I never truly understood how important sound was to the enjoyment of a performance car until it was missing.
The Audi RS3 quickly became an icon among top-end hot hatches soon after the nameplate arrived on local roads in 2015.
Powered by a potent turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine matched to a fast-acting seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, it brought new levels of performance to the hatchback market.
Thanks to Audi’s association with Lamborghini, the engine was, in effect, half a 5.0-litre V10 from the Lamborghini Gallardo supercar. It may not have comprised much of its DNA, but it certainly shared its distinctive intake and exhaust snarl.
You could hear the Audi RS3 long before you could see it coming. Many onlookers were no doubt surprised to see a hatchback drive past them given they were expecting something that sounded like a supercar.
The current-generation Audi RS3 launched here as a hatchback in late 2015 with a healthy output of 270kW and 465Nm – at the time the most amount of grunt in such a compact car. This delivered a claimed 0–100km/h time of 4.3 seconds. Back then that was Porsche 911 territory.
Just two years later, in 2017, Audi demonstrated it does not sit on its hands, releasing a new version of the 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine – this time with an alloy rather than cast-iron block.
Audi also used this update as an opportunity to introduce an RS3 sedan to sell alongside the hatch, and to help broaden the appeal of the badge.
The new engine delivered a weight saving of 26kg – from 180kg to 154kg – making the Audi RS3 lighter over the front end. Importantly, the new engine also delivered more power and torque, pumping out 294kW and 480Nm (up from 270kW and 465Nm).
The modest weight saving and extra mumbo trimmed the 0–100km/h time to a claimed 4.1 seconds. However, I – and other local media – repeatedly saw 3.9- and 4.0-second results using precision timing equipment. It was truly remarkable.
Then in late 2018, the Audi RS3 disappeared from local showrooms, without even saying goodbye.
Strict new fuel economy and emissions testing standards introduced in Europe – in the wake of the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal and a renewed focus on real-world consumption – forced Audi and other car manufacturers to stop production of certain models until they were resubmitted for regulatory approval.
In the end, the Audi RS3 was absent from Australian showrooms for about 18 months, returning in early 2020. However, its return brought with it yet another change, and possibly the most controversial move yet for the 2020 Audi RS3.
The alloy 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine carried over from its most recent guise – and power and torque remained unchanged at 294kW and 480Nm – but a petrol particulate filter (PPF) was added to meet more stringent European emissions standards. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to only run 98-octane premium unleaded in an Audi RS3, because higher sulphur fuels could choke the PPF.
The other minor change: the official fuel economy average went from 8.3L/100km to 8.5L/100km (on test we averaged between 8.0 and 10.5L/100km with a mix of inter-urban and freeway driving).
With the most recent update, Audi also put a sock in the RS3’s intake and exhaust. Well, not literally, of course. But the latest Audi RS3 was obliged to meet more stringent drive-by noise regulations.
The result: the Audi RS3 of today lacks the character – and the cracking sounds – of the predecessors that helped drive the badge to prominence and develop a cult following.
It’s painful to say this, but the engine and exhaust in the updated Audi RS3 manufactured since February 2020 (going on sale in Australia in June 2020) are mute compared to the original.
The previous Audi RS3’s thunderous sounds have been replaced by engine and exhaust notes as docile as a Volkswagen Golf GTI – or perhaps even quieter. It’s not much louder than someone blowing air through a straw. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
Tragically, there’s barely any hint of the glorious 1-2-4-5-3 firing order from the five-cylinder engine which, Audi had previously boasted, could be “further amplified through the RS3 exhaust system with active baffles in the rear muffler that can be activated via Audi drive select”.
It may seem unfair to dwell on the sound, but we’re only mentioning it because we didn’t realise just how important the theatrics were to the overall experience of this car. It’s just not the same, and nor is it as intoxicating as it was before.
Turns out it wasn’t just our imagination. The new Audi RS3 is slightly slower than its immediate predecessor. We did 0–100km/h times to see if the PPF had any impact on performance. Well, it did and it didn’t.
The best result we could get out of the revised 2020 Audi RS3 hatch was 4.1 seconds.
