Let me count the ways: 1 brake horsepower, 2 brake horsepower… keep counting until you reach 362 lovely bhp’s secreted under the bonnet of one of the hottest hot hatches around. Want to know how good this car is? Well, Mrs DriveWrite loves it and she hates hot hatches. That’s how good it is.
It seems like there’s a bit of a competition going on amongst a handful of European manufacturers vying for the top hot spot. I’ve driven a couple of the others; one is as civilised as the Audi RS3 Quattro, (reasonable observation as it comes from the same stable) and the other is bonkers. Even as I type, a car featuring 400bhp is heading in our direction. It’s either brilliant that car makers are still prepared to build cars like this in these eco-minded days or it’s all getting a bit daft. It’s up to you.
The Audi A3 Sportback is, arguably, one of the two best small hatchbacks on the market. Like all Audi cars it is superbly built inside and out and does all that could be required of a small family car. It comes in many guises, the top gun being the RS3. For those who prefer a little less bang for their buck but still need driving thrills there is also the regular S3.
The basic RS3 costs around £40k new. The featured car, packed as it is with optional extras (listed in the specification below), costs just over £50,000. The trouble is, all the extras are wholly desirable, not least the superb seats.
As if the 2.5L Turbo-charged engine with a six-speed tiptronic auto box wasn’t enough to get you off the line, this car also features ‘Launch Control’. The necessity for this is dubious. Certainly when I tried it (in a safe closed road environment incidentally) it was mighty impressive, the car going from nought to warp-speed in seconds. It was also fun when I did it again – but then what? If I’m honest, it’s not something I crave. Sure, it may be handy in, say, a track day scenario, but otherwise it has little point on British roads.
While I’m on the moan like some 21st Century Victor Meldrew, I would also say how much I would like this car to be offered with an alternative choice of a manual clutch and gearbox. Unquestionably, the tiptronic technology is superb with all gear shifts completed with a minimum of interruption in power flow. Paddles are there to take manual control and the additional sport programme has later shift points, allowing the driver to adopt a more sporty driving style; but how I longed for an old-school stick.
On The Inside
It’s an Audi so you sort of know what to expect. Although this is a very hot hatch there is none of that wild extravagance used to perk up lesser cars. If anything, it is understated and demure with a familiar dashboard and, as usual, the build quality is superb. I loved the optional Nappa leather sport seats with the fancy quilting; otherwise indications of the car’s real purpose are kept to a minimum. Also, the car is as practical as the regular models with Isofix and an entirely usable boot.
On The Go
Again, subtlety is the key as the RS3 doesn’t at first glance look a lot different to the regular Sportback, but the clues are there: gloss black grille, LED headlights, gorgeous 19” alloys and a deep roof spoiler. The wheel arches flare out to accommodate the RS3’s wider track and big tyres and, when the keen observer walks around the back, there’s a pair of exhaust outlets straight off the back of the Millennium Falcon.
Start up – without any silly throttle blipping – early in the morning and the noise will bring your neighbours to the window concerned about a possible earthquake (really, some people can be a little testy first thing can’t they?). The sound is symphonic; Wagnerian even and truly, deeply addictive.
The all-wheel drive system’s multi-plate clutch is mounted on the rear axle for better weight distribution, they say, and up to one hundred percent of the available torque can be directed to the Audi RS3 Sportback’s rear wheels, with the intention of improving both agility and neutrality of the chassis. Whatever: this car is planted on the road and never once in normal and legal fast driving did I have any untoward moments. The grip goes on forever and the power just keeps on coming, even at very high revs. Some might blanch a bit at emissions of 194g/km but when you think that just a few years ago that figure would have been in the four hundreds then it ‘s really not so bad. If fuel consumption around 24mpg bothers you then you don’t want this car anyway.
Do I prefer it to the Mercedes A45 AMG or VW’s Golf R? Yes, absolutely when it comes to the Merc, but my answer to the second car is much less definitive. I prefer the look and interior of the Audi but reckon the Golf just shades it on driving pleasure. Either car would fulfil my needs entirely.
I was fortunate enough, courtesy of the fine folk at Audi, to have the pleasure of the RS3 Sportback for a whole week before they cruelly came and snatched it from me so that it could be whisked away to the Castle Combe Circuit for the Audi Driver International Track Day (more on this tomorrow). It pleases me that cars like this can still be made. As I have pointed out, driven properly The Audi RS3 Sportback can deliver all the power you want to satisfy your base urges whilst still being perfectly happy pootling round to the supermarket.
Had she been around today Elizabeth Barrett Browning would have approved and no doubt would have written a sonnet about it and, frankly, if it’s good enough for her, then it’s good enough for me. Outstanding. Geoff Maxted