Audi RS3 Sportback

Manic five-pot grabs hot-hatch crownÖ for now

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THEREíS no easy way to say this, so Iím going to blurt it out: this Audi RS3 costs $78,900. Actually, thatís a lie. This specific RS3, with its metallic paint, matt its metallic paint, matt aluminium styling package and expensive, but necessary, Performance Package, is worth $91,215 of your hard-earned dollars. For an A3 hatchback!

Itís enough to have you reaching for the straight jacket, until you consider what the RS3 can do. It can bolt to 100km/h in a claimed 4.3sec, and its quattro all-wheeldrive system can send 100 percent of available grunt to the rear axle. And the noise, thanks to flaps in the exhaust and 1-2-4-5-3 ignition sequence, is a harrowing five-cylinder howl that evokes memories of flame-spitting Group B rally cars. Right now, the RS3 is the hot hatch king.

All of this is down to the mad scientists lurking inside Audiís famous RS division who have left their brilliant pawprints all over the RS3. From the moment you press the start button Audiís smallest RS model delivers a sense of occasion. The 2.5-litre turbo five bursts to life with a snarl, the fury of its 270kW/465Nm hinted in the hard-edged exhaust note.

Itís the same five-pot fitted to the previous-gen TT RS, only with revised internals for better breathing, efficiency and even more power.

Couple this with the quattro system and rubber that, with the $6490 Performance Pack fitted, is wider at the front than the rear (255/30R19 v 235/35) and the RS3 is balanced and engaging on challenging roads. The steering is a little vague off centre but builds feel the more lock you apply. And the harder you push, the harder it grips. Itís so confidence inspiring that you stamp on the throttle earlier each corner and revel in the chassis balance as the RS3 leans on the narrower rear rubber to perform small and controlled four-wheel drifts.

The seven-speed dual-clutch delivers ultra-fast upshifts, but can deny what seem like reasonable downshift requests in hard driving.

Then thereís the way the RS3 rides. Fitted with the Performance Package, which also adds magnetic dampers, the RS3 is taut and wellcontrolled on choppy surfaces.

Whether the standard steel suspension is as convincing on Aussie roads remains to be seen.

Spend the money, though, and the result is a hot hatch with brutal grip, class-leading shove and a haunting five-cylinder soundtrack, wrapped in a package practical enough to hurl four fullygrown adults along with you.

Think of the RS3 this way and suddenly itís a bargain. And telling your mates strapped in the back that it can blow a 911 away at the lights will be easy.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi RS3 Sportback 2480cc 5cyl, dohc, 20v, turbo 270kW @ 5550rpm 465Nm @ 1625-5550rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1520kg 4.3sec (claimed) 8.1L/100km $78,900 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Better on road than on track; steering muted off centre; pricey Brilliant five-cylinder howl; grip and chassis balance; interior quality

Itís the king! Oh, wait...

THE Audi RS3 is the most powerful, fastest accelerating and most expensive hot hatch currently on sale in Australia. But itís a crown it wonít hold for long. A facelifted and even more powerful version of the Mercedes-AMG A45 is due in Australia in early 2016, with its 280kW/475Nm trumping the RS3ís 270kW/465Nm. The A45 is also a tenth quicker to 100km/h, and has a harder, more focused personality, which you can read about on page 58. Like the RS3, it will command a starting price just shy of $80K...