Small and disproportionately powerful, the Audi RS 3 makes bigger performance cars logically irrelevant
The existence of hypercars like the AMG Project One and Bugatti Chiron prove that for those with unlimited budgets, the lust for power is also unending.
Unlike economics, the trickle-down effect of high automotive technology to a more realistic, ownable stage is a very real thing. Cars like the Audi RS 3 Sedan are concrete proof of that.
The car’s basis, the Audi A3, first appeared in hatchback and sedan form in 2012 and 2014 respectively, with the RS 3 Sportback model of the former debuting in 2014 as well. Having tested that machine and been thoroughly impressed by it, we thought it’d be difficult to top, but it has.
This latest model is a facelift with some major improvements, not to mention that this is the very first sedan variant of the RS 3 to appear.
It has similar ‘RS’ treatment to its hatchback brother, amongst other things: widened tracks, bespoke chassis improvements and a weapons-grade engine.
While the Sportback apes the appearance of a fetching miniature of Audi’s desirable Avants (wagons), the sedan looks subtly different – there’s less of a emphasis of the front fenders for instance – and at first it looks rather more ungainly.
We admit to not being entirely convinced about the styling, the short proportions of the A3 base, such as the bonnet, work less well with the RS image. To our mind, it looks a bit like a midget circus strongman. But there’s undoubted quality to the execution, from the ‘quattro’ badge to the blacked-out sports exhaust, and in any case, image falls by the wayside once you drive it in anger.
The not-so-photogenic bonnet hides a major improvement: Audi’s five-cylinder, 2.5-litre engine has always been a gem, combining big, excellently-delivered power with a soundtrack gives any inline four aural envy. But Audi’s improved it now, with an all-aluminum block replacing iron, so it shaves a huge 26kg from a key engineering point in the car. It also makes 23hp more for exactly 400hp.
While 367hp from before was no small beans, it’s a full 400hp in a car that weighs just 1,590kg with a driver, and is also equipped with Audi’s latest, fast-acting Haldex-made all-wheel drive system.
The active sport exhaust system is standard on the RS 3 Sedan, at low revs it doesn’t sound particularly distinguished, but anything above 3,000rpm and you realise what you have on your hands.
It retains an angry, uneven tone (thanks to its staggered firing order) that brings to mind a colossal, unbalanced chainsaw, and of course, backfiring off hard acceleration is standard. After the R8’s naturally-aspirated V10, this is probably the best RS engine of the lot.
All the usual high-performance car descriptions apply thoroughly here too. The spool up of the drivetrain is tremendously quick, thanks to all of its components and an overall lack of mass.
Bumbling along at an Orchard Road Crawl, it’s also surprisingly cultured. You don’t feel it urging you along to go quick all the time – unless the five-cylinder tone is fresh in your memory and you’re jonesing for more – and the single-rate suspension is sporty, sometimes jiggly, but with a soft enough edge for commuting and daily driving.
It’s the litheness of the car that makes it shine, really. You feel far more comfortable taking liberties with it than a bigger, heavier RS (or any German hi-perf car), and it’s even sharper and pointier than many of them because it’s lost 26kg from the nose.
For the price, just over $306,300 with COE, you could have an S4, which is slower, doesn’t sound as good and less fun to hoon. To put it another way, the RS 3 is a little over twice the price of an A3 1.4 sedan, but its engine makes more than three times as much power – and it’s certainly more than twice the car the 1.4 is.
Additionally the RS 3 Sedan probably can, and will, harass supercars even on big, open tracks, as the closer you get to the expensive end of things, the more your dollar diminishes: In comparison an Audi R8 V10 costs more than twice the RS 3, though it’s certainly faster, in the real world it’s probably not by much.
That’s pretty much true for its competition too – the AMG CLA 45 and BMW M2. The CLA is a closer rival, it being all-wheel drive as well, while the M2 will appeal to those who want rear-wheel drive, though it feels less agile overall.
The sort of performance on tap here is more than enough to make larger, ostensibly faster machines in the same vein irrelevant, and it’s the preservation of a light, compact driving experience – albeit one with head-rushing power – that makes the RS 3 Sedan sparkle.
Audi RS 3 Sedan
Engine 2,480cc, 20V, inline 5, turbocharged
Power 400hp at 5850-7000rpm
Torque 480Nm at 1700-5850rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 4.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.4L/100km
Price $306,300 with COE
Agent Premium Automobiles
Verdict : Compact size, monster performance. Arguably, a sane driver will never need much more than this
Also Consider: Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, BMW M2