First Look: Audi RS3 2021
July saw some pretty big news in the automotive world – there was the return of the fantastic Goodwood Festival of Speed, Lotus revealed their new Emira and Aston their Ferrari SF90-rivalling hybrid mid-engine supercar with the best name ever – the Valhalla. There were also a lot more reveals, such as the McLaren 765LT Spider, revised Porsche Macan, and the 911 Carrera GTS. But, for petrolheads across the country, there was one reveal that stood out more than the rest, a car that is impressive, desirable, and more importantly attainable – the all-new Audi RS3.
Before we get to the new car, first a history lesson. It was 10yrs ago that Audi decided they would release a hot hatch with a truly insane power figure of 335bhp. But Audi wasn’t content with giving it just 335bhp, after all the Focus Mk2 RS500 had a bit more – but that was FWD and manual. No, the 8P RS3’s trump card was that it sent its prodigious power to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, meaning you could get off the line with furious g-forces in pretty much any weather and with any driver behind the wheel. And this sent shockwaves through the hot hatch manufacturers – the Mercedes-AMG A45 came out a few years later with more power and the similar AWD/Auto setup, Ford’s Mk3 Focus RS had big power and AWD, though that had a manual for ‘purists’.
It’s fair to say that the ‘8P’ RS3 wasn’t exactly the go-to for drivers though, suffering from fairly awful understeer. Luckily it was only on sale for a couple of years before it was replaced.
So that brings us forward to 2015 when the previous ‘8V’ shape was released with an improved version of the 2.5 litre turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. It came with a rather impressive 362bhp and 465Nm, as always sent to the four corners via a dual-clutch ‘box. Performance was ballistic, especially when a couple of years in, it was upped to 395bhp and 480Nm. 0-62mph came up in 4.1 seconds and being the Audi that it is, you could do that again and again with launch control. Sadly, this is one thing that added to the RS3 gaining a bit of a reputation – the accessibility of the performance and still relatively attainable entry price meant that it was bought by people trying to show off, and also stolen by people needing a subtle looking getaway car. The tuning scene is also rife for the RS3, with plenty offering 500bhp and sadly even more offering incredibly loud pops’n’bangs remaps, to be heard around any city centre at midnight every Friday.
While that model was out, the competition moved on – the A45S now has 416bhp and like the Focus RS, a drift mode which turns the AWD system into a RWD system – great for sideways action. So Audi had some work to do.
Step forward – the ‘8Y’ RS3. To start with, Audi has chosen not to chase the power figures of the German rival, at least not at launch (an RS3 Plus is in the works though) and retains the same power figure as before from the turbo 5-pot – 395bhp, though the torque figure jumps to 500Nm. What that means though, with a recalibrated dual clutch gearbox and launch control system is that the 0-62mph dash is dealt with in just 3.8 seconds. That, in case you were wondering, is faster than the first gen R8 V10. In a 5-door family hatchback. The world has gone insane. The RS3 will also carry on until a similarly insane 180mph if you tick the RS Dynamic Package and Ceramic Brake option boxes. Handy for the A406.
It’s fair to say that Audi has gone a little further than previously with the styling of the RS3 though, separating it from the rest of the more humdrum A3 range. The most noticeable change is at the front, where a new enormous grille spans pretty much the whole nose, and continues on into the headlight cut-outs. This gives the new RS3 a look not unlike the RSQ8, especially with the two huge intakes that flank the grille. To call it purposeful would do it a disservice – it’s downright aggressive and looks like it would eat a Kia Picanto for breakfast. The headlights have a party trick too – spec the Matrix LEDs and the small DRL section will spell out R – S – 3 and then a chequered flag on startup. I’m not sure if that’s absolute genius or utterly tacky – I will have to see in person before deciding.
That front bumper flows out into the new, 33mm wider front wheel arches which look fantastic and give it real purpose. There’s a little vent behind the front wheel too, which is apparently functional, something to do with relieving pressure from the front arches and under-bonnet area. Side skirts are suitably swollen too. The rear arches look swollen, but they are on all A3/S3’s, must be the wider fronts that create an optical illusion.
Now at this point, there are two ways you can have your RS3 – Sportback (that’s a hatchback to you or I) or Saloon. Obviously, the Sportback is the more practical and versatile car, but slap me silly if the RS3 Saloon doesn’t just look absolutely fantastic. Reminds me of the RS4 saloon and has a simply wonderful stance, even more so when you add the optional larger carbon rear spoiler (a bigger option is available for the hatch too). Both models have the standard RS-issue twin oval exhausts too, which will emit the car’s USP – that glorious off-beat 5-cylinder warble. No matter how many ponies Mercedes shoves under the bonnet of the A45S, it will never sound as good as an angry 5-pot at full chat. Sports exhaust is a must, though thanks to the dreaded particulate filters sucking all the noise out of performance cars.
What sounds very promising for this new RS3 is that the AWD system is all-new. The quattro four-wheel drive system is far removed from the Haldex system of old and is hugely changeable in the way it drives. At the rear, there is now a clever rear differential called the RS Torque Splitter which allows up to 100% of the engine’s drive to be sent to the back. This is linked to the car’s drive modes too, so in Comfort/Efficiency power is sent almost entirely to the front wheels unless slip is detected. Dynamic moves the split to 70/30 F/R, then Performance is more like 50/50. Then in RS Torque Rear it’s all sent to the rear so that controlled drifts should be possible. Expect to see RS Torque Rear mode engaged in Tesco car parks far too often.
What this does mean though, is that the RS3 has finally been tuned for drivers. The understeer has been dialled out and it’s expected to be a properly fun thing to throw down a B-road. That, for me at least, is very good news. Previously the RS3 has always been a bit of a blunt tool, its remit – to go fast in every situation with as little fuss as possible. Now it seems that the quattro GmbH engineers have discovered ‘Spaß’ in the dictionary.
It’s worth mentioning the interior too, if only because it’s predictably brilliant. Clear, well laid out, ergonomically perfect and in the RS3, sporty too. Not much to criticise, but it also won’t make your heart race when you climb aboard.
So now we know that it’ll be good, what about the big question – price. Well, the Sportback starts at £50,900 and the saloon (which is seen as more premium) is £1,000 more. Is that a lot for a family-sized hatchback? Well, if you’re on this site you’ll know by now that the RRP of a car only tells a small part of how much it really costs – residuals have always been very strong on the RS3 so expect some very attractive finance numbers to come up for it. Just don’t go too crazy with the options – I went on the German configurator and was able to add just over £20,000 in optional equipment. All you need are the nicer wheels, decent colour paint and the sports exhaust and you’ll be happy.