While the Volkswagen Group steams towards an electric-only future, the 2022 Audi RS3 basically said “yeah, nah”.
Say hello to the newest sub-4.0-second hyper hatch (and sedan). Based on the same MQB Evo underpinnings as the new Audi A3, and therefore the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf, the new-generation Audi RS3 Sportback and Sedan refuse to bow to emissions regulations, soldiering on with the brand’s iconic five-cylinder engine layout.
It’s as quick as ever – taking a claimed 3.8 seconds to sprint from 0-100km/h using Launch Control – and unlike all of its rivals it has an odd cylinder count that brings with it a distinctive engine note.
Beyond the improvements to performance with limited tinkering to the 2.5-litre five-pot’s outputs, the RS3 has more equipment and tech than before, and sports a new RS Torque Splitter on the rear axle that brings with it a drift mode – not that Audi would utter such uncouth words itself.
So, all the makings of a new benchmark, right? We attended the Australian media launch in Adelaide to find out.
Offered in a single specification in two body styles, pricing starts at $91,400 for the RS3 Sportback and $93,900 for the RS3 Sedan – all excluding on-road costs. That means you’re looking at six figures drive-away for what is a small, but very fast car.
The RS3 in both bodies noticeably undercuts its arch enemies, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S ($99,895) and Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S ($118,495). The Audi quotes a 0.1-second quicker 0-100 time, so if you’re looking at this through the bang-for-buck lens, it’s already on the front foot.
The Audi and AMG have few other natural rivals, either having to look at less-wild nameplates like the BMW M135i xDrive ($72,900) and Volkswagen Golf R ($65,990), or at sports cars like the BMW M240i xDrive Coupe ($91,900) or Toyota Supra GTS ($96,494).
Within Audi’s own stable there’s the mechanically-related TT RS Coupe ($141,191) if you want the same drivetrain with more pace, though it’s more expensive and less practical, and if you need more space you could look at the RSQ3 ($95,391) and RSQ3 Sportback ($98,391).
2022 Audi RS3 pricing:
- Audi RS3 Sportback: $91,400
- Audi RS3 Sedan: $93,900
Prices exclude on-road costs
Having tested the regular A3, then the S3, and now the RS3, the cabin offers few surprises.
As you’d expect, the fundamentals are pretty familiar from its lesser siblings, with a few bits and bobs scattered around the place to remind you that you’ve paid for the absolute pinnacle of the line-up.
Better yet, the Kyalami Green RS3 Sportback you see in the images (the car I piloted for the road drive), was fitted with the optional RS design package with Microammata green highlights throughout the cabin – seat accents, vent trim highlights, seatbelt accents and contrast stitching.
The RS design package also gets you a sexy Alcantara steering wheel. It may not be for all tastes but I’m here for it.
Once you’re sat in the electrically-adjustable RS sport front seats (no massaging functions at the moment due to the semiconductor shortage), you’re reminded of the A3’s great ergonomics.
Everything falls to hand nicely, you can get the seat nice and low in the cabin, and the displays are all angled toward the driver so all the information you need is facing you.
Ahead of the driver is Audi’s excellent 12.3-inch virtual cockpit plus display, which is larger than the 10.25-inch standard unit in base A3 models and adds the RS ‘runway’ tacho and speedo display option over the S3.
The digital instrument game is arguably Audi’s to lose, with a wide range of layouts and widgets. It’s also easy enough to use that just about anyone should be able to figure out how to set it up.
Build quality is good, but not as rock solid as Audis of old. Some of the materials feel cheap in the mid and lower tiers of the cabin, and the dashboard (which juts out at the passenger) and centre console don’t feel bank vault levels of tied down – it feels at least as upmarket as an A45 S, however, if not more so.
All the touch points have that typical Audi feel in that they’re soft-touch, and the switchgear does that signature ‘click’ that’s become a hallmark of the brand’s interiors.
Unlike its Golf sibling, the RS3’s cabin persists with physical climate controls, and buttons for key functions like the drive modes. Changing the temperature, fan speed, or drive mode is a cinch, and you shouldn’t find yourself flicking or pressing the wrong thing like you might with touch-based systems.
I’m not the biggest fan of the Porsche-style shifter, though. It’s quite small (size matters) and doesn’t feel as satisfying to use as a conventional gearshift – I wanna clunk it into place and rest my hand on it, sue me.
As with the S3, the big front seats eat into the second-row somewhat. That said, I’m 6’1 and could spend a reasonable amount of time behind my own driving position.
Being an A3, there’s plenty of amenities like rear air vents, a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, bottle holders in the doors, ISOFIX anchors on the outboard positions and top-tethers for all three rear seats.
As the all-wheel drive hardware eats into the underfloor space in the boot, luggage capacity in the RS3 is reduced for both the Sportback and Sedan. They feature 282L and 321L respectively with the rear seats in use.
Fold the 40:20:40-split seats down, and the Sportback’s boot grows to 1104L – Audi doesn’t quote a figure for the RS3 Sedan with the seats folded. There’s no spare wheel either, just a tyre repair kit.
