ROAD TEST REPORT AND REVIEW: AUDI RS3
One of the first journalists to drive Audi’s new RS3, DAVID HOOPER, editor of wheelworldreviews.co.uk, travels to the Austrian Alps to test the car on the mountain roads where the quattro legend was born.
HIGH in the Austrian Alps, just south of Salzburg, an important group of decision makers had gathered. Unbeknown to them, they were about to witness the birth of a modern legend.
It was January, 1978, and it was snowing heavily. A group of development engineers had brought a prototype car they had been working on to Turracher Hohe, high in the mountains, in the hope of convincing Audi’s board members that it was worth putting into production.
Led by Dr Ferdinand Piech, the development engineers put the results of their endeavours through its paces. On standard summer tyres, it took the snow-covered Alpine pass, with testing 23% gradients in its stride, thanks to what by today’s standards, was a basic four-wheel-drive system.
Suitably impressed, the board members gave the project its blessing.
The Audi Quattro was born.
The concept was developed and proved its worth on the world stage as the fire-breathing Audi quattros took the world of rallying by storm, winning successive world championships in the hands of Hannu Mikkola in 1983 and Stig Blomquist in 1984.
The rest as they say is history.
It was thought at the time that the company would be able to sell around 400 cars in total. Today, more than 11,000 sales later, Audi returned to the Austrian Alps to launch its latest hot-shot – the RS3 – the flagship of the A3 range and the company’s third RS model.
I was one of the journalists let loose on the most challenging roads ever used by Audi for a press launch – the same Alpine pass where the prototype first proved its potential – and what a drive it was.
In a car packing a 340PS punch, the route would have been challenging enough on dry surfaces, but for our visit, the Heavens opened and gave the roads a liberal soaking.
It was Quattro weather! We left the hotel, picking our way carefully through the beautiful town of Velden, before heading out onto the motorway towards the mountains. Brief prods of the throttle gave my co-pilot and I a hint of the RS3’s potential. Its 2.5-litre straight five-cylinder engine makes a delightful rumbling noise as the loud pedal is deployed. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dismissed in a mere 4.6 seconds, supercar territory, while 0-125mph can be achieved in an equally impressive 17.5 seconds, thanks in part to 450Nm torque which is available from just 1,600rpm. Yet, it boasts the lowest C02 figure of any car of this type, emitting 212g/km and is capable of returning 31mpg on the combined cycle.
Power is transmitted to the wheels via a seven-speed S tronic twin clutch gearbox which can be left to its own devices, or controlled by the driver via the gear selector, or by paddles mounted behind the sports steering wheel. Changing up, the RS3 makes a fantastic deep booming noise, not too unlike the sonic boom of a jet breaking the sound barrier, while the downshifts are punctuated by a lovely blip of the engine, all controlled by the car’s electronics.
A practical, five-door hatchback, it’s quiet and refined to drive on the motorway, let it off the leash and the RS3 is devastatingly quick. It is also very well behaved. Audi’s engineers have done a superb job with the chassis and car’s underpinnings, which support it 25mm lower than a standard A3. Despite wet and at times very uneven, broken road surfaces, with rapid changes of direction thrown in for good measure, the RS3 was totally unflappable in these challenging conditions. A Sport button on the centre console, seemed an unnecessary addition, and apart from increasing the exhaust note, made little discernible difference to the car’s throttle response.
The ESP system was also very discreet. Only once did it intervene, and that was after I deliberately provoked it, on an uphill hairpin bend as I planted the throttle firmly into the carpet mid-corner to test its reaction.
Its braking performance was also a surprise. The four-pot callipers and ventilated front discs provided incredible stopping power in the wet, greasy conditions.
It was hugely impressive – so much so, that I would say that it’s probably the best Audi I have ever driven – and I was not alone in that opinion. Several journalists who knew what they were talking about, including another racing driver, were equally complimentary about the car’s road manners.
It looks good, too, in an understated sort of way. Discreet RS3 badges fore and aft give the game away, but enlarged air intakes, flared front wings made from carbon fibre-reinforced polymer, 19in alloys and extended sills are further clues to its credentials, while at the back of the car, a high gloss black diffuser and twin exhausts complete the picture.
Inside, the lucky owners are treated to sports seats, and either piano black or a new Aluminium Race look interior. The steering wheel is flat-bottomed, and the long inventory of standard equipment includes sat-nav, rear parking sensors and xenon plus headlights. Bucket seats and roof rails are available as options, as are even fancier wheels.
Positioned above the S3, the RS3 is the flagship of the A3 range and is the only high performance hatch with four-wheel-drive, which gives it a distinct advantage over its rivals, like the BMW 1 Series M Coupe, the M3 or the Mercedes C63 AMG.
The RS3 is a true halo car for the A3 range which is the biggest selling model in the Audi line-up, accounting for a third of all sales. No wonder then, the 500 car production run has already been snapped up by eager owners-to-be who have parted with the £39,930 asking price before they have even driven the car.
Without hesitation, I can promise them, they will not be disappointed.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: Audi RS3
BODY STYLES: 5-door hatchback
ENGINES: 2.5-litre, five cylinder, 340PS, 450 Nm torque.
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds. Max speed: 155.
ECONOMY: 31mpg combined.
ON SALE: Now
• All data correct at time of publishing.