Audi has been setting record after record lately – selling more cars than ever in the UK last year, for instance – so the new RS3 comes along as something of a celebration.
The RS3 is flagship of the A3 range, and is the latest in a line of high-performance RS models from the company. Costing £39,900, it will arrive at dealerships in June this year, but in strictly limited numbers: just 500 are earmarked for the UK.
So, what will the fortunate few get for their money? Well, arguably, the key thing in any high-performance car is the engine, and in the RS3 it's a five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged unit. However, on top of that, you also get a unique look inside and out, all the practicality of a standard A3 Sportback, and a long list of standard equipment.
All the headlines, though, belong to the engine. Shared with the TT RS, it develops 335bhp and is enough to send the RS3 to 62mph in little over 4.5 seconds.
Just as importantly, it develops its maximum pull from 1600rpm, so it delivers real flexibility. That means it's perfectly happy to dawdle around town or keep up with the ebb and flow of motorway traffic with little more than a flex of the right ankle.
Then, when you get the chance to give the engine its head, you make very rapid progress – and all to the soundtrack of a wonderful exhaust note. You can sharpen things up by pressing the Sport button on the dashboard, which makes the engine more responsive and the exhaust note still the more aggressive.
All in all, it means this is a car that is very easy to drive – you can even stick the seven-speed semi-automatic transmission into a pleasantly smooth full-automatic mode – and very easy to drive fast.
It's simplicity itself to drop down a couple of gears using the steering column-mounted paddles, and blast past any slower-moving traffic you encounter.
What's it like to drive?
There's nothing wrong with the handling, either, with huge reserves of grip from its huge tyres, four-wheel drive to ensure plenty of traction in all conditions, and plenty of safety-related acronyms (ABS, EBD, ASR and EDL, for a start) to help you out in extreme circumstances.
What's more, although the ride is – as you would expect – on the firm side, it's never uncomfortable. In fact, given the fine refinement, you'd scarcely ever realise you were in a high-performance car. On the motorway, it makes a very impressive cruiser, and you’d happily undertake a long journey in an RS3, and get out at the other end completely unruffled.
Trouble is, it's this lack of effort that means the car doesn't have the kind of drama or excitement that you might expect of a machine with the RS3's vital statistics. Yes, you cover ground at an amazing rate and in complete safety, but if you’re the kind of driver who wants seat-of-the-pants entertainment, the RS3 isn’t the car for you. It’s almost too capable and too safe, with all the rough edges filed off.
On the other hand, if you're looking for something that's a practical Audi hatchback first, and a high-performance car second, then this is probably four-wheeled heaven. Or the ultimate temptation.
The important numbers
You see, with a price of less than £40,000 and a list of standard equipment that includes sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and all-round electric windows on top of all the safety and style mentioned above, you could argue it’s good value.
Indeed, with the promise of excellent retained values and decent 31.0mpg average fuel economy, as well as all the fine practicality of any A3 Sportback, it’s a car that certainly appeals to the head.
For all its shortcomings, the RS3 remains a very desirable car. If you want one of the 500 destined for the UK, we’d advise you head off to your nearest Audi showroom sharpish.
What Car? says
An Audi first, a high-performance car second
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