I sometimes feel that the three big-volume German luxury brands, Audi, BMW and Mercedes, are a little ridiculous. Take a moment to look over their respective lineups. If you include and count all the body variations and make allocations for the sportiest versions (AMG, RS (not “S”) and M (actual “M” cars)), Audi’s got 22 different models while Mercedes’ has 26 and BMW, the madmen, have 33!! But you know what, this formula works insanely well.
The Japanese and American luxury brands can’t match what the Germans have done. By that I mean to create something for absolutely everyone, and every purse. These brands have aspirational models in every segment and psycho-ballistic supercars. Buying your first $33k A3 is the first step, and one step closer, to that R8 you’ve been dreaming about.
Before you get there though, you might step into an S3 or RS 3, and you won’t feel disappointed in the least, especially with the latter. The 2018 Audi RS 3 is like a grenade that gets its pin pulled every time the start/stop button is pressed. The energy, the rush and the adrenalin are all consuming and, in my case, at least, putting the pin back in probably saved my ass more than once.
I’m not sure what is a bigger turn on with the RS 3. Its compact dimensions are adorned with subtle yet oh-so important details that quietly yell what this car is. Consider the massive front air intakes, trunk-lid spoiler, lateral skirts, large diffuser with equally large tail pipes. The wheels are a dead giveaway as the necessary and optional red brake calipers. My car also featured the black optics package which explains the blacked-out side-view mirrors, spoiler, front lip and window surrounds.
Despite all of these goodies, you could be forgiven for mistaking the RS 3 for a regular A3. The same goes for the cabin. With the exception of the RS flat-bottomed steering and heavily bolstered diamond quilted RS seats, there are few other cues that indicate that this is a Kodiak bear in Koala clothing.
The dashboard is all Audi, clean with minimal controls. Because the A3 is one of the older current Audis, the top-mounted screen is not as well integrated as it should be but beyond that, the RS 3’s interior’s a great place to cover vast amounts of ground. Also, the brilliant Audi virtual cockpit makes it all good.
As I noted, the RS 3 is a compact car. Although a 5-seater on paper, it’s better suited for four occupants. There’s a reasonable amount of legroom but headroom is tight. The front manually adjustable perches are superb and hold you in place with love. There are few cubbyholes to drop keys, phones and other smaller items but this is more of a comment than a complaint.
The trunk is just as compact as you might imagine. The floor opens up to reveal extra storage spots but not much beyond a pair of travel suitcases will fit in there, that is if they make it past the narrow opening.
There is clearly a performance and handling chasm between the $32,800 A3 and a $62,900 RS 3. The S3 slips in the middle at $47k and nine times out of ten, will do exactly what you want. The RS 3 is a twelve out of ten. By the way, $63k is Porsche 718 Cayman and BMW M2 money. What a great time to be alive!
As with the other Audis I’ve recently reviewed, my RS 3 featured all the options on the menu, including the sink. The Technology (similar to the Advanced Driver Assistance package), Audi Sport and black optics packages, red brake calipers, carbon fiber inlays and paint raise the tester’s retail price to just over $70,000.
Standard features for the RS 3 include MMI Navigation with 7″ display, Bluetooth, satellite radio, smartphone interface, Audi virtual cockpit, panoramic sunroof, magnetic ride suspension (but not mine!) and loads more.
That’s right. Like the TT RS, but not quite like the TT RS, this RS 3 has the optional fixed RS Sport suspension. Mounted in the TT, the ride somehow remained compliant and sufficiently comfortable. This was not to be the case in the RS 3.
Unless on a perfectly smooth road, the RS 3 was most displeased with uneven surfaces. In fact, over some snow/ice covered roads near my home, the car was downright crashy. On a track, this damper/spring setup must keep the car completely flat and possibly at the expense of some predictability. On the highway, as speeds increase, the car seems to anchor itself on the road proving that going fast is its MO. Otherwise, the RS 3 might very well be the best Audi sold in North America.
Speed is indeed the name of the game here. It starts with the turbocharged 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine. It produces 400-horsepower from 5,850 – 7,000 rpm and 354 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,700 – 5,850 rpm. It is connected to the always infallible 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated transmission and all together, launch the car to 100 km/h in only 4.1 seconds.
Like the S5 and other such Audis, the seat-of-the-pants feeling tells you it’s much faster. Much like an R8 V10 at higher rpms, when the 5-pot begins to roar, you get the impression that there’s a race going on. Throttle response in all Audi Drive Select drive modes is instantaneous and I found Comfort and S tronic in Sport to be the ideal combination.
It’s easy to get carried away with this kind of explosive power. Sometimes it’s impossible to resist… Audi’s quattro system will sort everything in the end and failing that, the fantastically powerful brakes will reel you back in.
The 2018 Audi RS 3 is nothing short a 1,630 kg cocaine rush, the good kind of course. Is there such a thing? Anyhow, it is fantastic automobile. Want to know if it’s better than the BMW M2? You’ll have to suffer through my video to see what I think.