New Audi RS3 Sportback vs Mercedes-AMG A45
With 395bhp and a £45k price, the new Audi RS3 is the heavy hitter of the hot hatch class. Only the Mercedes-AMG A45 can stand in its way...
Audi RS3 2.5 TFSI quattro
List price £44,300
Target Price £44,300
Now the world's most powerful hot hatch; five-cylinder engine dominates its character
Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic
List price £41,830
Target Price £39,740
An A45 on steroids, with a potent 2.0-litre turbo engine and four-wheel drive to take on the RS3
At what point do you consider a car to be fast? Not just sprightly or swift, but face-meltingly rapid. It’s a difficult question to answer, because the goalposts, along with our frames of reference, keep moving.
For example, in 1991 the iconic Lotus Carlton super-saloon, with its 377bhp six-cylinder engine, was deemed by the tabloids to be “too fast for public safety”. Today, the less powerful car in this test of ‘humble’ hot hatches, the Mercedes-AMG A45, matches the Lotus’s power and eclipses it for straight-line speed.
That’s right: thanks to a good old-fashioned arms race headed by Audi and Mercedes-AMG, modern hot hatches are now as neck-snappingly quick as entry-level supercars from the turn of the millennium. A 395bhp Ferrari 360 Modena wouldn’t see where the new, equally powerful Audi RS3 Sportback had gone in a drag race.
But don’t go thinking these cars are scary or intimidating to drive; far from it. With sophisticated four-wheel drive systems, advanced electronics and, in the case of the RS3, optional carbon-ceramic front brakes, these mega-hatches should be super-secure, no matter what the weather.
However, unshakable traction and point-to-point pace don’t necessarily equate to a rewarding driving experience. So, which one of these money-no-object hatches is capable of plastering the bigger grin on your face?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
In a world full of speed cameras, bumbling cyclists and seemingly endless traffic jams, the likelihood of being able to exploit either car’s full potential very often is slim. And yet, like owning a pen that can write in space, or wearing a watch that can function at 4000m under the sea, it’s nice to know that, in theory, your car can perform mind-warping miracles – ‘miracle’ being an apt word to describe the otherworldly performance of the RS3.
Powered by a charismatic 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, the RS3 rockets from 0-60mph in a scarcely believable 3.9sec. Visceral savagery at its finest, the RS3’s monster power delivery relegates the turbocharged 2.0-litre A45 – once the fastest car in its class – to second best. Not that 0-60mph in 4.4sec could ever be considered slow. Both cars have quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic gearboxes, with the A45’s being slightly sharper on downshifts.
The RS3 may be quicker in a straight line, but it’s no match for the A45 when it comes to handling. With slightly vague steering and grabby brakes, the RS3 is more of a blunt instrument than the delicate A45, wanting to run wide through corners and therefore sapping confidence. The A45 is easy to place exactly where you want it, thanks to a responsive front end and feelsome, precise steering. As a result, the A45 produced the quicker lap time around our 0.9- mile test track.
The A45’s intrinsic balance makes it a lovely thing to guide down a twisty B-road, yet it also deals with sharp-edged potholes significantly better than the regular A-Class, thanks to the well-judged adaptive suspension (£595) fitted to our test car. The RS3 is far firmer on its standard sports suspension, although ride comfort remains well on the right side of acceptable for such a focused hot hatch. Adaptive suspension is available for £995. Mind you, the A45 is the noisier motorway cruiser. The boominess of its optional sports exhaust never quite fades into the background and there is quite a bit more wind noise from around the windscreen pillars than in the RS3. It’s by no means unacceptable, but it can’t quite match its rival’s impressively hushed ambience.