Audi RS3 Sportback

March 2011

picture of car from the front

Subtle bodykit hints at the RS3's performance potential

Ratings

Overall Rating 7Overall rating

Value for money Rating 6Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 4Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 7Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 9Controls and display

Comfort Rating 7Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 8Car safety


Likes

  • Impeccable build quality inside and out puts rivals to shame
  • Standard specification surprisingly generous
  • Engine is full of character and car is good to drive - for an Audi
  • Rear accommodation is generous enough to accommodate two adults in reasonable comfort

Gripes

  • Limited production run and high price will put off some
  • Firm ride over surface imperfections can be tiresome
  • Be careful when parking - the car's alloy wheels look vulnerable
  • DSG semi-auto gearbox can prove hesitant when car is driven hard - manual mode is better

The official story is that only one RS model is made at any one time. With the RS3, Audi is entering the compact performance hatch market where in the past it concentrated on larger models. Don't mistake size for ability, though. The RS3 packs a 340 horsepower punch thanks to a 2.5-litre turbo petrol motor, plus the obligatory quattro all-wheel drive system.

Keen to offer an affordable RS model - affordable being a relative term - Audi's efforts with the RS3 are impressive. Look past the car's subtle but functional bodykit and the donor A3 Sportback sits lower and wider plus its suspension has been stiffened. In a bid to inject a little motorsport into the mix, the RS3's front wings are lightweight composite and not steel, while a seven-speed DSG transmission completes the picture.

Stirring memories of the much loved quattro coupe, the RS3 sounds the part when driven briskly. The unique signature of a five-cylinder engine is there, cleverly brought up to date with hi-tech turbocharging and a trick exhaust offering a 'loud' mode for added aural excitement.

And while the RS3 shares the practical five-door layout of its distant A3 cousin, this is very much a car for the serious enthusiast. The car's baseline ride is firm, and this can prove a little uncomfortable around town. Out on the open road, however, and the RS3 tracks straight and true when pushed hard on better quality roads and corners with the ability that can only come from all-wheel drive.

Make no mistake, the RS3 is a seriously rapid car that also happens to be a five-door compact hatch. All the respective sounds and sensations are present, while inside the cabin is up to Audi's usual high standards. The figure-hugging front seats are great, and despite the premium aura the RS3's engine easily manages to shatter the otherwise sombre ambience. And for quattro fans that's going to be a good thing.

Our verdict on the Audi RS3 Sportback

Audi's RS models display a character all of their own, even from run of the mill 'hot' performance models. The RS3 is no different, and boasts a blistering turn of speed and an unmatched all-weather, cross country potential. It might be a little less engaging than some rival models, but any high power front or rear-drive alternative will be left floundering in anything less than perfect conditions. And that's all the praise the RS3 needs.

Costs
Costs rating 4

While the standard A3 might be an affordable option, the RS3 is very different. Insurance, fuel and general running costs will be much higher in line with the car's greatly enhanced performance.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 7

With its extra two doors and a modest increase in rear loadspace, the RS3 Sportback's appeal centres on the perceived increase in versatility over its regular three-door cousin. In truth, the Sportback's extra 20 litres of space isn't great, but is welcome. More likely to appeal to buyers is the ability to transport two adults in the back with minimum fuss and discomfort thanks to those two extra doors and improved levels of rear legroom.

picture of car from the rear

All-wheel drive + five-cylinder turbo

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 9

All the RS3's important dials are clear and easy to read, while the rev counter and speedometer are split by a concise trip computer. The same level of clarity is true of the car's sat-nav system, which borrows heavily from the acclaimed system in Audi's flagship A8. The only disappointment is the car's ventilation panel, which relies too heavily on small buttons for major functions. The DSG gearbox's shift lever and steering wheel paddles are all easy to use.

Comfort
Comfort Rating 7

Figure-hugging sports seats come as standard and work well. More extreme examples are a cost option, but are less forgiving if you're on the large side. The car's firm ride is fine on fast roads but you will feel the trade off in the city. And despite the engine's potential, if you leave the 'Sport' mode alone you can dodge the exhaust's boomy signature.

Car security
Security Rating 7

The full suite of measures is present here, from the basic remote central locking to a peace of mind-inducing alarm and immobiliser package. Depending on your insurer, you might want to consider a tracking device given the car's desirability.

Car safety
Safety Rating 8

It's good to know that the car comes with all the usual electronic safety aids such as ABS, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and stability control. Inside the cabin, occupants are protected against an impact by numerous airbags, while ISOFIX child seat mountings are present. And don't forget that the car's all-wheel drive system is just as good at keeping you on the road as it is entertaining you at speed.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 8

Packing a 2.5-litre, 340 horsepower engine the RS3 is no slouch. It's also a vocal car thanks in part to a trick exhaust valve engineered to boost the aural theatre. Rapid in straight line, corners are also dispatched with ease thanks to all-wheel drive. The car's lower stance and firm suspension does mean that the experience is less polished when traversing poorly surfaced urban roads. Overall, it's hard to find fault with the RS3's all-weather performance potential but it could be more engaging in the dry.

picture of car interior

It's hard to find fault with the RS3's cabin

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 6

There's no reason why the RS3 can't perform regular family duties. It's practical enough and the cabin is versatile enough - if you look past the more expensive leather trim. The car's firm ride might prove a little uncomfortable for some, though.

First car appeal
First car Rating 1

In principal the RS3 is like any other A3 Sportback, but its performance will likely be a turn off for all the obvious reasons. If it has to be an Audi, a regular A3 will be a cheaper and safer option.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 8

With Audi there's the car's build quality, attention to detail and a less radical exterior design philosophy than some rivals to consider. No question, the RS3's cabin and overall quality 'feel' is impressive. The ownership experience and the service you get from the supplying dealer are things that routinely rank high in the minds of customer.

Accessibility
Accessibility Rating

The five-door only RS3 ensures front seat access is good while those in the back will need to be accommodating as head and legroom is only average. The A3's boot opening is of a reasonable size and the tailgate requires little effort to lift and shut.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The car's standard fit audio player is decent enough unit, and its controls are well laid out if a little on the small side. The large colour screen is a welcome addition, as is the inclusion of sat-nav, MP3 player connectivity and a Bluetooth phone option.

picture of car in detail

The heart of the RS3 - a 2.5-litre turbo motor

Colours and trim

In its bold launch colours the RS3 is an arresting sight, while the car's subtle bodykit offers a hint of the car's potential without giving too much away. Inside it will all be familiar to A3 fans, although the presence of leather and bright trim accents help lift the otherwise sombre ambience.

Parking

Slow speed manoeuvring requires little effort thanks to the car's variable rate steering. Forward visibility is good - even if you have the driver's seat set to its lowest. Rear visibility isn't as good, but is adequate once you become familiar with judging the car's extremities.

Spare wheel

Tyre mobility kit included

 

Range information

Petrol engine options - 2.5-litre (340bhp). Transmission options: seven-speed DSG semi auto gearbox. Trim levels: single trim level based on high level of standard equipment.

 

Alternative cars

BMW 1 Series The hottest 1 Series lacks the all-weather abilities of the RS3 but is more rewarding to drive

Volkswagen Golf Upmarket Golf R is equally practical but lacks the premium feel of the Audi

Subaru Impreza Interior feels dated but there's little doubt about this car's ability

Vauxhall Insignia A bigger car but, in VXR trim, gains all-wheel drive. It's rapid but lacks the Audi's premium feel



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March 2011