The Audi RS3 has been at the forefront of the hot hatch arms race ever since the original made its debut in 2011. Now in its second generation it has stuck to the same mechanical template of muscular turbocharged five-cylinder engine up front, which sends its power to all four wheels. It’s never been the sharpest or most rewarding device, but its brutal point-to-point pace inspired a whole host of rivals, including the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Ford Focus RS, while the second generation machine in 2015 brought a much needed injection of driver engagement – although it was still a fast Audi, so we’re talking relative levels here.
The current car was treated to a refresh in 2017, which ran to numerous 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, does the new RS3 have much needed driver appeal to go with its undoubted performance?
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, lighter 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.
Now Audi is firmly back on top, with this revised RS3 packing a whopping 394bhp from its TT RS-sourced five-cylinder engine. Power is sent to all four wheels, and both the car’s suspension and four-wheel drive system have been fettled in the hope of making the handling a little more entertaining.
Will that be enough to lift the historically straight-laced Audi above the far less expensive, yet more playful, BMW M140i and Ford Focus RS? Read on over the next few pages to get our in depth impressions, and to see how this rocketship of an A3 compares with the competition.