Four hundred horsepower in a four-door, all-wheel-drive sedan not even 15 feet long? Yes, please.
The RS3, from Audi’s Sport division, is the trim, Euro-flavored sports sedan Audi enthusiasts in America have been dreaming of for years—and late last fall their wishes were granted at last: the RS3 finally made the long voyage to the U.S. (The test car you see here is a 2017 model, but the 2018 is virtually identical save for a few modified options packages.) Everything the turbo four-cylinder S3 isn’t, the turbo five-cylinder RS 3 is. The latter’s engine sports an aluminum block instead of the S3’s cast-iron unit, saving 57 understeer-inducing pounds up front. Port and direct fuel injection (and an added cylinder) help boost output from the S3’s 292 hp to a sizzling 400 hp at 7,000 rpm. In fact, the RS3 shares the same platform and uses the identical powertrain as the racy TT RS coupe; essentially, it’s a more practical, “everyday” version of its two-door Sport division sibling.
Two words that immediately popped into my brain when the RS3 rolled up: “aggressive” and “quality.” The rakish front grille (which looms within wider front fenders) looks like it could chew up a crocodile—and it’s beautifully set off with “Matte Alu-optic” brushed-metal trim (the side mirrors get the Alu treatment, too). Nineteen-inch, titanium-finish alloy wheels wearing Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer performance tires (part of the $1,450 Dynamic package) bulge within the wheel housings. And the optional Catalunya Red metallic paint ($575) unquestionably asserts: “Get outta my way, bub.”
The “quality” part is evident in the RS3’s finely honed exterior lines, but it truly stands out when you climb aboard. Few automakers can compete with Audi on cockpit beauty, and the RS 3 is no different. Everything looks clean, artfully modern, finely crafted. The three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles is wrapped in a supple suede-like material; the console shift knob wears an Alcantara grip. The S sport seats are trimmed with rich Nappa hides and diamond-pattern stitching. Wheel- and console-mounted controls are smartly laid-out and intuitive to use. And right before you (in my test car, at least) lies Audi’s magnificent Virtual Cockpit (part of the $3,900 Technology package). Your choice of vehicle info is available on the glorious 12.3-inch high-res display. If you like, you can dial up a color Google satellite map of your nav route right between your virtual speedo and tach.
Its compactness makes the RS3 feel taut and nimble even before you’ve pushed the starter button. Visibility is excellent all around, the controls are within easy reach, there isn’t a lot of excess bodywork on view from the driver’s seat. This car, you can tell, will cut and run like a halfback. The downside: The rear seats are barely roomy enough for full-size adults. If you put grownups back there, keep the trip short or they’ll start to complain.
Anybody who rides with you should call themselves lucky, though—the RS 3 is a performance beast. Mash down on the throttle, paddle shift your way through the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and you’ll hit 60 mph in barely 3.5 seconds. The standard Quattro system means no wheelspin, no drama—just an explosive blast of acceleration. Opt for the Dynamic Plus package ($4,800), and Audi will even lift the electronic speed limiter from 155 mph to 174 (you also get a fixed RS sport suspension—instead of standard adaptive magnetic ride—and front ceramic brakes with that deal). I didn’t have either one along for comparison, but I’d happily wager that the RS3 would devour a BMW M2—and probably a Mercedes-AMG CLA45, too. This Audi is easily one of the class standouts in matters of velocity.
It’s pretty damn sweet through the curvy stuff, too. That extra nose width and the cut in engine weight give the front end a welcome added bite; roll the steering wheel right or left, and the RS 3 turns-in pronto. The car has plenty of grip, too—more than you can judiciously use on a public road. And with the optional carbon-ceramic front binders on board to sop-up all that kinetic energy, the RS 3 stops as good as it goes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a tidy four-door as much fun to hurl around as this one. For Audi-loving Americans, the wait was definitely worth it.
The RS 3 is assuredly a premium machine, so it should come as no surprise that it commands a premium sticker. Base price is just over $55K, but add the options and the total climbs fast. My tester carried all the extra-cost packages mentioned above, adding such equipment as a carbon-fiber engine cover, Audi MMI navigation, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic sensors, a superb 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, a sport exhaust, and RS carbon-decorative inlays ($600). Out-the-door cost: $66,775.
That’s a big outlay for a relatively small car, and some buyers may simply walk away saying, “I can get something bigger and comfier for that much.” If you’re regularly ferrying three passengers with you, that’s a valid assessment. A bona-fide enthusiast, though, will see the RS 3 for what it is: an unfailingly refined, spectacularly fast sporting machine that just happens also to boast a wealth of luxury conveniences and the added versatility of a trunk, a rear seat, and four-door access.
Choose a more subtle exterior shade—say, Nardo Gray—and you can even play “Find the Hidden TT RS” when the highway killjoys come prowling.
2017 Audi RS 3 Specifications
|PRICE||$55,450/$66,775 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.5L DOHC 20-valve turbo I-5/400 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 1,700|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||19/28 (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||176.3 x 70.9 x 55.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.5 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||174 mph (governor limited)|