Audi RS3 a versatile piece of cool
AUDI’S RS3 LAUNCHES IN NEW ZEALAND NEXT MONTH BUT WE GET TO TEST IT IN BRITAIN
There’s nothing like the sharp crackle from a pair of high-bred sports exhausts to shake up a suburban street — unless it’s the sight of this sharply etched thoroughbred among the sensible wagons and hatches lining these British kerbs.
Audi’s RS3 might be a capable city-slicker, but the soundtrack, and its lines, suggest more sporting pursuits.
We’re in Britain, where the car launched earlier this year, putting it through its paces pending its launch in New Zealand next month. That means flinging it around gnarly country lanes, cruising 80mph (129km/h) motorways and fitting child seats and wrestling with the school run.
Earlier RS3s were a little too unyielding for everyday running. Audi had promised a better balance, though that’s not immediately obvious from the glossy black grille, those 19-inch wheels tucked beneath flared arches, and the gaping outlets of the sports exhausts.
Under the bonnet there’s that 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine, to which has been bolted a new intercooler and a fettled turbo to boost power and torque to 270kW and 465Nm — more than a standard Porsche 911 Carrera — and make the most of both via reworked software controlling the seven-speed dual-clutch auto and the paddle changer.
The multi-plate clutch controlling the Quattro all-wheel-drive system has also been retuned, and all the torque can go to the rear wheels. Ride height is 25mm lower than the standard A3, with suspension via MacPherson strut, and adaptive dampers.
I opted for sensible settings round town — where the car still felt firm, but not unmanageable. It was rapid enough from the lights, without frightening passing pedestrians. Even at that setting, it had a head-turning fruity note on start-up. Opt for the sports alternatives and there’s a promising bark and crackle as it fires, and enough power on tap to deliver startling round-town performance — zero to 100 acceleration is claimed at 4.3 seconds, faster than that Porsche 911 — though this power train comes into its own on the open road.
Dialling back-country swervery into the equation shows you what the car can do, peak torque arriving at 1625rpm and the RS3 accelerating hard until the power load hits at 5500rpm.
Keep the revs up and the engine delivers a joyous hit, enhanced by special flaps in the exhaust, along with the sort of acceleration that’d have you punching through hedges rather than round bends if it wasn’t so eminently capable at clinging to the road, and simply railing on round. Thank goodness for all that grip, and for those stonking brakes with 370mm front discs clamped by eight-piston calipers, for this is a car that seems far more capable than the average driver.
There’s no need for delicate balancing of throttle and wheel, nor even much reward for precision. You just point the wheel and feed the power on — exhilarating but not really engaging.
And that’s arguably the problem with sports Audis. They’re almost too good in the real world to be involving. While you get the excitement which going fast will give you, you lose the feeling of a true marriage of human and machine, that delicate dance between hands, seat and wheels.
That said, this car is far more than a blunt weapon. It can also deliver carsick-prone kids to school and cruise amiably along British motorways while sipping almost abstemiously at fuel (though my average for the 1300km real-world trial, largely urban running and traffic-clogged highways with a few bendy-road shenanigans thrown in, was around 10.5l/100km, well over the 8.1l/100km claim).
The cabin doesn’t scream sportster, though the kit is there. You can tune the steering, power delivery and suspension, either together or individually; you’ll find a lap timer on the menu; the flat-bottomed Alcantara-covered wheel nestles in your hands and those sporty seats are supportive. The cabin feels roomier than expected, underlined when I fit a booster and a child seat out back, and the 280-litre boot was also better than expected — large enough to carry all my luggage.
British testers have said they would like the car to be better equipped. In New Zealand it is, as you’d hope, given its $99,900 price. So that means that, as well as a barrage of airbags, an alphabet soup of safety acronyms and those 19-inch alloy wheels, it gets an anti-theft alarm with interior surveillance and vehicle immobiliser, magnetic ride damper control, the RS sports suspension and exhaust, a rear-view camera, dual-zone aircon (the kids loved having their own vents), aluminium roof rails and auto LED headlights not fitted to the British cars (they get Xenons), and much, much more — including a hefty dose of cool.
Sports-car purists might prefer to spend the extra on a tightly focused sports car, but they’d be forgetting this car’s strength. It can catapult you through high-speed swervery with ease, and it’s capable of negotiating city streets, blitzing the school run or cruising from Auckland to Wellington with four aboard, and luggage.