Audi RS 3 (2017-2021) review - Engines, performance and drive
The RS3 has dazzling A-to-B pace, thanks to its prodigious power and traction
A launch control function lets you feel the full force of the RS3’s acceleration. Activate it and the way all four tyres dig in and slingshot you up the road quite literally takes your breath away.
Refinement is excellent on smooth surfaces, although the standard RS sports suspension can feel a little harsh when the surface breaks up – we’d recommend forking out for the optional adaptive dampers. But being civilized isn’t what the RS3 is about.
Go for the Sport Edition model, and selecting the dynamic mode via the drive select button opens up flaps in the sports exhaust and all hell breaks loose. The RS 3 rewards you with explosions on the overrun, burps on gear upshifts and a snarling soundtrack when you’re on the throttle. The five-cylinder turbocharged engine makes a glorious noise, and one which makes the RS 3 more thrilling than the four-cylinder alternatives.
The variable ratio steering system is fast and direct, and body control impeccable when you keep things smooth and simple. Approach the limit, and there’s more adjustability than you’ll get in, say, the VW Golf R, if not quite the playfulness of the rear-driven BMW M2. The best body control comes in sport mode at the slight expense of ride comfort. Leave the settings in comfort and, at speed, there’s slightly less control over sharp bumps which cause vertical movement.
Car group tests
- New Audi RS 3 Saloon 2021 review
- New Audi RS 3 Sportback 2021 review
- New Audi RS 3 Sportback 2019 review
Used car tests
Upgrade to the optional two-tone 19-inch alloys and you actually get wider tyres at the front than the rear, which helps boost front end grip a little. Yet with that heavy five-cylinder engine hanging over the axle and four-wheel drive system that's calibrated for ultimate traction over agility, the RS 3 will eventually run wide in a corner. However, those limits are so high that they’re rarely reached on a dry road.
For accomplished drivers the rear-wheel-drive BMW M2 will be more fun, however.
The turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine stuffed under the bonnet gives the Audi RS 3 electrifying performance. With 395bhp (up from 362bhp in the pre-facelift car) and 480Nm (boosted from 365Nm) at your disposal, there’s massive performance on tap whenever you need it.
Aided by four-wheel drive, which maximises traction off the line, the RS 3 will rocket to 62mph in a claimed 4.1 seconds. The top speed is electronically limited to 155mph, although if you fork an extra £1,600, Audi will tweak the limiter giving you a maximum of 174mph instead. That’s a lot of extra cash for something that hardly anyone will use, though.
Unfortunately there’s no manual gearbox option, but those meaty torque figures do mean the RS 3 is quite happy letting the seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic auto change gear seamlessly. Trickling around town in a higher gear is relaxing as any other A3 in the range, but pick up the pace and the gearbox responds crisply to the wheel-mounted paddles.
It sounds pretty fruity, too, particularly in Dynamic mode, when the gearbox's downshifts elicit hilarious cracks and bangs from the exhaust.
In this review
- 1Audi RS 3 reviewThe 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 drive - currently readingThe 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