EAUTIFUL people will always get away with more than the rest of us. Sparkling eyes, a great smile, an athleteís fitness and a modelís dress sense are an unbeatable combination, especially when you add charisma to the mix.
So it is for the new Audi RS3 Sportback.
Derived from the rather bland and slightly frumpy third-generation A3 Sportback, the RS3 has truly grown into its skin, fleshed out by meatier wheel tracks, menacing air intakes and guard-filling 19-inch wheels, not to mention Audi RSís signature ovalshaped dual exhaust outlets. And it has one mission: to put Mercedes-Benzís brutally effective and hugely successful A45 AMG in its place.
Acoustic flaps open, cackling a deliciously amplified, hard-edged five-cylinder rasp, the RS3 sounds every inch the mega-hatch Audi wants it to be. Under its bonnet sits a 2.5-litre turbocharged direct-injection five, straight from the previous TT RS, and destined for the all-new one as well.
Hand-built in Audiís engine plant in Gyor, Hungary, it has received a number of upgrades for its latest application, including less internal friction via new piston rings, a new air inlet and optimised air paths.
The result is an A45-beating 270kW from 5550rpm and a truly muscular 465Nm making its back-shoving presence felt all the way from 1625rpm to the peak power point. Yet with another 500cc of capacity up its sleeve, the RS3ís nerve centre isnít quite at fever pitch as the A45ís boosted 2.0-litre, even though 1.3bar (18.9psi) of boost pressure isnít to be sneezed at. Not when combined with a 10.0:1 compression ratio!
NOTHING like a splash of 1980s red to liven up the place. The colouring extends to inside the RS3ís ingenious Ďfocus or disperseí air vents, which look a little like something from Taronga Zooís baboon pen. The red-edged seatbelts are just like a pair of 80s braces, while the diamondpatterned seat trim is pure Bentley. No rival can match RS3ís interior class.
Turn ESC off with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in Drive Sport and launch control is at your beck and call. Nail the right alloy pedal while your left foot is on the brake and the RS3 spikes its tacho needle to 3950rpm, thrumming a rally-style, five-cylinder brap-brap-brap-brap from its rear pipes.
Then release the brake and hold on.
First time, with only moderately warm tyres, the RS3 axle-tramps its front end before truly hooking up and hauling hard. But a bit of wheel slip is always a good thing for getting an engine into the meat of its grunt and the RS3ís boosted five-pot is a genuine giver.
Cracking from its rear pipes as it upshifts at 6800rpm, weíve no reason to dispute Audiís 4.3sec 0-100km/h expectation, 0.1sec clear of its A45 nemesis.
Audi claims between 50 and 100 percent of drive can be transferred to the RS3ís rear axle, which sounds promising for its handling balance. The quattro systemís electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated clutch pack is mounted on the rear axle to improve weight distribution, though at 59/41 front-to-rear, the 1520kg RS3 is clearly front-biased.
What the drive-split figures donít convey is the fact that the front wheels need to be slipping before all the drive heads rearwards, and on a beautifully surfaced racetrack like Vallelunga, just outside Rome, where the Ingolstadt boffins chose to let the worldís media loose in the RS3, its ability to drift ainít gonna happen without deliberate and expertly timed provocation.
What Vallelunga does demonstrate is the RS3ís undoubted speed, and the unyielding effectiveness of its optional ceramic brakes (expected to add $10K in Australia), which share the normal front discsí oversized 370mm diameter and eight-piston calipers, but lower mass from 11.9kg to 5.5kg per corner.
Driven hard around Vallelunga, even the optional 255/30R19 front tyres Ė is this the first modern car to wear wider fronts than rears? Ė are unable to dial out the RS3ís inherent understeer. Slow-in, fast-out is the name of the game as the RS3 sends drive to its 235/35R19 rear boots for neck-straining corner-exit thrust, but as you add speed mid-corner, itís obvious the RS3 is dominated by its front end.
Out on the busy, narrow, poorly surfaced and low-speed roads that encircle Vallelunga, the RS3 demonstrates moments of brilliance. Sweet seventenths handling poise, the odd satisfying slide in its tail and precise, if slightly aloof, steering make for a fast, confidence-boosting hot hatch. But not necessarily an inspiring one. Not on these roads.
None of the launch cars featured the optional magnetic dampers, which meant the standard-spec RS3s we drove in Italy were less than supple over the many potholed and broken surfaces we encountered.
Without adaptive dampers, Audiís Drive Select system only alters the engine/gearbox, steering and engine sound. With the Individual mode set to Auto for the drivetrain, Dynamic for the steering and Dynamic for the exhaust, the RS3 is in its element, though you also need to select Sport mode in the transmission to get the exhaustís full symphonic effect. A sports exhaust is optional in Europe, but Audi Australia is yet to decide whether to make it standard here.
What cannot be disputed is the greatness of the RS3ís fabulous interior. With just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock and well-judged weighting in Dynamic mode, the
RS3ís leather and Alcantara steering wheel is utterly delightful, as are its red-edged seatbelts, diamondstitched leather seats and the almost Bentley-like quality of its trim materials and stitching.
Optional fixed buckets are 7kg lighter per seat than the standard sports pews, but youíd want to be serious about your driving, and personal weight management, to go there. Without backrest or bolster adjustment, itís one-size-fits-all. Tom Kristensen size.
So, despite being the fastest and most powerful Audi five-pot of all time, thereís something suave and gentlemanly about the RS3 Sportback. Unlike the loud and manic A45 AMG, itís quiet and well-mannered when you want it to be, and is clearly dressed for the occasion with the utmost taste.
Unfortunately, the unflattering drive loop chosen by Audi to showcase its fastest-ever hatchback failed to properly enlighten us on the potential greatness of its quattro drive system and the comfort benefit of its optional magnetic damping. But given how successful the MQB platformís all-wheel-drive system is in Audiís new-generation TT S-line quattro (see p.74), thereís no reason why the even more hardcore RS version shouldnít be at another level.
For the sake of the RS3 Sportbackís fabulous engine and salivatory styling, hereís hoping a strafe up a mountain pass when it arrives in Australia in October will grant it a great big tick.
Audi RS3 Sportback 2480cc 5cyl, dohc, 20v, turbo 270kW @ 5550rpm 465Nm @ 1625-5550rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 4343/1800/1411mm 2631mm 1520kg 4.3sec (claimed) 8.3L/100km $80,000 (estimated) October Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission L/W/H Wheelbase Kerb weight 0-100km/h Fuel economy Price On sale
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