There's a new heart and a new body, but the formula remains the same. Does the 2017 Audi RS3 sedan have the goods to tackle the meanest hatch and sedan combo from Mercedes-AMG and BMW?
Ever wondered what a Lamborghini Huracan sounds like with five cylinders not firing? Dial up dynamic mode in the 2017 Audi RS3 sedan and nail the throttle — it's like the raw sound of tiny explosions has been harnessed and unleashed 50 times over.
The Audi RS3 sedan sports a brand new engine that cranks out just shy of 300kW of power, while delivering torque through a manic, lightning fast seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Along with a new engine, Audi's ballistic street-going track car comes with a new price — $84,900, plus on-road costs. It's the first time Audi has offered the RS3 in sedan form and it's the first RS sedan we've had since the equally manic C6 RS6, which ended production in 2011.
Spotting the new RS3 in traffic is easy thanks to the sculpted air inlets, proudly worn 'quattro' insignia on the grill, brushed aluminium wing mirrors and signature twin oval exhaust tips that hide a raucous bi-modal exhaust system.
The giant brakes feature red calipers and they can be further supersized thanks to a carbon-ceramic option. The standard stoppers measure in at 370mm in diameter at the front and 310mm at the rear, plus eight-piston calipers.
Lurking beneath the bonnet is Audi's new 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. Weighing 26kg less than its predecessor, thanks to the use of aluminium for the crank casing, power has increased by 24kW to a stupid 294kW, while torque sits at 480Nm.
What's more impressive is that torque comes on hard and fast from just 1700rpm and stays strong all the way through to over 5800rpm. The power increase has helped drop the 0-100km/h time even further, now coming in at just 4.1 seconds — some 0.2 seconds quicker than the outgoing Sportback. And, it uses just 8.4 litres of fuel per 100km.
During regular driving, the quattro all-wheel drive system actively shuffles torque between the front and rear axles thanks to an electro multi-plate clutch. Depending on the situation, it can deliver up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear for smoke producing, tyre destroying sessions.
Buyers can personalise the look of their car with up to eight colours, plus Audi exclusive colour packs and a stack of alloy wheel designs from conservative to vivacious. Customers can also select a gloss black highlight package that colours wing mirrors, exhaust tips and the front end to give the car a unique look.
Inside the cabin, it's all Audi A3. No, that's a good thing. The supportive seats hug you tightly, while the excellent fit and finish melds perfectly with RS highlights throughout. An Alcantara-clad steering wheel can be optioned, along with coloured stitching, carbon-fibre inlays and a host of other design changes.
All RS3 models also get a custom Virtual Cockpit system that focusses on speed and fun. A large central tachometer houses a digital speedometer and is flanked by gadgets such as a g-force meter, torque and power meters and a boost gauge.
The 7.0-inch infotainment screen folds nicely into the dashboard when the car is switched off, but when it's running, drivers have access to a host of clever features. The satellite navigation system features Google Maps overlay, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's even a very intuitive voice recognition system for entering addresses and bringing up callers.
There's ample room in the second row to fit two adults abreast, but it lacks a bit of headroom.
The advantage of having a sedan shape is the extra cargo capacity. The RS3 sedan offers up an impressive 350 litres of capacity with the second row in place, but that increases to 770 litres when the second row is folded, turning this into quite a versatile load hauler.
But what's it like to drive? Well, the only logical place to test a car like this is on one of the best roads in Australia and then a race track. Both are in Tasmania.
Our day-long drive route included a horde of ex-Targa Tasmania stages that gave the RS3 a chance to stretch its legs within the confines of the speed limits, with a stint at the recently resurfaced Baskerville Raceway to cap things off.
While the RS3 range comes standard with 235mm wide tyres all round. Buyers can option a wider 255mm set for the front to increase available grip. Each of the cars we drove both on the road and track had the optional wider rubber at the front.
On the roads in and around Hobart, the RS3 lends itself to the daily commute. It's on the firmer side of comfortable, but can be optioned with adaptive dampers to smooth out the sharper bumps you find around suburbia.
There's a stack of response from the engine and it's easy to dart in and out of traffic, even in the car's comfort mode.
While it's smooth on the move, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox can be pretty grabby and elastic at times. It's one of the things we really dislike about dual-clutch gearboxes. In cars like this they are a necessary evil, but it would be good to finally see a manufacturer sort out low speed jitters, once and for all.
Visibility out the front, sides and rear is great. It's backed by front and rear parking sensors, along with an excellent rear-view camera.
As we leave the leafy streets of Hobart for some of the twistier stretches of tarmac, the RS3's middle range begins to shine. The five-cylinder engine's 2.5-litre capacity plugs a hole, but it's when the turbocharger comes on song producing a full 19psi of pressure that things begin to hustle.
Regardless of the gear you're in, it begins to pull hard. Pull the lever down once to engage the car's sport mode and things get even nastier. The noise increases and the throttle sharpens, opening up an almost instant surge of torque.
Even on the tight switchbacks it's easy to throw the RS3 around with absolute confidence. It's backed by brakes that bite progressively and quite hard at all times. There's really little to not like about this on the open road.
It's at the track where things begin to get wilder. With a newly resurfaced track, Baskerville offers a mix of gradient changes, plus a long straight to stretch the RS3's legs.
With the drive mode set to dynamic, the exhaust baffles open and the quattro all-wheel drive system prepares to shuffle torque as required for optimum power delivery. The progressive steering also becomes a bit heavier to offer an extra layer of communication.
The first thing you notice is the incredible exhaust note as the dual-clutch automatic smashes through gears. It comes thanks to the bi-modal exhaust, but also the five cylinder's unique piston firing order. It explodes in a 1-2-4-5-3 order, which helps create that unique and throaty bark.
As the tyres warm up and we push the RS3 harder, it becomes clear there is plenty of room to lean on it through corners. Feeding in the throttle calmly gets torque to the ground, while the ESP stays far enough away to have some real fun.
Despite all track cars we drove being fitted with steel brakes, they continuously bit with anger each time we hit them. Even after three continuous laps with only a short break between driver changes, they still bit confidently.
The part of the package that let the car down a bit was the tyres. By the time we jumped in, they had a fair battering and were beginning to lose their effectiveness. That resulted in the stability control cutting in a few times as the tyres would forego friction.
Tyres aside, this really is a finely tuned package. It sits nice and flat through corners and is incredibly forgiving, even when you overstep the boundaries. The brakes bite with confidence each and every time, while the steering provides an immense amount of feedback.
Based on the brief track drive we had, it would be worth sticking with the optional 255mm rubber at the front if you plan on doing any track days. The added grip ensures the car stays planted. The outgoing car sometimes had a tendency to understeer and feel quite front heavy – this new setup is perfect and matches the car to a tee.
As the day wound down, we began to realise this thing is impressive, really damn impressive. It offers a perfect split between comfortable small sedan and weekend warrior. All the noise piles on at the push of a button, while it can be as sedate as the next A3 any other time.
Is there a better European performance sedan on the market for this kind of money? We think not.