Audi RS 3 (2017-2021) review
The Audi RS 3 is a storming pocket rocket that gives the BMW M2 and Mercedes-AMG A 45 a run for their money
When it comes to brute force, the Audi RS 3 is the hot hatch (or hot saloon) of choice. What’s phenomenal is that you get so much power wrapped up in a practical package; it really is a car designed to be used every day.
Like many fast Audi models, the RS 3 prioritises unflappable all-weather performance above any truly flamboyant fun when you're driving at the limit, but as a means of getting from A to B extremely quickly it'll shame most cars twice its price. It's much better to drive than it used to be, however, with the 2017 facelift heralding some important changes under the skin.
Although the RS 3's five-cylinder engine has been around for a while, Audi has worked hard to extract all the efficiency it can, which means economy and CO2 emissions are more than acceptable than you might imagine given the enormous performance on offer.
The Audi RS 3 Sportback and RS 3 saloon are a pair of high-performance flagship models that top the Audi A3 line-up, and they provide a tempting alternative for drivers considering rivals such as the BMW M2, Ford Focus RS and Mercedes-AMG A45.
Audi first offered the RS3 for sale with a 335bhp five-cylinder turbocharged engine back in 2014, when the car was billed as the most powerful hot hatch in mainstream production. The latest RS 3 performs even more strongly and in 2017 was upgraded from 362bhp to a scarcely believable 395bhp. That prodigious power output puts it ahead of both the BMW M2 (365bhp) and the Mercedes-AMG A 45 (376bhp), which is no mean feat.
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WLTP emissions regulations briefly forced the RS 3 off sale, but Audi recertified it to the latest standards. Maximum power (400PS) and torque (480Nm) figures remained the same, though peak torque of now comes in a couple of hundred revs later, and the fitment of an exhaust particulate filter added a few kilos to the overall kerb weight.
Those changes are almost impossible to notice on the road though, so the RS 3 remains manically fast, aided by the traction of a four-wheel drive quattro system. In fact, with an impressive power-to-weight ratio of performance is enough to startle the average supercar, with all the added practicality of a saloon or five-door body. With launch control fitted, the RS 3 will sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds and – if you have the electronic limiter removed – will hit 174mph flat out.
Other improvements to the latest RS 3 include faster shift times for the DSG gearbox, and faster reactions from a variable quattro system that can send 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels on demand.
Both the five-door RS 3 Sportback and four-door saloon versions come with a very acceptable level of luxury, and the spec sheet includes RS specific body styling, big 19-inch alloy wheels, and sports suspension that’s 25mm lower than standard.
The RS 3 also comes with auto comfort and dynamic modes as part of Audi Drive Select, plush Nappa leather upholstered sports seats, LED lighting, all-round parking sensors, brushed metal pedals, plus sat-nav, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and a 5.8-inch colour display. Audi’s magnetic adaptive dampers are a £995 option.
In 2019, Audi introduced the Sport Edition trim. For £4,000 over the price of the standard model, which adds a range of subtle styling changes, a panoramic sunroof and, most importantly, a sports exhaust system. It’s an upgrade worth choosing for the exhaust alone.
The RS 3 Sportback is now one of seven models currently offered by Audi Sport, the performance subsidiary responsible for giving birth to Audi’s most extreme models.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe Audi RS 3 is a storming pocket rocket that gives the BMW M2 and Mercedes-AMG A 45 a run for their money
- 2Engines, performance and driveThe RS3 has dazzling A-to-B pace, thanks to its prodigious power and traction
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsReasonable fuel economy is achievable, if you have willpower and a light right foot...
- 4Interior, design and technologySubtly pumped-up looks and plenty of attractive options are part of the RS3's allure
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe Audi RS3's mix of potent performance and family-friendly practicality is hard to beat
- 6Reliability and SafetyAudi gets great reliability and build quality scores in our Driver Power survey, plus it looks good in crash tests