2018 Audi RS3 Review – Preview Drive
Practical Motoring’s 2018 Audi RS3 Review with specs, ride and handling, performance, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: It seems like only yesterday (it was, in fact, late 2015) that Audi launched the RS3 in Australia. But already, the compact hot-shot has been facelifted. Actually, upgraded is a better word, because the thing looks pretty much the same and it’s under the skin where the engineers have been busiest. The other big news is that, for the first time, the RS3 will be available in sedan form as well as the Sportback (that’s hatchback in Audi-speak).
2018 Audi RS3
PRICING Est low-$80,000s WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km ENGINE 2.5L petrol 5-cylinder POWER 294kW at 5850-7000rpm TORQUE 480Nm at 1700-5850rpm TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch DRIVE all-wheel-drive; DIMENSIONS 4479mm (L), 1802mm (W), 1397mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE 10.9m SPARE space-saver SEATS 5 KERB WEIGHT 1515kg FUEL TANK 55 litres FUEL CONSUMPTION 8.3L/100km combined cycle FUEL 95 RON
YOU SIMPLY CANNOT under-estimate the importance of how a performance car looks. The family SUV can get away with being a bit dowdy. An off-road four-wheel-drive is supposed to look slightly mutant. And city cars wouldn’t look right without that idiot-grin grille-and-headlights thing. But a proper performance car? Different story and unless they look sharp, they won’t sell. Which kind of explains why Audi has extended the RS3 range from the original Sportback to the much more muscular looking sedan variant. Where the Sportback looks a bit harmless, the sedan amps up the visuals considerably.
What is it?
The RS3 sedan will arrive in Australia in about June with the facelifted Sportback following in the last quarter of 2017. Expect prices to start in the low-80s. The other big news for this model is an all-new engine. Mind you, for a new design, it looks, sounds, feels and performs in a pretty familiar way. That said, the `old’ RS3 engine was a crackerjack thing, so any improvement has got to be cream, right? Exactly, and that’s precisely the situation here.
The new unit still measures 2.5-litres and it retains the RS3’s trademark turbocharged, five-cylinder layout. The big advance meanwhile, is not in power or torque production but in mass reduction. The RS3 has always been criticised for being a bit nose-heavy (that’s why it wears slightly wider tyres on the front than the rear) but by switching to an all-alloy construction for the new five-potter, Audi has managed to slash 26kg from over the front axle.
The mass savings come mainly from the crankcase which accounts for a full 18 of those 26kg, but everything form the sump to the rocker cover, the drive belt system to the crankshaft is lighter than before. Power jumps 24kW to 294 while torque is only marginally higher. But new variable valve timing and lift systems, an extra injector per cylinder and a bigger intercooler all improve the spread of power and driveability.
The seven-speed DSG (S-Tronic as Audi calls it) transmission is unchanged, as is the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, save for the fact that Audi is now doing its own software for the active centre differential. The most ground-breaking news is the option of carbon-ceramic front brakes on a car at this price-point. They won’t be cheap (think $12,000 to $15,000) but they do slice a further 12 kilos off the front end.
What’s the interior like?
Audi has been doing some of the most logical, ergonomic interiors around for years now and this new car takes that even further. Standard in all RS3s is what Audi calls its virtual cockpit which amounts to an animated dashboard display that is – almost – infinitely configurable depending on whether you’re using sat-nav at the time or whether you want to know, in real time, the boost pressure being developed by the turbocharger.
The main controls are centred around Audi’s version of the menu-driven system but it’s actually a pretty good one. The sat-nav system features a touchpad that you can finger-draw on to enter addresses and zoom in on maps. Voice-control is also part of the deal. There’s also every imaginable form of connectivity.
The interior also screams `sporty’ with heavily bolstered front chairs and a lovely, flat-bottomed tiller clad in suede. Experience tells us that suede wheels can look pretty grimy and second-hand pretty quickly, but for showroom pull, they rule. Everything else features high-tech looking surfaces and finishes and there’s a distinctly high-end feel to the graphics and the way the whole thing is screwed together. The diamond-quilted accents in the plush leather seats are delicious. That’s all.
What’s it like on the road?
It doesn’t really matter what car we’re talking about; adding a little power and subtracting a little weight can never be a bad thing. And that’s pretty much the story here. The outgoing RS3 version was always a ripper thing to drive, and the new one simply ratchets that up a couple of notches.
While the turbo engine is fit, the first thing you’ll notice is just how connected you feel to this car. Even at parking-lot speeds, the Audi is hunkered down, responsive and talkative. Take it to the actual streets and it really gets chatty. The steering is sharp and proves that electrically-assisted power-steer isn’t necessarily the devil’s work, provided it’s done properly. It is here. And while the suspension is firm, it’s so nicely damped that you’ll forgive it. Okay, the ride will be a deal breaker for some folks, but let’s face it, if you’re in the market for something as potent as the RS3, surely you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Audi is still offering its adaptive dampers on the new car and, in the past, they’ve been a must-have on the basis that the standard car just never rode properly. Now, however, with the reduced weight over the nose, we’re not so sure the optional dampers (which can be switched from Sport to Comfort) are still mandatory. The standard car seems to be a much happier device now, although we only got to sample the non-adaptive car with the optional ceramic brakes which lighten the front end even further. So, we’ll need to drive the standard car on standard brakes (and on home turf) before making any definitive statements.
The all-wheel-drive system has been engineered to run with a 50:50, front:rear torque split in normal circumstances with the ability to send the full 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels when the computer deems it prudent. Which means while you can get the RS3 to understeer a little if you tackle a corner too hot, the centre-diff soon works it all out for you, leaving you with the option of a little throttle-off tail-out action if you want it. Those who still think all-wheel-drive dulls a chassis down need to drive this car.
And that engine is a masterpiece. It growls, it thrums and it’s undoubtedly alive underneath you. If anything, the super-flat torque curve has made it feel a tad less theatrical than the old engine (maybe) but with a claimed 0-100km/h figure of 4.1 seconds, it cannot be anything but brilliant fun. The seven-speed clutchless gearbox does what it says on the box as well as offering seamless full-bore upshifts that are fast enough to never allow the engine to drop boost. Not only that, but the performance is accessible and all the controls are calibrated so that you always get exactly the response you were looking for.
Remember Audi’s Group B rally cars? All-wheel-drive, five-cylinder, turbocharged monsters making about 400 horsepower? Check the specs on the RS3 and marvel at the similarities. Of course, those Group B monsters were regarded as too dangerous to race and were banned by the FIA. No such problem in 2017.
What about the safety features?
Audi has got this stuff kicked to bits. As well as the usual stuff like full-length side-air-bags and stability control, the RS3 gets a heap of driver-assistance functions. Things like adaptive cruise-control, traffic jam assist where the car all but drives itself along in stop-start traffic, emergency assist that will stop the car if the driver is unresponsive and cross-traffic assist to avoid reversing into passing traffic, say, in a car-park situation. There’s a rear camera and, on suitable roads and up to speeds of up to 65km/h, the damn thing will even steer itself.
Independent testing has given the previous model RS3 a five-star safety rating and there’s no real gamble involved in predicting that the new car will score the same.