Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
With 354lb ft of torque available from just 1700rpm, the RS3 is seriously quick off the mark. It gets to 62mph in a claimed 4.1sec – a figure that feels entirely achievable from behind the wheel. Indeed, there are few cars on sale in any class that are capable of such effortless performance.
That said, once you're on the move the RS3 doesn’t deliver the same high rev rush that you get from a BMW M140i or a Honda Civic Type R. The fact the engine is so strong at low revs means there's little extra reward for revving it hard, apart from the glorious noise it emits if you've ticked the sports exhaust option.
The only gearbox available is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic labelled S tronic. With Dynamic mode engaged on Audi’s Drive Select system, gear changes are fast without being jerky, although we did find the car occasionally unwilling to downchange when in manual mode. In less aggressive drive settings, the gearbox is mostly smooth, but it’s frustratingly hesitant.
Put your foot down hard from a standstill, and the RS3 starts creeping forward then pauses, moving you slowly forward before all of the power hits. That’s annoying on a clear road, but downright scary when you’re trying to join fast moving traffic. Similarly, accelerate hard on the move and there’s a long pause before the RS3 engages a lower gear and fires itself down the road. While the gearbox could be a little bit hesitant before, the 2019 update to get it through WLTP emissions testing has made things far worse.
Happily, the engine is relatively light, which is good news for handling. The latest RS3 turns into corners with more zest than its predecessor – where that would slide wide during fast cornering, the latest car stays locked onto your chosen line. And you can even persuade the rear to step out slightly under power, although a twitch is the best you can hope for.
Such easy handling means you can get the most out of the RS3 almost immediately. Don't expect it to match the best hot hatches when it comes to driver involvement, though. It may be able to cover ground at an unbelievable rate, but its steering still offers little to no feedback and the car feels almost too capable. It doesn't challenge you in the way that the Renault Megane RS does. It’s also worth pointing out that the Honda Civic Type R doesn’t feel much slower cross-country and is more rewarding to boot.
More positively, the RS3's standard suspension strikes a decent balance between body control and comfort. Yes, you’re always aware of bumps, but the car seems to move with the road rather than fight against it, while body roll is minimal. Tick the box for the optional adaptive dampers and you’ll find Comfort mode is significantly, well, comfier, whereas Dynamic mode is too firm for most British roads.
Aside from some road noise up at motorway speeds, the RS3 is quiet enough at the legal limit. There's very little wind noise, and switching the Drive Select system to Comfort keeps exhaust drone to a minimum.
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