Vijay Pattni27 June 2014

Top Gear drives the 520bhp Audi A3

0-62mph in 3.6 seconds? Count us interested. And just a little bit terrified by the mad Clubsport Quattro

What is it?

It might look like a mildly enraged A3 saloon with big, kerbable, fancy alloy wheels and some deft detailing. But it's not. This is the A3 Clubsport Quattro, and it's Audi's Crystal Ball of RS. It's also bloody mad.

You mentioned RS. I'm interested.

Thought you might be. It's the A3 Clubsport Quattro concept, built for the enthusiastic crowd of the annual Worthersee tuning event, and packing so many horsepowers you wonder if Audi has any left to spare for its other cars.

How many horsepowers?

520bhp. In any sane universe, a small, Audi saloon with nearly as much power as a V10 R8 supercar surely signals the collapse of civilisation and the coming of the Four Horsemen. And yet in this application, it sort of works.

Before we get to that, some technical information. Under all the paint and bling, this is the new A3 saloon, which means the new MQB platform and all the weight-saving goodness that brings with it. Into this chassis is fitted Audi's venerable and now five-time International Engine of the Year winner (in the 2.0-litre to 2.5-litre class) 2.5-litre turbo. Then, it all goes a bit Looney Tunes.

Though at heart the same engine you'll find in the Audi RS Q3, here it gets a much larger turbocharger with the capacity to pump out 1.5 bar of boost, a better, modified intercooler, a modified camshaft, a new intake and exhaust system and remapped ECU. Mention is made of the firing sequence - 1-2-4-5-3 - which gives the engine that distinctive RS snarl, and it's been hooked up to a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox and quattro all-wheel-drive. Obviously.

So is it fast?

You're better off asking what flavour you prefer your windows. The car has a specific output of 208bhp per litre, pushes out an impressive 443lb ft of torque, and because it weighs just 1527kg, boasts a power to weight ratio of 339bhp per tonne.

0-62mph? You're looking at 3.6 seconds, which makes it faster than the RS6. Top speed? 192mph. One hundred and ninety two miles per hour in a car a whisker fatter than a VW Golf.

So what's it like?

Our time was limited to a few hot laps and some standing-start bursts of acceleration, so it all came in a blur. Plus we had the head of Quattro on board too - Heinz Hollerweger - so the impetus to not end up in a tree with a senior Audi director on board was paramount.

From a standstill, you bury your right foot on the Clubsport's throttle and wait for everything to spool up and hook together. There's nothing. Then nothing. Then a little more nothing. Then, around 2,300rpm, everything goes ballistic. That monster turbo wakes up and punts you down the road with such savagery, you need to keep a steady eye on your surroundings. Lest you become part of them.

It's a laggy thing, in a magnificently old-school way. And we kind of admire its honesty. Big turbo, big power, lots of lag, lots of speed. As expected, keep the revs in the cooking zone - between 2,300rpm and 6,000rpm - and you'll experience an addictive and impressive turn of pace.

It sounds magnificent too; a snarly, hard-edged metallic noise that evokes enough ancient RS memory to confirm its bloodline. Sounds better on the outside than in, mind. In fact, inside, it doesn't shake and vibrate and threaten to break free from the chassis, as a concept really should. There's some noise, and then lots of speed. It just feels incredibly well bolted together.

What about its handling?

A few laps aren't enough to exploit this A3's potential, but it's very much a point-and-squirt kind of car. As long as you're in the right rev range, this thing accelerates out of bends with spite. The steering feels commendably hefty (you'll still want to feel something more, though), and turns in sharply and cleanly enough.

It's even possible to get that back end moving, which makes the Clubsport actually a bit of fun to properly throw around. Weight distribution is 57:43 front to rear.

Obviously, on a buttery smooth test track, the ride's harshness was impossible to tell, but 21-inch wheels, a 10mm drop in ride height and racing coilover suspension would suggest the need to exercise caution over distressed tarmac.

The brakes, meanwhile - huge 370mm ceramics up front - are immense. Get them up to temp and you can absolutely stamp on them to your heart's content.

And it looks good, right?

Agreed. Those flared arches - a la RS4 - and bolstered CFRP side sills give it a bruiser's touch. Then there are the silver mirrors, front and rear diffusers (for better airflow), that rear spoiler that doubles as a functioning air-brake (when travelling at speeds over 50mph), single-frame front grille, and round fuel cover. Inside it's pure A3, which is to say, wonderfully finished with a bulletproof dash and instruments.

Can I buy one?

Well, as we told you yesterday, this could be more than fantasy concept fluff. Depending on how the US and China respond, we could see an RS3 saloon by early 2016.

Audi's Quattro boss told TG.com that the Clubsport Quattro was an experiment to see how those markets took the small, RS saloon. Obviously it will never hit production with 520bhp - that was just a test of the engine's absolute limit - but over 360bhp? Much more manageable. And if it can retain that snarl, make more of a racket inside and ensure the ride isn't bone-breaking, we're interested...

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