1. Introduction to the hot hatch experience
Audi has a fair few years experience making hopped-up RS (RennSport) versions of standard models - this A3-based RS3 is number 16 in 21 years. So unsurprisingly it’s an accomplished beast - Audi understated maybe, but a beast nonetheless.
As a hot hatch, it’ll cart the family to Butlins or collect the weekly shop, but toggle into red-eye loon mode (dynamic), and there’s 62mph in 4.3 seconds, 367PS and a top speed of 174mph ready to blow you away.
At the moment, it’s the most powerful hot hatch on the market, so does that make it the best tech-stuffed, road-competent, practical-family carrying rocket?
2. Audi's brash styling
Audi have always eschewed the brashness of their main competitors in this market slot (Focus ST/RS, BMW M135i), and this new RS3 sticks to that scheme.
The only outward indicators of the madness bubbling within are subtle RS badging front and rear.
The red-painted brake calipers (a £325 extra) also flag that perhaps this hatchback has greater potential than cruising to Tescos and back, but there’s nothing overt.
3. The key is in the details
Inside the downplaying continues - there are neat touches and detailing (our test vehicle had carbonfibre inlays to the door panels for a mere £750 extra), but the real party piece is the stunning wingback sport seats, (£795 extra) luxuriously finished in quilted leather, which are a pleasure to be adjustably ensconced in.
The ‘comfort and sound pack’ (£1150) upgrades the cabin further with a 14 speaker B&O audio system which, after extensive fiddling activated the sub buried in the spare wheel well, proved a thunderously good investment.
4. All that power
The engine, while being physically tiny at a mere 49cm long, and weighing a featherweight 180kg, punches way above its weight.
This 2.5-litre five-cylinder TFSI is the most powerful compact hatchback engine in production, and knocks out 367PS and 465Nm. This results in 0 – 62mph in 4.3 seconds and flat out at 174mph, which is fairly nippy.
Given those figures, fuel economy is unsurprisingly not entirely frugal, at 34.9mpg, but it’s not horrifying either - in fact, it’s 12.5% better than the old RS3.
But nevermind the numbers - on your average country lane it’s fast enough to scare the passengers witless, and that is a fact.
5. Packed with tech
As you’d expect for Audi, the in-car tech credentials are many, and entirely vorsprung durch technik. Satnav (with SD update built-in) worked flawlessly, the touch-sensitive wheel in the centre console accepts hastily-sketched letters in lieu of a postcode, and voice demands are processed as seamlessly as you’ll get.
Having synced an iPhone and a Samsung S6 with the car’s bluetooth, we got seamless playback of on-device music files, Soundcloud and Spotify tracks - even track ID worked.
There’s a DAB radio too, as well as a direct USB connection for other storage devices. Phonebook import was seamless also, as was connecting to the in-car 4G hotspot.
Audi have spent a lot of development time embedding data services (news, carparking, Google Maps, Streetview, Earth, and traffic information just for example) and this really pays off in-cabin.
There’s even FB and Twitter integration, so no excuse at all for not keeping up to date with the world while hooning around like a reprobate.
6. Tall people rejoice
Passengers are one of the main selling points of this beast, so accordingly the back is an oasis of space, calm and ISOFix attachment security. With fold down seats and a sizeable boot this has all the necessary sensible trappings of a family hatchback - till you hit the ‘dynamic’ settings button, followed by the launch control.
7. Neck breaking acceleration
The launch controls are as innocuous as you’d expect, with a choice between Audi’s excellent S-tronic twin-clutch 7 speed auto box and a race-stiff paddle arrangement.
A neat touch on the dash rev counter is a small boost indicator, although when that’s creeping up the scale you’ll have other things to look at.
In the style of the Jaguar F-type, the exhaust is fitted with butterfly valves to deliver what Audi call a “suitably full-bodied and characterful note” when switched to sport mode.
The resulting snarl at low revs, rising to a howl higher in the rev range is infectious, as is the crackling and popping on overrun.
8. Coming to a quick stop
The brakes are fierce, as you’d expect on a car with this much power. Even given the ‘highly competitive’ kerb weight of 1,595kg (front wings and bonnet are aluminium to save weight) there’s a lot of power-to-weight physics trying to cause mischief, but these stoppers handle it excellently, although they can feel initially grabby at carpark speeds.
The front 8-piston calipers are paired with wavy discs - fresh from WSB bike racing (the theory being the greater surface area dissipates heat more quickly), and fadeless carbon ceramic versions are due in Q4.
We enjoyed our time with the Audi RS3 - it bimbles around happily in comfort mode, auto box clicking neatly away like a German-made watch, and it’s reasonably comfortable.
A taut, but not overly harsh ride, grabby brakes and a slightly noisy cabin on motorway stints are the only indicators that there’s another car hiding underneath.
To find it, simply tighten the suspension up, hit the throttle and whazoo, you’ve been fired through the horizon at a breathtaking rate. Then you’ll need those massive front calipers with a vengeance, and the huge 19-in wheels provide enough contact patch to use them too.
The handling, reinforced by the 4-wheel quattro drive system is certainly good enough for the road, with maybe a touch of understeer, and the suspension flexible enough to deal with UK roads with ease.
Price-wise, we’re talking from £39,955, and our test car was specced up to a whopping £51,185.00, which is rather a lot of jelly babies. Still, if you’re looking for the most powerful, yet understated hothatch around right now, this gets our vote.