Audi RS 3 review
“The Audi RS 3 is fearsomely quick but can be just as easy to drive as the regular A3”
- Engine sound
- Quickest hot hatchback
- As comfortable as regular A3
- Running costs
- Average warranty
The new Audi RS 3 Sportback is, for now at least, the UK’s fastest-accelerating hot hatchback. That puts the RS 3, which is the sportiest version of the Audi A3, above the Mercedes-AMG A45 S in the hot-hatch hierarchy. With nearly 400bhp, it’s in a different league to cars like the Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i30 N;, both in terms of performance and price.
You can also choose to have your RS 3 as a four-door saloon which, to our eyes, looks even better than the hatchback. Perhaps because it’s reminiscent of other fast saloons like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63, it feels a little more exotic than the Sportback. It’s less practical and £1,000 more expensive than the hatchback but will undoubtedly appeal to many RS 3 buyers. Its main rival is the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S.
The RS 3 uses a turbocharged, 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine, which produces quite a distinctive and exciting sound. For many buyers, it’s the reason to choose an RS 3 over the A45, while the now-discontinued BMW M2 is similarly tuneful thanks to a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine. Whereas the Audi S3’s 2.0-litre engine is used in nearly every VW Group performance car, the 2.5-litre is relatively rare; only the Audi TT RS and the sold-out Cupra Formentor VZ5 use it too.
The car is much better in corners than its predecessor, while Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system means its performance is accessible even in the most British of weather conditions. On a twisting B-road it is nothing short of phenomenal, and numerous settings let you tailor the experience.
In fact, the RS 3 might be one of Audi’s best cars right now. It’s certainly more exciting than the bigger Audi RS 5, despite that car coming with more power, a bigger engine and a chunkier price. The RS 3 brings pace that you’d have only experienced in a supercar a few years ago, and the optional RS Dynamic pack has some highlights that wouldn’t embarrass a Ferrari: a 180mph top speed and ceramic brakes.
Inside, the RS 3 builds on the A3’s excellent interior with lots of sporty touches, including bucket seats trimmed in very high quality leather and specific graphics for the infotainment system. It’s an expensive car, coming in at more than double the price of the cheapest Audi A3, but you’re unlikely to feel shortchanged given the performance. Although the interior is brilliantly high-tech, we wonder if it should feel more different from a base-model A3.
On both Sportback and Saloon models, there are three trim levels to choose from. Above the standard RS 3 are Carbon Black and Vorsprung editions, each with black exterior trim instead of silver, plus extra equipment. The Carbon Black version now adds a large roof spoiler, too.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Given the amount of power it has, the Audi RS 3 is unsurprisingly expensive. Not only to buy – it starts at over £50,000 and top-spec cars are considerably more – but it’ll cost a fair amount to fuel, tax, insure and maintain. Its 31.4mpg best-case figure isn’t too bad but that’ll quickly tumble when you put your foot down. Because it comfortably exceeds £40,000, the RS 3 is subject to an annual VED (road tax) bill of over £500 in years 2-6; after that, it drops to the standard annual rate applied to all non-hybrid petrol and diesel cars.
The standard RS 3 sits in group 35, while top-spec Vorsprung occupies group 40, whether you pick the hatchback or saloon. That’s roughly on a par with the group 41 Mercedes-AMG A 45, so make sure you get a quote before deciding to buy. The RS 3 is likely to cost more to service than a standard A3, due to the complex suspension system and highly tuned engine, while it’ll eat up consumables like tyres at a quicker rate than a lesser model. Choose the (expensive) optional ceramic brakes and you can expect another big bill when it’s time to replace them.
The RS 3 gets a fairly average three-year/60,000-mile warranty, whereas the Mercedes at least gets unlimited mileage over the same period. You can upgrade your warranty cover to four years/75,000 miles or five years/ 90,000 miles for around £500 and £1,000 respectively.
Engines, drive & performance
The RS 3 has the same five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine as the previous model with the same 395bhp output. However, more of the power is available lower down the rev range, so acceleration has improved. Taking just 3.8 seconds to get from 0-62mph, the new RS 3 is a tenth of a second quicker than the 415bhp Mercedes-AMG A45 S and is now the quickest hot hatch on the market. An option to remove the speed limiter enables the car to reach a top speed of 180mph, if you’re planning to do a lot of racetrack driving.
