Five cylinders. It sounds like something Volvo would do, had they not committed to electric powered performance cars. It seems a little weird that the RS3 is powered by a turbo inline oddball, given the S3 draws its 292 hp from the 2.0 TFSI turbo 4. Weird, until you remember that the old TT RS also used a five, and that was a fun car.
The reworked engine uses a different block, aluminum crankcase, lighter pulleys, magnesium oil pan, and a larger turbocharger. All that wizardry has paid dividends, namely 400 hp in a car with a curb weight of about 3600 lbs. That’s roughly the same as an Aston Martin Vantage, but the Aston uses a V8 and 7/10ths of a second more to get to 60. Yes, the RS3 can scoot. Sixty miles per hour arrives in 3.9 seconds. Top speed is rated at 155 mph.
So it’s a hoot to drive right?
Thrashing it around the Auto Mentality proving grounds proved both fun and frustrating. Off the line, that car smacked the back of our head with the headrest. Acceleration was huge, especially when the turbo worked its magic. Our RS3 was fitted with the available carbon ceramic brakes. They were good but not as good as we hoped for. The words “carbon ceramic” bring to mind Ferrari’s, McLaren’s, even Bentley’s ridiculous stopping power. While the RS3’s carbon stoppers did the job admirably, they weren’t so spectacular that you should completely forget the standard brakes. If you’re tracking the RS3, you’ll appreciate the fade resistance of the upgraded set. For spirited back road and daily driving, go with the standard set.
Surprisingly, the biggest drawback was the seven-speed S tronic® dual clutch transmission. In sporty “auto” settings, the vehicle shifted itself just fine. In manual mode, the shifts lagged. Paddle input took a beat to engage, quite un-DCT-like. While turbo lag was minimal at speed, it exacerbated the whole situation. Chucking the car into corners and howling down straights was incredibly fun, but the whole manual mode situation led to a disconnected feeling. The car appeared to do more thinking than the driver.
Another potential chink in the RS3’s armor is the $54,900 starting price. An AMG CLA 45 rings in at $50,400, and a BMW M2 (not all wheel drive but abundantly fun) checks in at $53,500. Both are very good cars and are capable of putting up stiff competition. Choices…
The takeaway? The Audi RS3 is definitely not a red tomato. It’s a red-hot performance car that can hang with vehicles 2-3 times its price. While it plays in a crowded field, it has more than enough charisma to swoon performance junkies.