Audi RS3 (2017-2021)
"The practical Audi RS3 Sportback and handsome RS3 saloon now have 395bhp and are faster than ever – but they come at a price"
- Impressive practicality
- Beautiful interior
- Extremely quick
- Expensive to buy
- Poor fuel economy
- BMW M2 more fun to drive
The latest Audi RS3 is available as either a five-door Sportback or four-door saloon. Both use the most powerful engine ever fitted to an RS3 – a 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol that produces 395bhp.
It sounds like an outrageous amount of power but the latest Mercedes-AMG A45 S has gone a step further by offering 415bhp, while the BMW M2 Competition has 404bhp. Four-wheel drive makes the Audi slightly faster off the line than the BMW, and makes the RS3 among the most practical cars ever to sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds.
Whether you choose the Sportback or the Saloon, the engine’s impressive power combined with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system means the RS3 is an extremely quick car from point to point. You can barely separate the two versions in terms of their grip, acceleration and attitude in corners, but they do each have a slightly different character – the Sportback being a little raucous, while the saloon is quieter and feels somehow more mature. It’s very much a junior Audi RS4.
And, like its Audi A4-based bigger brother, the RS3 is a very easy car to drive fast, with a clever four-wheel-drive system that ensures you can make full use of every one of those horsepower. While some may prefer the seat-of-your-pants histrionics of the rear-wheel-drive BMW M2, it’s unlikely to keep up with the Audi on a twisty race track.
One area in which Audi traditionally excels is interior design and finish and the RS3 is no different. It boasts a stylish, classy design inside, with plush, tactile materials on all the interior surfaces and standard equipment is generous, even though the regular Audi A3 it's based on has now been replaced with a new model. Saloon and Sportback both have plenty of rear-seat space for adults and there’s a decent boot – especially if you choose the Sportback, which has 335 litres of space.
The RS3 doesn’t come cheap, though, and on top of the base price there’s a long and tempting options list, including ceramic brakes, an uprated exhaust system and a top speed increased from an electronically limited 155 to 174mph. There's also an Audi Sport Edition with extras like 19-inch anthracite wheels, black exterior trim and an RS Sport exhaust. The Saloon costs about £1,000 more than the Sportback and the two versions compete directly against the Mercedes A-Class A45 S AMG hatchback and Mercedes CLA 45 AMG saloon on overall price.
Set aside the RS3’s rampant power and athletic looks and all the attributes of the Audi A3 shine through. It’s a safe car to travel in – Euro NCAP awarded the A3 a five-star crash safety rating – and Audi enjoys a fine reputation among owners and fans alike. It may not be the most dramatic compact performance car, but if you’re looking for a family-friendly, easy-to-drive and extremely fast hatch or saloon, the RS3 has much to recommend it.