Pure petrol goodness: Audi's drift-ready RS3 hits Kiwi roads
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Audi RS3 Sportback
- Looks better than ever
- Fantastic engine note
- Incredible performance
- Will likely incur a Clean Car fee
- It's probably the last of its kind
Audi seems to be going from strength to strength internationally as well as locally. It’s a brand that has tackled the electric vehicle movement by committing to exclusively develop electric models after 2026. Despite this, Audi’s iconic petrol-powered RS performance models are still in full swing, with the local arm being a sales leader in market share on the international stage.
With just four years left on the clock for petrol development, it isn’t a surprise to see high-emitting performance models like the RS6 and RS Q8 move into the hybrid space, but by some petrol-powered miracle, Audi’s smallest RS-badged model has avoided this.
That’s right, the latest iteration of Audi’s much loved RS3 hyper hatch has retained its iconic turbocharged five-cylinder engine, and there isn’t a drop of hybrid power running through its veins.
Since its inception, there have been three iterations of Audi’s range-topping RS3. Introduced as an even spicier version of the S3, the RS3 didn’t look a whole lot different to its lower-powered sibling, and was quite reserved to look at. The second-generation RS3 saw things get a little more aggressive in the aesthetic department, but retained very similar looks to an S3.
Then we get to this new RS3, which somewhat speaks for itself. It seems Audi has followed the same styling philosophy as it did with the new RS6, as this little hyper hatch looks like the most aggressive vehicle that has ever seen a public road. The front grille looks as if it devours rainbows for fun, and the rear isn’t much friendlier. The wheel arches have been widened to a point that it looks like a mini RS4, and that duct behind the front wheels is a fantastic homage to the Quattro S1 that paved the way for Audi’s legendary five bangers.
Speaking of five-bangers, Audi hasn’t re-invented the wheel here, and is still using the same 2.5-litre turbocharged engine that is loved by many. Making a hefty 294kW, it has retained the same power figure as the last RS3, but ups torque by 20Nm, with a peak figure of 500Nm. This is sent to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The 0-100km/h sits at a blistering 3.8-seconds, and it will top out at an electronically limited 250km/h. Audi enthusiasts will notice that these figures are more or less the same as the last generation RS3, but the real difference is in how the torque is delivered.
Instead of calling a function that sends 100 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels ‘Drift Mode’ or anything along those lines, Audi decided ‘RS Torque Rear’ was a better bet. No matter what you want to call it, this mode will let the little hyper hatch oversteer in a way that no Audi has ever done before. It uses a very complicated system of electronically controlled clutches in place of the rear differential to send extra torque to the rear wheel under more load. This means that the car will have a tendency to oversteer before it understeers. Officially, this lets drivers play with an active rear end on track, or unofficially, live out their wildest Tokyo Drift fantasies at a local car park.
Though we weren’t able to test out the RS3’s oversteer function, we did go for a decent drive around Auckland, and can report that it is a hoot to drive. With its fantastic Quattro system, every kilowatt and Newton metre that this Audi possesses is usable on the street, and motorway onramps are a pleasure every time. The engine sounds as good as ever, making all the right spooling sounds on acceleration, and burbles in just the right way off the throttle.
Drive modes seem to affect the car more than ever, and the difference between Eco and Dynamic is significant. Though the ride is still tight across Eco and Comfort modes, I wouldn’t describe it as stiff or harsh compared to other hatches in the segment. Dynamic is where an RS3 should spend most of its life as the car seems poised to pounce and any given moment with a jab of throttle. There are a couple of ‘RS’ drive modes also available, but these are best left to the track as they hold gears far more than anyone would want during a regular drive.
On the inside, this new RS3 follows in the footsteps of other RS models, while also being a significant step above the previous model. A minimalistic approach was taken with the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit replacing the majority of buttons. Audi offers a bunch of RS design packages that let buyers customize the cabin to their preference, with a range of colours and finishes available.
As a whole, Audi’s new RS3 feels like a hatch that is worthy of the ‘hyper’ moniker. Starting from $112,500, it only really has the Mercedes-AMG A45 as a rival, but it could be said that the Merc is already feeling a little dated. Without any form of hybrid assistance, it feels like the purists' choice in the over-$100k hatchback segment, and the sound that that epic five-cylinder makes only backs this up.
Dean Sheed, the General Manager of Audi New Zealand, mentioned that 52 RS3s had already been pre-sold to customers – which is a number that will grow by a significant margin once these little beasts are unleashed onto the streets of New Zealand.