Review and road test of the Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)

OPEN WIDER & SAY R

By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

This improved 400PS version of the second generation 'Typ8v'-series Audi RS 3 sold between 2017 and 2020 featured the most powerful production five-cylinder engine in Ingolstadt's history. Plus there was more technology, less weight, smarter looks and a more sophisticated interior. The result was a compact performance car that claimed class-leading status and aimed once more to rewrite the shopping rocket rulebook.

Models

5dr family hatch (2.5 petrol [RS3])

History

Did anyone ever imagine back in 2017 that one day, a model of this size would offer what would once have been seen as supercar-style power? In this improved second generation Audi RS 3, that's just what the market got: four wheel drive, formidable pulling power and 400PS. This was more than any car of this kind had ever offered before, courtesy of an engine that really set this model apart in this segment. That wasn't only because of its total output figure. Like V8s for AMG or straight sixes in BMW M cars, a tuned five cylinder unit is part of the DNA of a division which was once called 'Quattro gmbh' but which by 2017 was known as 'Audi Sport' - the Ingolstadt brand's performance division. That of course was the configuration used for the classic Quattro coupe that first established Audi's engineering credentials back in the Eighties and the brand returned to it when at the beginning of the century's second decade, the time came to expand its RS performance model line-up. Leading the charge in that regard was this car's predecessor, the original first generation RS 3 Sportback of 2012. This model used its 2.5-litre five cylinder engine to become one of the very first hot hatches to break through the 300PS barrier, offering 341PS and what was then seen as quite shocking levels of performance. Customers loved it and Audi sold four times as many as it thought it was going to. Journalists though, didn't, criticising the car's soul-less dynamics, lifeless steering and general lack of agility. A model of this kind, they told Audi, had to be about more than just ultimate grip and prodigious speed. The 'RS' 'Racing Sport' badge deserved something better. We got exactly that in 2015 with the original version of this second generation RS 3 model. Power was up to 377PS but primarily, development was centred on improvements to the driving experience. To aid agility, the car was lightened, while at the same time, the S tronic auto gearbox and the quattro 4WD system were redeveloped for faster reactions, plus adaptive damping became optional. It ought to have been a recipe for the ultimate super hatch and would have been had it not been for the subsequent introduction of a revised, more powerful 386PS version of this car's closest rival, the Mercedes-AMG A 45. The RS 3 might have been vastly better, but it still couldn't claim complete class leadership. This significantly improved second generation design stood a better chance in that regard though. For the second generation RS version of their TT sportscar launched in 2016, Audi Sport completely redeveloped their 2.5-litre five cylinder engine and the result was a switch to a significantly lighter aluminium block and a 33PS increase in power to 400PS. The obvious next move was to stick that powerplant in the RS 3, add a few styling tweaks and re-establish its class-leading credentials. That was the thinking that's led to the creation of the model we're looking at here, also available in Saloon guise as well as in the usual Sportback body style. It sold until the end of the 'Typ8v' A3 model line's production life in 2020.

What You Get

If you've got it, you shouldn't need to shout about it - or so Audi believes. Hence the subtlety of the changes made to Sportback and Saloon versions of this RS 3 in 2017 to differentiate them from their equally low-key S3 stablemates. As before, there was a choice of Sportback hatch or saloon body shapes. Either way, the major points of differentiation with this post-2016-era model lie at the front end where the three-dimensional black honeycomb grille lacks the bright aluminium cross-bars that feature on other A3 variants from this era and gets 'quattro' lettering along its lower edge. Underneath, a silver blade flows just above the lower splitter and turns up at either end into more purposeful-looking lower corner air intakes. Behind the wheel, it's all in the details. The flat-bottomed leather and alcantara-trimmed RS sport leather steering wheel with its contrast stitching is of course bespoke. So are the stainless steel pedals, the RS gear lever and the illuminated RS door sill trims. We really like the seats. They came in nappa leather-trimmed sports form as standard, but we'd want to find a car whose original owner had paid the extra for the brilliant winged, diamond-quilted Super Sports seats. They're anatomically-shaped and perfectly position you to view another standard cockpit highlight, the all-digital Audi 'Virtual Cockpit'. In the back, a six-footer can sit behind an equally lanky driver but it's a fairly snug fit and, as you'd expect from this class of car, three across the back only really works if the people concerned are of school-going age. The boot is 335-litres in size if you go for the Sportback variant. That's 5-litres less than you'd get in an equivalent S3 Sportback. Opting for the Saloon body style means you have to compromise quite a bit on cargo volume. Even though the trunk area is 170mm longer than that of the Sportback, the total capacity figure with that variant falls to 315-litres (down from 390-litres in a four-door S3).