To be fair to Audi, this has been the 0–100km/h performance claim for the RS3 since 2017. It’s just that I and other local media outlets were able to beat that time when the 2017 update arrived, stopping the clocks in 3.9 or 4.0 seconds neat, as mentioned earlier.
A tenth of a second here or there might not sound like much, but at the pointy end of acceleration contests, it’s a noteworthy difference.
We also tested emergency braking performance, and were surprised to find the Audi RS3 hatchback took 37.9m to pull up. A car of this calibre should be stopping in 35m or so. For context, a Honda Civic Type R can stop in less than 35m.
The Audi RS3 tested had the phenomenal brake package that comes standard on this model: eight-piston callipers up front clamping 370mm ventilated discs, and a floating single-piston calliper working the 310mm discs at the rear.
That left us to conclude perhaps the tyres were partly responsible for the ho-hum braking distance. The Audi RS3 tested was equipped with Pirelli P Zero tyres (235/35 R19) on all four corners; it did not have the optional wider fronts fitted (255/30 R19).
By the way, if you get a flat tyre, there’s no spare. It’s a tyre inflator kit or a tow truck. (Story continues after the table).
|Engine||Turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder|
|Power and torque||294kW and 480Nm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Kerb weight||1280kg to 1383kg|
|Fuel consumption claim||8.5L/100km (98RON)|
|Fuel used on test||10.2L/100km|
|Spare tyre||Tyre inflation kit|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (2013)|
|Warranty||3 years/unlimited kilometres|
|Service intervals||12 months/15,000km|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-AMG A45, VW Golf R|
|Price (excluding on-road costs)||$83,800|
On the road
Is the Audi RS3 still a blast to drive? Absolutely. Does it feel and sound as fast as it once did? Sadly no.
Nevertheless, there is still much to like. On the road, the Audi RS3 still knows how to thread through corners with ease and ample grip. Magnetically controlled suspension is now standard, and that has helped iron out the bumps, but it’s still a touch too floaty at times – and can get caught out by sharp joins in the road.
The Audi RS3 still also has a tendency to run wide in tight turns, and it doesn’t gel as well with the road as, say, a BMW M2, which is similar money. Or the much newer Mercedes-AMG A45, which is truly epic now that Stuttgart has discovered torque.
The luxury-appointed cabin in the RS3 includes highlights such as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit (a 12.3-inch digital instrument display), a 7.0-inch retractable infotainment screen in the middle of the dash (with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio, and embedded navigation), wireless phone charging, nappa leather seats, and a Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker sound system (including a subwoofer).
Advanced safety aids include radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-zone warning and individual tyre pressure monitors.
LED headlights provide a spectacular spread of light at night. The front and rear sensors and a rear-view camera are standard, and take some of the hassle out of squeezing into tight parking spots.
Meanwhile, the RS3 shares a five-star safety rating awarded to this generation of Audi A3 from 2013.
For this reason, only limited showroom stock remains of the runout Audi RS3. As this road test was published, there were still plenty of examples available for sale through the Audi dealer network, either as brand-new or low-kilometre demonstrator models.
After launching at $78,900 plus on-road costs in 2015, the price of the Audi RS3 has crept up with each update. In 2017, the RRP climbed to $80,900, and when it returned to Australian showrooms in 2020 the price started from $83,800 plus on-road costs.
However, that’s just the start. An optional Carbon Edition – which adds carbon-fibre mirror housings, a panoramic glass sunroof, gloss-black styling highlights, 19-inch Audi Sport wheels in gloss black, rear privacy glass and carbon trim in the cabin – starts from $87,200 plus on-road costs for the hatch, a premium of $3400.
Near-new examples are currently being advertised online for close to $100,000, and presumably the full prices are coinciding with stock shortages.
Finally, Audi warranty coverage remains three years/unlimited kilometres (in an industry dominated by five-year coverage) and service intervals for the RS3 are 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first). A five-year pre-paid service package cost $3520 as this article was published.
If you get in quick, you may be able to secure one of the last of this generation of Audi RS3 Sportbacks. Audi says there is enough stock nationally to carry the nameplate for the next few months.
Beyond that, there will be another blackout before the new-generation Audi RS3 arrives locally in 2022.