The Audi RS3 is going to win. It just is, there’s no doubt about it. That was the mental block and extreme bias this reviewer faced internally, one early morning before this comparison had even begun.
You see, when the Audi RS3 came out in late 2015 and yours truly got behind the wheel around some historic Targa Tasmania roads, it was a great feeling of supreme serenity. There was nothing the Audi could do wrong. It cornered, accelerated, braked and sounded like something from automotive heaven. It was, in essence, the best hot hatch on the planet. Back then.
That was, of course, before the 2016 Mercedes-AMG A45 arrived. There were rumours that Mercedes-Benz had fixed the car’s jarring ride and appetite for understeer, but for me, it was hard to fathom how the boys at AMG could take their previously awesome, but unliveable, hot hatch and make it as well balanced as the new Audi RS3.
The idea for this comparison – as obvious as it may seem – actually came from a good friend of mine who currently owns an Audi S3 sedan. He loves the sedan shape (rightly so, as it’s the best looking Audi on the market, in this writer’s opinion) and is disappointed that Audi doesn’t make the RS3 in sedan form. However, he is willing to compromise for the hatch and asked if it’s worth the upgrade to the RS3, or whether he should look at the new A45 AMG instead.
My initial thought was to tell him to go for the RS3, but then I read our own review of the new A45 AMG, first from Europe and then locally. It sounded like it indeed was a lot better, more power and torque, revised suspension and significantly faster acceleration.
But was it ‘better enough’ to beat the RS3? Best to find out.
Our two cars here are both MY16 model year examples.
The Mercedes-AMG retails for $77,900 (before on-road costs), with our tester fitted with $2480 worth of options.
The Audi starts from $78,900 (before on-road costs), with ours optioned with an additional $10,365 worth of goodies. All of which is at the end of this review.
The AMG’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (the most powerful factory 2.0-litre in the world) has 280kW of power and 475Nm of torque. The RS3 manages 270kW and 465Nm from its 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit. Both use seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions.
The idea of a hot-hatch has always been that of a practical vehicle, with bipolar disorder. In essence, a hot-hatch must be comfortable and usable as a daily drive, while still possessing menacing performance credentials for when the time comes.
It’s fair to say, though, that neither the RS3 or A45 qualify as hot-hatches. They are super-hatches. Anything that can do 0-100km/h in 4.2 (A45) or 4.3 seconds (RS3), should no longer be regarded as merely ‘hot’. It’s on fire (not in the Ford Everest kind of way).
Those performance numbers will give current series one (991) Porsche 911 Carrera owners a heart attack at the lights. Not to mention the RS3 is quicker to 100km/h than the RS4 and RS5.
In order for this comparison to make sense then, we must split it into two, for the super-hatches need to be both useful as a daily vehicle battling city traffic and even better for those early morning drives up a twisty mountain road before the men in the blue have awoken.
So how do they compare as a daily?
From the outside
The RS3 is a better looking car. There’s really no other way to say it. The A45 AMG is a busy concentration of aero parts at the front, with so many lines that it all looks rather overdone.
It’s as if someone has taken aero parts of Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One car and stuck it on for good measure. That extends all the way to the rear, with a plastic aero part stuck to the rear diffuser looking genuinely odd.
On the other side of the German wall, the Audi RS3 is simply stunning. It’s a simple design that looks menacing without being overstated. It has ditched all the bling of the S3 (which arguably looks better, depending on your taste) and instead gone with a nice black grille and a very subtle quattro sign to signify its true intent.
For whatever reason, Audi insists on putting gorgeous quad-pipes on its S cars but sticking with wide and relatively dull dual exhaust pipes on its RS cars.
Regardless, from whichever angle you look at the two cars gathered here, it would take a hardcore Mercedes fan to genuinely insist the A45 is the better looking of the two.
From the inside
The story is somewhat different inside, with the RS3 possessing almost an identical interior to the S3 – albeit with RS badging and a nicer steering wheel. The updated A45 (above) now looks much nicer than before, with its updated drive-mode selector and new finishes throughout the cabin.
It still continues with the almost entirely redundant stack of buttons underneath the infotainment screen, which itself has a rather aftermarket feel that’s already starting to look dated (though the hardware is super fast).
The Audi (below) has better looking and feeling seats, both front and rear, with gorgeous perforated leather with diamond shaped stitching, and far better bum and back support.
Our rear seat test passengers also noted that, around town, comfort levels in the RS3 were better than the A45, though both offer reasonable amounts of head and legroom to comfortably seat four average-sized adults. You can try your luck at five, but expect complaints from the second row in either car.
Neither cars’ infotainment system is as good as it could or should be. Mercedes-Benz’s ‘COMAND’ is unnecessarily convoluted, with too many sub-menus for performing simple tasks.
Audi’s multimedia system is in need of an update, as it’s starting to look a little tired with an overly simple graphic display. And with the A3 range missing out on a SIM connection, some of the best bits of Audi Connect are not present.
In either case, any BMW ConnectedDrive unit with the latest version of iDrive, would’ve bested them both.
It’s also worth noting that AMG’s new drive-mode selector, a knob located near the gear stick, is much nicer and faster to use, and in a far better position, than its equivalent in the RS3 – which is a button you have to keep pressing to switch between modes.
This makes life more convenient in the AMG, when you want to switch from ‘Sport sharp’ to ‘Comfort’ while at idle next to a police car.
Both the exhaust and suspension can be independently toggled using separate buttons as well.
