The Audi RS3 is back and in new saloon guise. Here is our first chance to try it in the UK – but can it knock both the Mercedes-AMG A45 and BMW M2 off their perches?
When Audi launched the last RS3 in 2015, some bright spark at its advertising agency, doubtless tickled pink by the thought of a hatchback with a bisected, turbocharged V10 cylinder bank under the bonnet, had the idea of showing the car being ‘born’ to a tortured, sweat-covered R8 in a two-minute commercial.Setting aside its exuberant graphical detail – which inevitably and intentionally garnered mild controversy – the film is ultimately contemptible because in reality the RS3 had about as much to do with the R8 as Bhutan did with the birth of rhythm and blues.Sure, it possessed 362bhp and permanent all-wheel drive and could scorch from origin A to epilogue B in the time it takes to read an emoji; but its relationship to Neckarsulm’s spaceframe, mid-engined masterstroke stopped at a few shared chromosomes in the engine bay. Where the R8 was taut like a bowstring and just about as biddable, the RS3 stayed permanently riveted to the same old set of notes.Its replacement only really breaks the mould in one sense: alongside the familiar Sportback flavour, Audi has opted to make it available as a saloon, too. On paper at least, the decision ought to be as stymieing to the model’s desirability as having the bodywork made of placenta.The recent introduction of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 notwithstanding, compact saloons have typically proven about as popular in the UK as root canal; think Volkswagen Jetta or the Skoda Rapid or the Nova Belmont. But think again. Those models were viewed with withering suspicion because they looked funny: a symptom of putting a longer, three-box body on a comparatively skinny car. The RS3 is emphatically not skinny. Versus the A3, it has had its front track widened by 20mm and its rear by 14mm. And even if it had not, the car’s substantial 19in wheels and dramatised styling would likely ensure that its proportions appear agreeable.Consequently, there’s a harmonious, hockey-puck poise about the saloon that harks back to the B7 generation of RS4; coincidentally, one of the models that helped forge Neckarsulm’s current reputation for a certain kind of steroidal road car.In that respect, the new RS3 has been treated to a another round of under-the-skin injections. Its output, already deliriously jacked, has now been increased to 395bhp; meaning that, in metric terms, at least Ingolstadt can claim to have introduced 400hp to a hot hatch for the first time. (When it means ‘first’, of course what Audi really means is before Mercedes-AMG and BMW managed it. The fact that the Cosworth Impreza STi CS400 was producing 395bhp almost a decade ago, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X FQ-440 even earlier, is about as distant from Ingolstadt’s radar as the output of Caterham, Morgan or Lego Technic.) …read more