati GranTurismo, a BMW E46 M3 CS or a Mercedes CLK55 AMG, none of which carry the weight burden or traction advantage of driveshafts at each corner. In other words, this is a very senior piece of kit. It demolishes the sprint to 60mph in just 4.4 seconds on its way to an electronically limited top end of 155mph.
It uses a turbocharged five-cylinder petrol unit that employs TFSI turbo charging and direct injection technology. This award-winning engine was first seen in the TT RS and transmits a heaving 450Nm of torque to the road via a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and, of course, quattro all-wheel-drive. A sound flap in the exhaust branch intensifies the sound even further when the driver presses the Sport button, which also sharpens the throttle response. Maximum torque is readily available across a broad plateau from 1,600 to 5,300rpm, which means that you'll rarely be caught off boost. Even if you are, a dab or two on the wheel-mounted shift paddles will rapidly deliver maximum attack. A widened track, bigger brakes and tyres, retuned ESP stability control and a sharpened suspension set-up that rides 25mm lower distinguish the RS3 from a standard Sportback.
The Audi RS3 is a very specialist piece of equipment. It's a car that is devastatingly quick as a road car. Too quick? It does make covering ground at a hellish pace extremely easy. We'd guess a fair few early buyers will be selling them because they've fallen foul of the law, something future owners will also need to watch for. Drive with a little reserve though and it's a great choice. It won't be as sharp around a race track as some rivals, as there's just too much weight in the front end, but as an all-weather performance car for the road, it takes a lot of beating. It's built tough too, so it makes a solid used buy, although residual values have held very firm. Similarly targeted models exist from prestige brands - BMW's M135i and Mercedes' A45 AMG for example - but neither has four wheel drive or Audi's RS cachet. Both explain why the RS3 will remain a much sought-after item for years to come.