The RS 3 has always been rapid in a straight line but has previously failed to impress in corners. A new suspension system has been fitted to improve that aspect of the car, most of which is specific to the RS 3, and the car sits 10mm lower than even the Audi S3. Whereas the S3 leaves you feeling detached, the RS 3 keeps you entertained and coming back for more.
Audi has fitted something it calls a Torque Splitter, which can juggle power between individual wheels. For example, if you start to push wide in a corner, power will be sent to the outside wheels to bring you back into line, while the system can also deal with a slipping wheel to maintain grip on the road. The system feels a little unusual at first but learn to trust the car and you’ll be able to drive quickly through corners. This system is arguably the biggest upgrade on the old RS 3, and is one of the reasons why the RS 3 is worth the £10,000 price hike over the S3.
If the mood takes you (and you’re not on a public road), the system also has an ‘RS Torque Rear’ mode, otherwise known as a drift mode, allowing the RS 3 to go sideways in a flamboyant fashion.
Among the go-faster options you can pick are ceramic brakes. Usually reserved for much more expensive machinery, the ceramic brakes are a signal of the performance on offer. They provide excellent stopping power and can take repeated punishment – hot laps on a racetrack, for example – but they’re a bit grabby and it can be hard to use them smoothly on the road. Brake hard and they’ll emit a sustained squeak, which makes the driving experience a bit more theatrical.
The suspension in some hot hatchbacks, like the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R, never really settles down, so the cars can become tiring to be in on long journeys. The RS 3, meanwhile, is just as composed and as easy to drive as a regular A3 when you put everything in Comfort mode. The exhaust note also becomes quieter in this setting. Flick back into Sport and the car makes a much angrier and more exciting noise.
Interior & comfort
Slide into the RS 3 and you’re greeted by sportier seats than those in the regular A3s, plus red air vents, stitching and ambient lighting. There’s also a flat-bottomed steering wheel, which you can have cladded in Alcantara suede or swapped for a more traditional round wheel. Save for those changes and the RS driving modes, the interior is shared with the rest of the A3 range. We like the A3’s interior, with its quality materials, high-tech feel and stepped layout, the latter of which happily includes a mix of digital and physical controls.
There are three main trim levels to pick from now that the limited-run Launch Edition is no longer available (all 96 UK cars are now sold out). As you’d hope, the basic RS 3 still gets plenty of equipment, including 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, Nappa sports seats and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. Next up is a Carbon Black trim, with an extended black styling pack, a sports exhaust and upgraded headlights, while the top-spec Vorsprung edition includes extra driver assistance systems and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Options include adaptive suspension, a pack with keyless entry and a reversing camera, and the £5,000 RS Dynamic pack. The latter brings additional drive modes, including the aforementioned track-only drift setting, ceramic brakes and the increased top speed.
Practicality & boot space
There’s no three-door RS 3 for this generation, so both the hatchback and saloon make it easy for adults or children to get in the back seats. The RS 3 is wider and longer than the standard A3 but the differences are only in the bodywork. Luckily, both headroom and legroom are generous in the outer rear seats but, as with many cars this size, the middle seat isn’t so comfortable.
The standard Audi A3 Sportback and A3 Saloon offer 380 and 425 litres of boot space respectively but the RS 3’s mechanicals cut approximately 100 litres off both of those figures. The hatchback’s load space is poor at 282 litres; the saloon offers 321. While the saloon’s boot is a little bigger, the hatchback’s tailgate opening means it’s much easier to load large items.
Reliability & safety
The Audi A3 finished in 59th place out of the top 75 cars ranked in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey in 2022 but Audi finished in a meagre 22nd place out of 29 brands ranked. Some 19.4% of owners reported a fault with their car in the first year of ownership. The amount of RS-exclusive parts in the suspension means we don’t know how reliable this aspect of the car will be, but most other parts are shared with the A3 and other models in the VW Group.
A3 owners complained about the smartphone connectivity, interior styling and the infotainment system, but noted that interior quality was impressive. Practicality and engines were also praised, although the A3’s ride and handling was given a poor mark.
The RS 3 hasn’t been safety tested specifically but it shares the A3’s five-star Euro NCAP score. When tested in 2020, the A3 scored 89% for adult occupant protection and 81% for child protection, so there should be no concerns here.
Standard safety equipment includes hill-hold assist (to prevent the car rolling backwards when starting up from an incline), autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning (at speeds above 37mph) and collision avoidance. Top-spec models also get traffic sign recognition, a 360-degree camera, a head-up display and semi-autonomous driving capability.