Power in the RS3 once again comes from a 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine, which in this latest iteration makes 294kW (5600-7000rpm) and 500Nm (2250-5600rpm). It’s up 20Nm on the old car.
Drive is sent to a variable all-wheel drive system that defaults to a front bias, though as mentioned earlier there’s an RS Torque Rear (aka drift) mode thanks to the new clutch-based rear torque splitter. Shifting gears is a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic with steering-mounted paddle shifters.
Audi quotes a 0-100 sprint time of 3.8 seconds (0.3s better than the outgoing model) and a standard electronically limited top speed of 250km/h. Opt for the RS dynamic package plus ($13,000) that adds carbon-ceramic brakes, and the top speed raises to a supercar-rivalling 290km/h. Wow.
The RS3 uses a claimed 8.2-8.3L/100km on the combined cycle (Sedan-Sportback), with its 55-litre fuel tank demanding 98 RON premium unleaded. All versions of the Audi A3, S3 and RS3 are fitted with a petrol particulate filter (PPF).
The RS3 has long been something of an attainable dream car of mine, so I wasted no time planting my bum in the driver’s seat of the bright green Sportback you see here with optional carbon package – it’d be rude not to.
Our road loop took us from the Adelaide Airport to Tailem Bend via the winding South Australian hills. No matter which car you take through these areas, it’s a stunning backdrop.
The road drive started on city streets and then up into the mountains. As you’d expect from a Volkswagen Group hot hatch, the RS3’s adaptive dampers make light work of city and urban roads in their comfort setting, and the sports exhaust system keeps things civilised – but still with a subtle burble from the five-cylinder engine.
It’s effortless setting off from the lights and the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto is one of the finest examples of the breed this side of Porsche’s PDK. There’s little if no jerking or hesitation, and it always seems to have you in the right gear at the right time.
As we ventured into the wonderful rolling green hills outside of the Adelaide CBD, the signed speed limits got higher and the roads got windier, giving us a chance to see just how grippy this angry green machine can be.
Compared to the standard A3, the RS3’s front track has been widened by 33mm, and the rear 10mm. It actually catches your eye as you walk up to the vehicle, given most performance vehicles are wider at the rear.
What this means is the RS3 feels very hunkered down at the front, and is noticeably more tied down than previous iterations. Fast Audis have had a reputation for understeering in the past, but this thing just points and goes.
This latest MQB architecture seems to have really added another edge to the driving dynamics. The steering is quick, accurate and quite responsive to driver inputs. Sure it’s not the last word in feedback, but you always know what the front wheels are doing.
It gave us the confidence to push harder and carry more speed into corners – which translated to some fun times on the racetrack, as we’ll get to shortly.
Having 500Nm on tap just after 2000rpm gives you a wallop in the back has you power out of corners, but there’s also a smoothness and linearity to the power delivery that makes this thing deceptively quick. It just flies.
The added traction of all-wheel drive gives you confidence in all weather conditions, as we found out going through areas with rain and roads splashed with tree debris, stones and the like.
On tight, lumpy country roads the RS3’s ride didn’t deteriorate even in its firmest settings. We played with the different modes, including dynamic and RS Performance, which not only firm things up and tighten up response, but also open up the exhaust valves earlier in the rev range so that signature five-pot soundtrack is almost always on.
The sound alone is a point of difference amongst the RS3’s rivals. Everything else is four-cylinder driven and the soundtrack is either too tame or too synthesised or contrived. There’s a baby R8 V10 vibe about this little hatchback.
Everything about this car on the road puts a smile on your face. And in this particular shade of green, you’ll get a lot of attention too – if that’s your thing, of course.
The RS3 is pretty happy at a cruise too, with the final stage of our road drive taking place over high-speed country highways towards Tailem Bend, with signed speed limits of 110km/h.
With standard adaptive cruise assist (cruise control + lane centring), the RS3 offers the same Level 2 autonomous driving capability as other A3/S3 variants as well as its platform mates, meaning this corner-carving hyper hatch is more than capable of handling a road trip if you’re game.
Unfortunately, handy assistance features like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist are unavailable for new orders due to the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, though the decent glasshouse and nicely-sized mirrors mean outward visibility isn’t horrible.
Audi’s adaptive cruise assist system also includes traffic jam assist, which will accelerate, brake and keep the vehicle centred in its lane in low-speed situations like traffic jams. It also includes emergency assist which will slow the vehicle down and pull over if the driver becomes unresponsive.
My only real gripe with regards to open-road touring is that the big wheels and thinly-sidewalled performance tyres generate a lot of road noise, which is already an annoyance in lower models. It’s more acceptable here somewhat given the performance intent, but on the flipside it’s also a near $100,000 compact vehicle with a premium badge.
We hit the track at The Bend the following morning, getting a few guided laps in the RS3 following an Audi Driving Experience instructor in an RS5. The Bend is a fairly tight and technical circuit, particularly so in the configuration chosen for this even. We got about three laps that progressively upped the speed.
Like the road drive, I was super impressed with the RS3’s turn-in, grip and road holding. It feel light on its feet and keen to point its nose wherever the wheel was turned, and we were moving with some decent pace.
