Audi RS3 Sportback long-term test: report 7

Back in January, we named this 394bhp rocketship the best hot hatch for daily usability, but now we're putting that verdict to the ultimate test by actually living with one...

Audi RS3 Nurburgring

The car Audi RS3 Sportback Launch Edition Run by Will Nightingale, road test editor

Why it’s here To see if this 394bhp hot hatch is as easy to live with as we initially thought

Needs to Be the ultimate all-rounder: fast and thrilling when asked, but also relaxing on longer jaunts

Mileage 13,016 List price £58,480 (Carbon Black) Target Price £58,590 Price as tested £62,590 (based on Carbon Black with equivalent specification) Test economy 31.1mpg Official economy 31.0mpg

6 July 2022 – Fan favourite

‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’. This phrase was gospel for car manufacturers' marketing departments in the Sixties, when there seemed to be a strong relationship between racing heroics and sales figures. It’s a catchy slogan, right? But I'm also rather sceptical about it. After all, do you know anyone who bought their car based on its performance in a racing series? Exactly.

Audi RS3 on Eurotunnel

What, you might ask, does this have to do with my long-term Audi RS3? Well, a couple of weeks ago I drove to Germany for the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24h) annual endurance race, and the whole experience made me pause for thought about the influence racing can have on the way you view a brand.

The N24h takes place on a combination of the 13-mile long Nordschleife circuit (the world's longest and most challenging race track) and the smaller three-mile Nürburgring GP circuit. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-AMG all field cars, but compared with other endurance events such as the Le Mans 24 hours, the N24h is something of a grassroots event, with only the most dedicated fans showing up. And that makes it rather magical.

When I arrived at the event on the Friday evening (the night before racing started), I was struck by how many people were interested in my long-term RS3, and I lost count of how many spectators waved me down to take a photo. There was a whole fleet of fellow RS drivers in attendance too. Like motorcyclists giving each other ‘the nod’ as they pass each other, every time I saw another RS driver, we acknowledged each other with a thumbs up or a flash of the lights – a small act that really made us feel part of a club.

RS3 with RS3

That feeling continued to grow as I spoke to individual members of the Audi Sport team, and in particular Chris Reinke, head of Audi Sport Customer Racing. We discussed everything from the historical development of the Audi R8 race car to the unique challenges posed by the Nordschleife circuit, and at the end of our interview, he implored us to leave the press area and get out into the forest, among the fans. You could tell that if he hadn't had a race team to manage, he’d be joining us on our walk through the woods. 

On our hike, it was fantastic to see fans of all ages (230,000 of them, including entire families) sitting huddled up around campfires and wrapped up in Audi Sport, BMW M Division and Manthey Racing clothing – all rooting for their chosen team.

The next day, the weather deteriorated but the fans remained transfixed on the action as the Audi Sport Team ‘Phoenix’ battled for the lead with the ‘GetSpeed’ Mercedes-AMG GT3. In the end, the Audi crossed the line first to clinch Audi’s sixth N24h victory, leaving me in a great position to ponder my earlier question. Does winning on a Sunday help sell on a Monday? 

Audi R8 Phoenix

Pushed for an answer, I would lean towards the affirmative. But there is a catch – you have to be there in person. Witnessing the passion for a brand first-hand, through excited spectators, passionate team members and proud owners, not only has the power to reframe a brand in your mind’s eye, but it also makes you feel part of the team itself. 

Which leaves me with a suggestion to all performance car manufacturers. Considering all the money you pump into motorsport, why not throw in a couple of complimentary tickets to a motorsport event like the N24 when a prospective buyer joins your latest waiting list? Judging by my experience, you have a good chance of turning a one-time owner into a lifetime enthusiast.

Finally, I should probably tell you how the RS3 performed on what turned out to be a 900-mile round trip to western Germany. The journey to the Nürburgring is mostly motorway, but there are some short bursts of derestricted Autobahn, where I could explore the RS3’s performance far more fully than on UK roads. During fast driving along the de-restricted A1 Eifelautobahn just outside Kelberg – with the car’s suspension locked in Sport mode – I can tell you it felt astonishingly settled and unstressed.

RS Cars

There was more RS3 magic to come when I turned off the Autobahn and reached the country roads that run through the Eifel mountains. The car instantly transformed from a comfortable GT car into an engaging, driver-focused hot hatch. It’s this chameleon-like ability that has me convinced that the RS3 is currently Audi’s finest performance car.

And if you don’t believe me, consider this. During my time in Germany, I was one of several very lucky journalists given the option each morning of driving from our hotel to the circuit in either an Audi RS5, an Audi RS6, an Audi R8 or an Audi SQ7. My choice every time? The RS3. It will certainly be a sad day when it goes back.

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