The AMG’s steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are also much longer than the Audi’s near miniature-sized ones, making it easier to change gears when you’re in the thick of things.
The standard panoramic sunroof in the AMG is covered with a rather thin and see-through piece of fabric that lets a reasonable amount of heat in. Worth noting if you deal with the remorseless Queensland sun, for example.
The Audi’s Bang and Olufsen sound system (part of the RS package) is just that little bit better than the stereo in the AMG, but then again you’re paying more for it, so it’s expected. A similar system is optional for the A45, however. You really don’t need it though, as it’s more than good enough how it is.
Arguably the fit and finish of the Audi’s interior is better than the Mercedes, as is its general cabin ambience.
But where the Audi oozes understated class, the Mercedes is inherently a performance car with little touches, such as red seatbelts, adding that extra sense of urgency to the cabin. It’s what your friends will notice when they jump in, and that’s important.
On the road
With its smoother dual-clutch transmission and ride, it’s in traffic that we expected the Audi to justify its purchase as a daily drive over the AMG. And we weren’t disappointed. The RS3 is a genuinely practical car you can drive every day of the week.
Then again, so is the new AMG. And that’s the real surprise here.
The previous model was unbearably harsh on suburban roads. Its suspension was designed for smooth European roads and it didn’t have adjustable suspension (like the new car), and, as such, it was best suited for drives straight to a racetrack or to a chiropractor.
In that regard, though, the new A45 trumps the RS3, which requires the $6490 RS performance package to gain magnetic ride suspension (along with a host of other features noted at the bottom of the review) to make it a usable daily. (Update: The Magnetic ride can be had as a stand alone for $2080).
The transmission in the old A45 didn’t like going all that slow either, while the new A45’s updated system seems far more composed and willing to be quietly driven around town at low speeds without any jerky notions. As does the S Tronic gearbox in the RS3.
To put both cars to the test, we devised an hour-long traffic loop through Brisbane’s CBD and Fortitude Valley, on a scorching 41-degree Celsius day with 90 per cent humidity in late January – possibly the hottest day of the year in Brisbane.
Both cars were set to Comfort mode and had their air conditioning blasting. After about 20 minutes, the AMG’s engine temperature was sitting noticeably above normal (3/4), even though it was hardly getting out of second gear, while the Audi appeared to have no such temperature issues.
After a while, the Merc also presented us with tyre pressure errors, as well as a failure in the adaptive headlights.
It’s hard to say if these were temperature related, but the Audi had no such problems. Both these problems went away in the AMG after some time.
Both cars were filled up with BP Ultimate 98 RON fuel before the city loop and then refilled again after covering identical distances. The Audi used 3.9 litres of fuel while the Mercedes used 3.88L of fuel. Nearly identical in start-stop traffic.
Over the bumpy roads heading from Kelvin Grove through the city and back, both cars absorbed the bumps with limited annoyance to passengers.
They are surprisingly not all that much firmer than their donor cars. In fact, the adaptive and magnetic suspensions probably result in a better overall experiences.
It’s difficult to give a definitive answer on which was more comfortable, as the Mercedes tended to absorb the initial shocks from potholes or speed bumps better than the Audi, but the Ingolstadt-bred hatch settled quicker post-trauma.
While idling in traffic in Sports (AMG) or Dynamic (RS) mode, both cars sound possessed. The Audi has a nicer idle with a deeper burble and a rougher sound that suits its nature.
The AMG, though, loves to crackle and pop on the slightest bit of acceleration, while it takes some serious use of the right foot to get the Audi to get theatrical. More on that in the dynamic test.
Both cars have a reversing camera and reasonable rear visibility, though they are also equally terrible at doing three point turns (11m turning circle for both). And it took us far too long to work out how to make the AMG park itself, so we gave up, while the RS is a simple button to activate the system.
You shouldn’t have any issues parking either of them anywhere reasonable, though, the Audi’s flush wheels are probably more prone to abuse than the AMG’s optional, and gorgeous, matt black alloys ($490).
Both are the sort of car you’d definitely let your wife drive to the shops without having a panic attack (or the other way around).
They sit high enough not to bottom out, while the general manoeuvrability of each car in tight spaces is probably better than you’d expect despite the terrible turning circle.
Overall, there’s not all that much between them when it comes to the everyday commute. We found both cars blended in with traffic with minimal attention garnered, which is a shame in one way but a blessing in another.
From our perspective, if the everyday commute was a big factor in the purchase decision, you would probably lean more towards the Audi. But only because it looks better inside and out, and offers more comfortable seats.
It does cost $8885 more than the also-optioned-up AMG though, and you couldn’t buy it without the magnetic ride option (which Audi offers independently of the RS package for $2080), which equals out their final scoring for the road test.
From a servicing cost perspective, the Audi will set you back $1950 in the first three years while the Mercedes comes in at $2880
Ultimately though, we are talking about sports cars here and you are paying a lot of money for their performance credentials, so that should mean more than around town livability.
During our initial in-city and traffic road tests, it was obvious that the AMG was like a scalpel waiting to go to work.
With that in mind we gratefully switched from Comfort to Sport+ and Dynamic mode and headed for the super twisty and extremely tight roads of Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious. It was time to find a real winner…
Continue reading: Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG v Audi RS3 Comparison: Dynamic test.
Audi RS3 Options:
As tested – $89,265
Mercedes-AMG A45 Options:
As test – $80,380