Is this the best from Audi' RS division?
The 2016 Audi RS 3 Sportback is a hard car to not love. Had it appeared 10 years ago, its performance credentials would’ve seen it regarded as a supercar. But, considering it starts from around $80,000, even today it’s a wannabe-supercar for a fraction of the price.
Let's talk acceleration. The Ferrari 360, which was last sold in 2005, went from 0-100km/h in about 4.5 seconds. Even the current Porsche 911 Carerra PDK can only manage 4.4 seconds. Audi’s own previous-generation R8 V8, which was only replaced this year, was a 4.4-second hero, while the the current RS 4 Avant - essentially the wagonette RS 3 Sportback's big brother - lists a 4.6-second sprint.
Each one of those cars is significantly more expensive than an RS 3, yet it claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.3 seconds.
For $78,900 (plus dealer delivery and relevant state taxes), the performance of the Audi RS 3 would’ve been unimaginable just a few years ago. In fact, it presented a terrible marketing strategy, considering it would’ve outdone every other RS car.
Nonetheless, that’s what we have here today: a sub-100k performance hatch that shames modern supercars.
So, when did a hot hatch become a supercar?
The five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged engine is angry. With 270kW of power and 465Nm of torque, it’s also rather lazy. Tuners will have no issues bumping that up to at least 300kW and 600Nm with nothing but a software update.
Even so, you really don’t need it. And, besides, the 1-2-4-5-3 cylinder activation sequence gives the RS3 a slightly eccentric sound that you’ll instantly fall in love with.
The sports exhaust system, which is standard spec on Australian-delivered vehicles (not the case overseas), has two flaps in the pipes downstream of the muffler, enabling a variable sound experience for those attempting to be a grown up.
That certainly wasn’t the top order of the day as we ploughed through corner after corner of Tasmania’s finest roads on our way from Launceston to Hobart. The Audi RS 3 Sportback is annoyingly quick.
It doesn’t feel quick, until you look down at the speedo and see digits emphasising that a prison cell is mere moments away (hypothetically speaking, of course).
The root problem is the glorious sound and the exhaust crackles. You’ll get addicted to it pretty quickly, and then you’ll swiftly come to hate Australia’s draconian low-level speed enforcement and general attitude to performance cars and their owners.
Like all RS vehicles, the added benefit of Quattro all-wheel drive makes the average amateur driver feel like Lewis Hamilton - wait, Tom Kristensen - when going hot in and out of a corner. It’s direct, it’s precise and it doesn’t complain. In the wet, it’s unrivalled.
It’s like playing a video game, except there’s no retry button if you ever screw it up. In that sense, it’s not like the BMW M135i, which - being a rear-wheel drive setup - tends to be a lot more playful. You will probably have more fun driving the M135i, even if you’re going much faster in the RS 3. First world problems.
It’s also unreasonably stable, unreasonably fast out of bends, and, despite our best efforts, unreasonably hard to unsettle. Unfortunately, it’s also unreasonably stiff on the standard steel suspension and does have a slight tendency to understeer or not bite hard enough in to a corner at first go.
It requires some minor steering corrections on turn-in when you’re really on it, but, once it bites, it won’t let go.
Nonetheless, our test car was not fitted with the optional larger front wheels as part of the Audi RS performance package ($6490), which gets you bigger wheels upfront (255/30/R19 at the front and 235/35/R19 at the rear) and magnetic ride suspension, which is utterly essential if you intend to use the RS 3 Sportback as a daily.
With the standard steel suspension it’s just too stiff for the daily commute, and you’ll end up regretting not spending that little bit extra for the adaptable ride control to ease the pain of traversing poorly surfaced suburban streets.
The RS 3 weighs 1520kg and Audi claims it uses 8.1 litres of premium fuel per 100km. But, really, that’s if you baby it. Expect at least 10-11L/100k for the real world.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is rapid-fire in the shifts when you’re flat out, but, at low speeds, we experienced some slight jerkiness - particularly from first to second. It wasn’t always present, though, and it's basically non-existent if you leave it in comfort mode.
The A 45 was initially too hard-riding - although the incoming 2016 update has resolved that - while the M135i was not hardcore enough for those considering track work. The RS 3 seems like the perfect compromise of both and, hell, it’s bloody quick.
The interior is a bit of a let down, in that apart from the more hardcore seats (that we found comfortable and supportive at speed), it looks basically the same as the S3. It needs to be just that little bit more special (though, in its defense, it’s still the best interior of the three Germans).
The lack of Audi Connect is also slightly annoying, considering it competitors have more advanced infotainment systems.
In reality you’ll end up paying about $95,000 on-road for an RS 3 if you tick the performance pack, metallic paint and the styling pack. Still, at under $100,000, it’s a bloody bargain.
But the more important question is, do you need it over the already excellent and more livable S3? Our answer is yes - and it’s not a logical answer, it’s an emotional one, because what you get from an RS 3 is a sensation that only a privileged few enjoyed not too long ago.
Logically, unless you intend to track it (and you can indeed option up carbon ceramic brakes if you’ve completely lost your mind) or must have the absolute best, the RS 3 makes no sense for Australian roads.
It’s just too damn fast without intending to be, and you’ll end up repeatedly paying the speeding tax. But if we are only talking logically, you may as well buy a Corolla.
Expect a more technical review and a full comparison against the new AMG A 45 and BMW M135i in the near future.