The Audi RS3 range made a quiet return to local dealerships last year, ending an 18-month hiatus from Australian roads.
Audi stopped production of the RS3 twins – Sportback (hatchback) and sedan – in the latter part of 2018 while the manufacturer had to redo the certification process to meet Europe’s more stringent, real-world fuel economy test, aka WLTP (worldwide harmonised light vehicle test).
Originally, Australia was in line to start taking deliveries of the newly certified RS3 range in 2019, but production delays in Hungary (where the RS3 is produced) saw that stretch out to the middle of 2020.
Now, the Audi RS3 is back in Australia, so it’s timely we sample what has changed and what remains of the powerful sports sedan.
The first change is that the RS3 now runs with a petrol particulate filter (PPF) designed to keep emissions down. That also means fuel quality is important, so your RS3 must drink from the well of 98RON premium unleaded. That’s something we’d recommend anyway, so no biggie.
The other discernible change is that the RS3 has been muffled in order to meet with Europe’s more stringent noise pollution regulations. And that’s a shame. Where once the RS3 snarled and reverberated with a delicious soundtrack, this new for 2021 iteration sounds like every other run-of-the-mill hot hatch. And that’s a pity, because the old Audi RS3 had soul, oozing a characterful soundtrack enhanced by its performance chops and driving experience.
There’s not a lot of choice when it come to the RS3 range. With a choice of two body styles – hatchback (Sportback in Audi-speak) or sedan – and two trim levels, the RS3 range is mercifully short. It gets underway with the regular RS3 Sportback at $83,436 plus on-road costs. An RS3 ‘Carbon Edition’ adds some extra kit and few dollars to the price tag – $86,836.
That’s about the same money the regular RS3 sedan wants for – $86,136. But the sedan also gets the ‘Carbon Edition’ treatment and that bumps the asking price up to $89,536 plus on-road costs. And that’s the RS3 we have on test here, the 2021 Audi RS3 Carbon Edition sedan. Top dog, then, in the RS3 range.
Buyers playing in this space could also look at the Mercedes-AMG A45 S with its powerful four-cylinder turbo. But it’s around five grand more, wanting for $94,920. And it’s a hatchback. If sedans are your thing, then the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 might do the job, but it’s considerably more expensive at $111,300 plus on-road costs.
|2021 Audi RS3 Carbon Edition sedan|
|Engine||2.5-litre turbocharged, five-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||294kW at 5850–7000rpm, 480Nm at 1950–5850rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.0L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||315L/770L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (2013)|
|Warranty||3 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-AMG A45 S, Mercedes-AMG CLA45|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$89,536|
So what does your circa $90K get you in the world of Audi RS3? Quite a lot, as you would expect.
Standard equipment highlights include LED headlights and daytime running lights, LED tail-lights with Audi’s signature dynamic indicators, 19-inch alloys finished in matte titanium, an RS bodykit with rear spoiler, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, automatic windscreen wipers, automatic headlights, and heated side mirrors.
Inside there’s a 7.0-inch colour infotainment screen (controlled via a rotary dialler in the centre console), adaptive cruise control with stop&go function, Audi’s excellent 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit driver display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, Bluetooth streaming, DAB+ radio, and a premium 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
This being the ‘Carbon Edition’ adds some external visual bling. For starters, the 19-inch matte titanium alloys are replaced by 19-inch gloss-black rims. That gloss-black theme continues to the window surrounds, replacing the standard-fit matte aluminium trims, and also adds a gloss-black exterior pack that sees all badges and logos finished in, yep, gloss black. The Carbon Edition also brings a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows and carbon mirror caps. Do you absolutely need the Carbon Edition? No, but then the RS3 sedan does cut a striking figure wearing it.
Our test car was finished in the near-ubiquitous Audi Nardo Grey, one of several no-cost options from Ingolstadt’s colour palette. Two pearl-finish hues ask for an extra $728.
Inside, the RS3 oozes sportiness with swathes of Alcantara and miles of contrast red stitching. There are also contrasting trims, also finished in red, elements like the air vent surrounds, which look a bit chintzy to our eyes. Still, others may love it.
The RS-branded sports seat are firm yet comfortable, with plenty of support in all the right areas. The flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, partially wrapped in Alcantara, feels meaty in hand, like a sports steering wheel should. It nicely frames the 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument cluster – aka Virtual Cockpit – which remains the benchmark.
The 7.0-inch infotainment screen looks small by today’s standards, but thanks to its ease of use via the rotary dialler it offers a pleasing user experience. More recently, Audi has dropped the rotary dialler in favour of a larger touchscreen, and while that is in keeping with prevailing trends, there’s something about the intuitive tactility of the rotary dialler that will be missed when it is gone in the next-gen RS3.
