Road tests

New Audi RS 3 Sportback 2019 review

After a short break, the Audi RS 3 Sportback is back on the scene. But have WLTP regulations dampened the fun?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Bar the WLTP-enforced changes, the Audi RS 3 Sportback remains the same thunderous hot hatch it always was. If performance is what matters to you the most, then this is the hot hatch to get. Rivals like the BMW M2 Competition and the Honda Civic Type R edge it for fun, but it’s still got more than enough ability to put a smile on your face, thanks in no small part to the characterful five-cylinder engine. If you can stretch to the Sport Edition, the extra noise and fantastic seats are well worth the outlay.

Advertisement - Article continues below

After a brief hiatus, the Audi RS 3 is back. New WLTP regulations meant that sales had to be put on hold while the car was re-homologated, but after some emissions-based tweaking, the hottest of hot hatchbacks is ready to hit the road again.

The good news is that the necessary fettling to get it through tougher environmental standards - namely the fitment of an exhaust particulate filter - haven’t harmed the output: headline figures of 395bhp and 480Nm of torque from the 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine are the same as before. That’s well ahead of any other performance five-door – at least until the new Mercedes-AMG A 45 makes an appearance later this year.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Best hot hatches to buy 

As a result, the performance is staggering. Engage the launch control system, and 0-62mph takes just 4.1 seconds. That’s six-tenths of a second quicker than the Volkswagen Golf R and a even a tenth under the outgoing A 45. Top speed is pegged back to the usual 155mph, though there’s an option to lift that to 174mph. But at £1,600 for something that’s almost certain to never be used, what’s the point?

Anyway, it’s the treat the RS 3 gives your ears that sets it apart from its rivals. Sure, the Merc and the VW’s four cylinders sound angry enough, but neither will go down in history. The Audi’s five-cylinder unit, in comparison, is wonderful: a beautiful warble accompanies every flex of the right ankle, and it just gets better the more you rev it. It’s got a vibe – aurally speaking, at least – of a chilled out R8.

Advertisement - Article continues below

It’s at its best in the new Sport Edition trim, which, among other upgrades, introduces the RS Sports Exhaust. It manages to both give more of that lovely noise at high revs, and add a bassy tone to lower engine speeds. In other words, it sounds more special, more of the time.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Despite the enormous shove, on the road that performance doesn’t feel intimidating at all. The maximum torque figure spreads all the way from 1,950rpm (that’s a hundred or so revs later than pre-WLTP cars) to 5,850rpm, at which point the maximum power carries on to 7,000rpm. The smooth (yet savage), constant acceleration means that there’s no nasty surprises when getting on the throttle on the exit of a corner, but it also means that you’ll need to keep an eye on the rev counter if you’re not to accidentally butt against the limiter.

Of course the four-wheel-drive system helps with its sure-footedness, too. Even in the treacherous wet conditions of the twisting Scottish Highland roads, the RS 3 delivers almost unflappable traction, firing out of corners a pace that pretty much any other road car would struggle to match.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The introduction of the exhaust particulate filter contributes to a 25kg increase in the RS 3’s weight, but it’s not enough to fundamentally change the way it drives. And that’s a good thing: there’s plenty of scope for playing with the chassis balance both on and off the throttle. Anywhere between 50 and 100 per cent of the engine’s torque can be sent to the rear axle, which means that you can really feel the push from the back axle at times. Of course it won’t engage in the sort of lurid sideways antics of a BMW M2 Competition, nor the thrilling lift-off oversteer antics of the Honda Civic Type R, but it’s more enjoyable at its limits than the clinical Golf R. The steering is nicely weighted, too, and while there’s not much in the way of feel, it’s precise and predictable.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The exhaust changes keep the RS 3 compliant with the latest emissions regulations, and it translates to emissions of 195g/km. That puts it into the same 37 per cent BiK bracket as the M2, and with the pair both offering around 29mpg in official tests.

Elsewhere, the Sportback remains much the same as it did pre-WLTP, though the Sport Edition trim adds a selection of upgrades. On the outside, it’s set apart from the regular RS 3 courtesy of a black finishes for the front grille, window trims, rear diffuser and 19-inch alloy wheels. LED lights are standard, with Matrix units now an optional extra.

The cabin is treated to a set of figure-hugging sports seats, flashes of carbon fibre trim and a panoramic sunroof. The A3’s uncluttered dashboard design looks great even after all these years, but the pop-up seven-inch infotainment display is starting to feel its age. At least there’s a swanky 12.3-inch digital instrument panel to make up for it.

Prices for the RS 3 Sportback start from £46,285. Upgrading to this Sport Edition model will set you back £50,285, with the saloon alternative costing £1,000 more. The racier model might sound expensive, but the gap doesn’t seem so yawning on finance. The extra goodies make it more desirable on the used market, and the extra £1,500 of value it’ll hold as a result means that, on a four-year PCP deal, the difference between the two works out to be around £50 per month.


More on RS3 Sportback

Audi RS 3 - front tracking
Audi RS3
3 Jun 2019

Audi RS 3 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
Used Audi RS 3 - front
Audi RS3 Sportback
22 Jan 2019

Used Audi RS 3 review

A full used buyer’s guide on the Audi RS 3 covering the current generation RS 3 (2015-date)
Audi RS 3 - versatile
Audi RS3 Sportback
25 Apr 2018

Long-term test review: Audi RS 3

Final report: we’re going to miss the sheer versatility of Audi’s hyper RS 3 Sportback hatch
Audi RS3 Sportback - front
Audi RS3 Sportback
9 Aug 2017

New Audi RS 3 Sportback 2017 review

The engine really is the star of the show in the new Audi RS 3 Sportback, with power now up to 395bhp
Audi RS3 Sportback 2017 - Geneva front quarter
Audi RS3 Sportback
31 Jul 2017

New 395bhp Audi RS3 Sportback: prices and specs revealed

Audi hyper hot hatch returns with more power, more torque and a 174mph top speed on request
Audi RS3
Audi RS3 Sportback
27 Apr 2016

Audi RS3 Sportback - best performance cars

Here's our round up of the top 10 best performance cars on sale now.
Audi RS3 - long-term - final report header
Audi RS3 Sportback
3 Feb 2016

Long-term test review: Audi RS3

Final report: We say ‘adios’ to our Audi RS3 with 2,000-mile road trip
Audi RS3 Sportback
4 Mar 2015

362bhp Audi RS3 Sportback races in

174mph RS3 mega hatch storms into Geneva Motor Show, set to go on sale in the UK in March
Audi RS3 Sportback
30 Aug 2013

Audi RS3 vs BMW 1M Coupe drag race

We put two of the hottest pocket rockets from 2011 on a runway to see which is faster in a straight line
Audi RS3 Sportback front tracking
Audi RS3 Sportback
5 May 2012

Audi RS3 Sportback (2003-2012) review

The Audi RS3 matches four-wheel-drive traction with a punchy 335bhp turbo five-cylinder engine and dual-clutch S tronic gearbox
Audi RS3 clamp shot
Audi RS3 Sportback
24 Jun 2011

Audi RS3

Storming new super hatch offers huge turn of pace, but does it deliver on driver thrills?
Audi RS3 front
Audi RS3 Sportback
11 Mar 2011

Audi RS3

Audi's stunning new performance hatch makes big impression on the roads where legendary forebear shot to fame
Audi RS3 cornering
Audi RS3 Sportback
7 Jan 2011

Audi RS3

We get an exclusive first drive of Audi's ultimate hot-hatch, the storming 335bhp RS3.