What to Look For

The Audi RS3's 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is as tough as old boots and can shrug off big mileages. Look for accident damage repairs as the RS3 is so quick that an inexperienced driver can get into a lot of trouble fast. The alloy wheels are spectacularly prone to kerbing, so take scuffs and chips into account when negotiating on the vehicle. Check the condition of the front tyres as wear rates can be high. Check that the twin-clutch S-tronic sequential transmission engages all gears cleanly. One common problem appears to be a faulty Haldex clutch system pump, betrayed by a traction control light that keeps coming on.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on an RS3 2.5 (2019) ex VAT) RS3 parts are broadly reasonable if they're generic A3 Sportback bits. So, for example, an air filter is around £11, a wiper blade is about £4-£15 and an oil filter is around £6. Front brake pads are £70-£166 a set (rears at £25-£61). Rear brake discs sit in the £68 to £101 bracket. RS-3 specific tyres are £300 a corner. And yes, the front ones are supposed to be wider than the rears.

On the Road

Four wheel drive compact performance models that sit in this high powered segment are primarily all about the clever ways they can transmit torque to the tarmac. Rivals to this Audi came up with all kinds of sophisticated solutions for this that the engineers behind this improved RS 3 chose not to emulate, so as with the earlier version of this design, you get the brand's familiar Haldex clutch quattro 4WD system with its conventional open differential. Where the spec of this post-2016-era RS 3 does stand out though, is when it comes to the engine beating beneath the bonnet. Most rivals from this period use rather uncharismatic four cylinder powerplants, but with this RS model, Audi Sport gives you a gloriously emotive 2.5-litre five cylinder unit that now has a lightweight all-aluminium block and an unrivalled amount of grunt thanks to 400PS and 480Nm of torque. That's enough to fire you from rest to 62mph in just 4.1s to the accompaniment of a glorious metallic howl on the way to a maximum that would see you hitting 174mph if the speed restrictor were removed. So it's fast. But is it also agile and involving? The original first generation version of this car never was, but Audi Sport put in a lot of work to the original version of this MK2 model to try and change things, adding a stiffer chassis, torque vectoring for extra traction, a faster-shifting S tronic auto gearbox, more direct 'Progressive steering' and a re-developed quattro system capable of transferring up to 100% of torque from front to back. It all made a big difference to that 2015-era model and still helps considerably here. At the wheel of this machine, you're suddenly transported into a world where you complete a twisting section of your favourite country road and wonder whether a Hamilton, an Alonso or a Vettel could really have driven it much quicker. It's a route you might perhaps have covered a tenth or two quicker in, say, a BMW M3 - or indeed any supercar - but at the end of it, your palms and forehead would likely be sweaty, your heart pumping furiously. Instead of which your mind is still, Mozart's on the stereo and you're free to return to rumination on the kind of day whose toil has doubtless made purchase of an expensive super hatch possible in the first place. As for efficiency, well if you're interested, the combined cycle fuel figure is 38.0mpg and the CO2 return is rated at about 189g/km (both NEDC figures).

Overall

Audi will tell you that its 'RS' - or 'Racing Sport' - brand is about 'innovation, technology and performance'. Its customers though, have told the Ingolstadt maker that they want more than that. Future RS products must also feature three other attributes - soul, involvement and emotion. Earlier versions of this RS 3 came up a little short in these three areas: this 2017-2020-era version though, nailed them more effectively. Yes, it's very expensive - but very often, the people who think that are comparing this car to inferior, less powerful rivals. True, the whole idea of 400PS in a car of this kind might smack of overkill - but then this Audi is so well executed and so subtle in its outlook that you could own one without anyone realising that. You'd never be mistaken for a boy racer trying to re-live a second motoring childhood. And in summary? Well certainly, there are other compact high performance models in this segment from this era that might make your heart beat a little faster: the RS 3 still trades the last couple of percentage points of focus for genuine everyday utility. But it's also true that while that might make it a couple of seconds slower around the Nurburgring, it also makes it a better car for the vast majority of customers. People who live in the real world. A very fast world indeed.

Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch

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Overview

Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Manufacturer:Audi
Model:Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Category:Performance Sporting Cars
Rating:7 out of 10

Gallery

Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)
Car review: Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 - 2020)

Scores

Performace:
90%
Handling:
80%
Comfort:
60%
Space:
70%
Styling:
80%
Build:
80%
Value:
50%
Equipment:
80%
Economy:
70%
Depreciation:
50%
Performace:
50%
Total:
69%