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The Top Gear car review:Audi RS3
For:Looks great, sounds great and - finally! - it's fun
Against:The price is BIG, the ride is FIRM
What is it?
The Audi RS3 used to be a missed opportunity. A classy, good-looking hatchback that’d had a rally car-aping five-cylinder engine shoehorned ahead of the driver, but without much sense of humour sprinkled in. It was almightily quick, but just a bit of a blunt instrument once the novelty of its gargling noise and whiplash-inducing acceleration had worn thin.
This latest generation is different, though. There’s a boot on the back for starters, with a four-door RS3 Saloon joining the five-door Sportback in the range. It’s also greener than before. If you spec it in the wonderful Viper Green above, that is.
More importantly, there’s been some fiddling with the oily bits beneath. The outgoing RS3 wasn’t a bad car, it’s just one whose dynamics have never been as lively or exciting as its howling five-cylinder turbo engine might lead you to expect. In a world of drifting Ford Focus RSs and mad-as-a-badger Honda Civic Type Rs, it just wasn’t fun enough to compete.
The same Quattro four-wheel-drive system is fitted, but it comes with new software. So while the RS3 could send 100 per cent of its power to the rear axle before this mid-life update, it never felt as aggressively set up as you might hope.
In its new guise, the system never has a standard power split. Audi’s engineers say the ratio between front and rear axles constantly varies, to match both grip levels beneath and driver input inside.
There’s more power, too. The 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine produces a nice round 400PS, or 395bhp, which is up 33bhp on before. Additionally, the engine is 26kg lighter (thanks to an aluminium crankcase and magnesium oil pan, if you want to geek out).
That might not sound like much, but from a single component, it’s impressive. And crucially, it’s weight that’s been taken away from an important part of the car – the front end that was rather too keen to push on in corners, rather than turn incisively into them.
The top speed is 155mph, but Audi will lift this to 174mph with the right options box ticking. And that’s still limited. For a car this size, it’s frankly bonkers.
Its 0-62mph sprint also lives in a more serious part of the market. Audi quotes 4.1 seconds – 0.2sec quicker than the old RS3 – and we suspect it’ll dip below that easily. With the seven-speed S Tronic automatic gearbox linked to a launch control system, it’s all dangerously attainable, too.
Sensible numbers – on the new-fangled WLTP system – are 29.7mpg and 216g/km of CO2 emissions. Prices start at a whisker over £46,000 for the Sportback, with the Saloon commanding another £1,000.