Overall presentation errs on the side of sporty, although the quality of materials and the fit and finish are exemplary. Typical Audi, then.
The second row remains tight for back-seat passengers, although not so much that you feel uncomfortable. Certainly, behind my 172cm driving position, the key areas of room – toe, knee, leg and head – are decent enough.
There are air vents back there and a 12V outlet, while a pair of cupholders hide in a flip-down armrest. The central driveline tunnel does impact on space for the middle pew. Par for the course.
For those looking to haul kidlets, there are ISOFIX mounts on the outboard seats, while all three seatbacks come equipped with top-tether anchor points.
The RS3 sedan suffers for its three-box shape, with boot space measuring in at a relatively small 315L, some 20L fewer than the Sportback. That expands to 770L with the seats folded down. If you’re after the surety of a spare wheel and tyre, you’ll be disappointed, the RS3 equipped only with an inflation kit.
Minor inconveniences are quickly dispelled as soon as you get behind the wheel, though, the RS3 sedan grumbling into life with verve. While the noise-cancellation program has neutered the RS3 formula, the driving experience remains with unblemished performance from its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine pumping out a generous 294kW (5850–7000rpm) and 480Nm (1950–5850rpm). That’s mated to Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sending drive to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Audi claims the RS3 will sprint from 0–100km/h in a blistering 4.1 seconds – properly quick.
There’s an urgency underfoot that’s hard not to like, even if the aural theatre has been diminished. It certainly feels quick, even if it no longer sounds it.
Where Audi typically excels is in building in duality. This RS3 is no different, as happy and compliant tootling round in traffic as it is having its neck wrung around some mountainous blacktop.
The ride on the standard-fit magnetically controlled adaptive dampers maintains Audi’s tradition of blending comfort with sportiness. Around town, in its softest setting – Comfort, one of four drive models available along with Auto, Dynamic and Individual – the dampers provide plenty of cushioning from our scrappy roads.
Switching to Dynamic firms everything up nicely, although a spirited drive over rural back roads can see the suspension induce some mid-corner jitters, skipping over bumps rather than soaking them up. Not a deal-breaker, and you certainly never feel like the little RS3 is flirting with disaster. The easy solution is to set up your personal preferences in Individual mode, opting for the softer suspension tune while toggling everything else to Dynamic.
The seven-speed dual-clutch auto carries over that duality. Around town, shifts remain unobtrusive, the RS3’s ’box rowing through the cogs quickly and imperceptibly in the hunt for fuel efficiency. Same on the highway, the transmission eager to hit seventh gear.
Step harder on the accelerator, though, and the DCT springs to life, with rapid downshifts allowing the five-cylinder engine to pile on revs quickly. With maximum torque on tap over a wide rev range (1950–5850rpm), the RS3 never feels like it's straining at the leash. Instead, acceleration is as rapid as it is linear, the RS3 rushing forward eagerly with composure.
It’s the same story linking some corners when the situation warrants. With all-wheel-drive surety under wheel – thanks to Audi’s quattro underpinnings – the RS3 is happy to be hustled with some intent. Certainly, firing out of one corner to the next is grin-inducing, the surge and rush of acceleration intoxicating.
The steering feels nice and meaty, especially in its heaviest setting in Dynamic mode. And it’s precise, too, with razor-sharp inputs and responses that never feel vague.
But, those fun times on quiet back roads again underscore the absence of any meaningful engine and exhaust notes, the RS3 delivering a muted experience at odds with what it once offered. It’s a shame, really, as in the pantheon of fast fours (and in this case fives), the RS3 stood tall among equals. Boo to Europe and its ever-increasing focus on emissions of all types. The RS3 feels neutered for it.
Audi claims the RS3 sedan will drink 8.5L/100km of 98RON premium unleaded. Our week with the little pocket brawler saw an indicated 9.0L/100km – not too bad considering there was plenty of high-spirited fun had behind the wheel.
The RS3 was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating way back in 2013, along with the wider A3 range. A suite of seven airbags covers occupants in both rows, while advanced safety tech includes autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and a tyre pressure monitor. There’s also adaptive cruise control and front and rear parking sensors, although there’s no 360-degree camera.
Audio covers the RS3 range with its slim three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. A prepaid service pack will set you back $3520 for five years’ worth of visits to the workshop.
If the RS3 sedan floats your boat, be aware there is an all-new model expected in Australia in 2022. That’s not to say the current model doesn’t deliver on its ‘RS’-badged promise. This is, in every way, a genuine performance car. Stupendously quick yet incredibly tame when you need it to be, the RS3 – whether hatchback or sedan – continues to define what RS is all about. Shame about the sound, though.