Again that glorious five-cylinder turbo at full noise not only sounds epic, but blasts you out of corners in tandem with the sure-footedness of quattro all-wheel drive, and on the main straight I’m pretty sure I saw the speedo tick over 240km/h. Not bad at all.
For those that enjoy the odd track day, the RS3 is a stack of fun for all skill levels and genuinely quick around a circuit. After all, the RS3 Sedan did recently set a Nurburgring lap record for the ‘sports compact class, with a time of 7 minutes 40.748 seconds – a whole five seconds quicker than the previous record holder, the Renault Megane RS Trophy-R.
We also trialled the new RS Torque Splitter on the skid pan to see how rear-drive this variable all-wheel drive can be. It works, but it takes a bit of practice balancing throttle and steering lock to stop it from reverting back to a front bias when you lift off the throttle – or maybe I’m just hopeless.
- 19-inch Audi Sport cast alloy wheels
- 265/30 front, 245/35 rear tyres
- RS sport suspension with adaptive dampers
- Red brake calipers with RS logo
- Matrix LED headlights
- RS exterior design package
- RS exhaust system
- Metallic and pearl effect paint
- 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit plus with RS displays
- Head-up display
- 10.1-inch MMI touch infotainment
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto
- Wireless phone charger*
- DAB digital radio
- Audi connect plus services
- 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio, 680W
- Fine Nappa leather upholstery with RS honeycomb stitching
- Massaging front seats*
- Electronic tailgate (Sportback)
- Heated, folding and dimming side mirrors with memory
- Electric front seats
- incl. 4-way power lumbar support
- Memory function
- Colour ambient lighting
- 40:20:40-split folding rear seats
*Due to global component shortages, some standard and optional equipment items are not available to order
RS design package, Red or Green: $2150
- Steering wheel in Alcantara with contrast stitching
- Seat belts in black with coloured edge (red or green)
- Seat shoulders in Dinamica microfibre (red or green)
- RS floor mats in black with contrast stitching (red or green)
- Centre bar on front air vents in coloured finish (red or green)
Carbon package: $7400
- Carbon roof spoiler (Sportback)
- Carbon lip spoiler (Sedan)
- Black styling package plus
- Side skirt with inlay in carbon
- Exterior mirrors in carbon
RS dynamic package plus: $13,000
- RS ceramic brake system
- Red, blue or anthracite grey brake calipers
- Top speed increased to 290km/h
Matte aluminium styling package: $2000
- Matte aluminium finish exterior accents
- Honeycomb front grille in high-gloss black
- Exterior mirrors in aluminium
The Audi RS3 is unrated by ANCAP and Euro NCAP, though front-wheel drive A3 models wear a five-star rating.
Category scores included 89 per cent for adult occupant protection, 81 per cent for child occupant protection score, 68 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 73 peer cent for safety assist.
Standard safety features include:
- 7 airbags incl. front-centre inflator
- Audi pre-sense front (AEB)
- Pedestrian and Cyclist detection (up to 85km/h)
- Vehicle to vehicle crash mitigation (up to 250km/h)
- Adaptive cruise assist
- Adaptive cruise + lane centring
- Stop/go function
- Traffic jam assist
- Emergency assist
- Blind-spot monitoring*
- Rear cross-traffic assist*
- Exit warning*
- Hold assist (hill start assist)
- Park assist
- Front and rear parking sensors
- 360-degree camera system*
*Due to global component shortages, some standard and optional equipment items are not available to order
The RS3 is covered by Audi Australia’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty in addition to a 12-year manufacturer warranty for bodywork against corrosion perforation.
A five-year service plan can be purchased any time during the first 12 months of ownership for $3580. By comparison, a five-year service pack for the AMG A45 S costs $5150.
Two-year Audi Advantage packages can be purchased on top of the standard plan, which includes two more years of scheduled servicing and two years of roadside assistance beyond the initial warranty period for $3800.
In terms of real-world efficiency, our dynamic road drive and then track session wasn’t representative of real-world conditions, and didn’t yield a report-worthy efficiency readout given the spirited nature of the conditions.
Audi’s latest compact performance hero is a winner.
It’s fast, fun and looks bonkers, but is still capable of carting around your friends, kids and/or the dog.
It’ll beat supercars from the traffic lights, shame sports cars on the race track, and at full noise it shames all other current high-performance hatchbacks for aural pleasure. It also now has a drift mode to match the A45 and old Focus RS.
There’s heaps of personalisation options available so you can make your RS3 as unique as you, whether that’s subtle grey/black or eye-popping green or yellow. Plus, the optional carbon-fibre kit brings out the boy racer vibe to go up against the A45 S’s available aero package.
Sure, it’s not perfect – it gets a little noisy on coarse roads, some features are unavailable right now, and $90,000-$100,000 is a lot to pay for something based on a VW Golf – but it’s significantly more affordable than its direct AMG rival (more so if you compare the RS3 Sedan to the AMG CLA45 S) and equivalent equipment levels.
I’ll take an RS3 Sportback in Kyalami Green with the carbon package and carbon-ceramic brakes, pretty please.
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MORE: Everything Audi RS3