S3 Sportback Vorsprung Edition
The Audi RS3 is dead. Long live the S3?
And just like that, you’re now looking at the ultimate small fast Audi. The flagship. The final boss. No, I haven’t had the engine tuned up to 500bhp, or treated myself to slick tyres now winter is waning. No, Audi’s done the hard work for me. It’s killed the RS3.
Feels premature, no? I thought so. Being a millennial whose phone has completely replaced my ability to remember when anything happened, I delved into my gallery of photos that never get deleted. And on 22 November 2021, I was in glorious south-west Wales shooting this test: the brand-new Audi RS3’s grudge match against the wild Mercedes-AMG A45S.
Less than 18 months later, the 395bhp RS3 is dead. A CO2 emissions victim? Out of step with Audi’s e-tron future? Apparently not: the official party line from Ingolstadt is that despite a base price of well over £50,000, the maddest, baddest A3 has been too damn popular. The order bank is full, and Audi needs to fulfil its waiting list before taking any more deposits. Since only one factory builds the necessary 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine – and it has to be shared by the RS3 hatch and saloon, the RSQ3 SUV and Sportback, plus the soon-to-die TT RS coupe and cabrio – motors are few and far between.
So, load up Audi UK’s website and the A3 range is now crowned by the S3. It’s 1999 all over again.
Does that make life easier for the S3? I think it has to. The ‘current’ RS3 is a magnificent bit of kit, because after years of disappointment Audi finally went to as much effort with the chassis as it did with the supremely naughty engine, treating the spiritual Quattro successor to a torque-shuffling rear differential that brought the car’s back axle into play – literally – when you arrived at a corner. The drift mode was clumsy, but when you just fired the RS3 down a slimy B-road, the sense of the rear tyres clawing at the surface and rotating the car through the turn was fabulously… un-Audi.
Now it’s off the table, the S3 is perhaps a bit less ‘second-best’. But as we now stumble blinking into springtime, I’ve got to admit to being a tad underwhelmed by the S3 as a rapid winter weapon. It’s never felt as ruthless as I’d expected. The gearbox is lazy: a twin-clutch doing its best imitation of a five-speed slusher. The balance is very definitely front-wheel drive with a reluctant delegation to the rear wheels if-you-absolutely-insist. The steering’s the worst of both worlds: absolutely no feel or feedback, but too much kickback and distraction from the potholes and scars opening up in our freeze-thawed roads.
Still, I have cause for cheerfulness. Firstly, the S3 is soon to take a little trip down memory lane, so we can actually apply some science to the theory that the S3 hasn’t moved the hot hatch game on enough during its near quarter of a century in existence. And secondly, some experimentation with modes has yielded spectacular results in fuel consumption. I’m taking 50 more miles per tank. More soon…