Audi RS 3: the hatch is back
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At what point does a hot hatch become a sports car?
Maybe when the engine produces more than 180kW, or maybe 220kW - surely once you start approaching 260kW you're entering sports car territory.
Nowadays it's becoming difficult to differentiate the two, especially when Audi Sport unveils a new RS model with a designation "Sportback".
You'd think this is all marketing speak - up to the point you read the spec sheet and see a performance figure of 294kW.
The Audi RS3 Sportback has taken a back seat recently as its sedan sibling has been introduced to the world; but the hatchback is back to take the limelight.
The 2017 five-door model will become the world's most powerful hot hatch once it goes on sale in Europe from April. (Audi New Zealand is yet to announce our release date.)
The RS3 will be fitted with the world's most powerful turbocharged five-cylinder production engine, delivering 294kW and 400hp - 24kW more than the existing model.
The vehicle is 26kg lighter too, thanks to an aluminum crankcase and other componentry Audi has chosen to keep under wraps for now.
Horsepower figures are what manufacturers brag about, but torque is what you feel, and you'll feel plenty in the RS3 - 480Nm will be available to drivers from 1700rpm all the way to 5850rpm. To put that in context, the Focus RS (no slouch) produces 350Nm.
By the time you reach 7000rpm you'll need to select a new gear via Audi's S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while the Quattro system distributes drive torque variably between the axles.
The amount of drive going to the rear will be determined by the on-board computer, three driving modes, speed and cornering forces.
A new four-link rear axle and tighter suspension set-up lower the RS3 25mm compared with the A3, front tracks to accommodate the extra power will also be 20mm wider compared with the base model, and the wheel arches are flared accordingly.
In case you still can't differentiate between the two models, Audi has also redesigned the LED headlamps, bumpers, added a small wing, and fitted a diffuser in the rear.
Inside, the Sportback is equipped with sport seating and an RS-line steering wheel. A digital virtual cockpit infotainment display system is optional.
When the world's fastest hot hatch arrives on our shores, expect the new RS3 to be six figures in our currency.