We’ve driven the RS3 hatchback, and liked it, but can the sedan match it?
Is this Audi RS3 the new sweet spot for performance cars? With the cars from the class above, like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63, cost $150k and up and also getting ever larger and more powerful with each generation, I’d argue something the size and oomph of the Audi RS3 make more sense.
In sedan form, it feels extra special. Somehow it always feels more unique, that by opting for it you’re defiantly not trying to keep up with the Jones’s.
Thankfully, Audi has persisted with the five-cylinder layout. You’d think the beancounters would argue hard for a four-cylinder – after all, the RS3’s five-cylinder lump only appears in the Audi RS Q3 and TT RS – but the Audi engineers are seemingly made of sterner stuff and won that battle.
Here, it produces 294kW and 500Nm, exactly the same figures as the new RS3 hatch and 20Nm up on the last version. Differences between the two body styles are hard to find – both crack 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds (0.3 seconds up on the previous gen) and both feature Audi’s new RS Torque Splitter. This torque vectoring system can send 100 per cent of the twist that reaches the rear axle to either rear wheel – otherwise known as a Drift mode.
Both also feature revised suspension set-ups compared to the last RS3. The front track has been widened by 33mm, there’s increased negative wheel camber and the dampers and valves have been overhauled. Features for Australian spec cars which will launch in Q2 2022 include adaptive dampers, 19-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero tyres, RS sports exhaust, and steel performance brakes with red calipers (ceramic are available). Pricing for the sedan is $93,900 before on-road costs.
Where the two cars obviously do differ is in bodystyle. The sedan is slightly longer and lower, by 153mm and 24mm respectively, but the flipside is that the sedan’s rear headroom is slightly more pinched. Certainly anyone over six foot would struggle in the back seats. The wheelbase between the two is identical, so legroom doesn’t differ at all.
The sedan’s boot is still a decent size at 321 litres. In fact, it’s bigger than the hatch’s boot under the parcel shelf, so if you’re not looking to regularly fold the rear seats, the sedan is arguably more practical. And certainly more secure.
The Audi engineers have done a good job of dialling out the understeer that has been a trademark of previous RS models: for a car where the engine is still mounted ahead of the front axle, this one feels much sharper.
Through slow corners, you still have to work it quite hard to get it to really bite at the front, and it doesn’t rotate around you on throttle adjustment quite like the ultimate hot sedans do, but it’s definitely more playful than RS3s of old. Grip levels are impressive, as you’d expect, and if you push hard on the exit of a slow corner, you can feel the rear starting to get some attitude. The improved steering helps. It’s still not got the ultimate levels of communication, but it doesn’t feel as leaden as in the previous gen car, and is sharp and progressive. Combined with the feedback from the chassis, this RS3 gives a more interesting and involved journey.
There are seven drive modes (surely no one needs that many), but auto and RS Torque Rear are the ones you’ll want to be in most of the time. The car does a good Jekyll and Hyde of being civilised around town and on the motorway, the adaptive dampers always firm but never too crashy, but when you flick it into RS mode (either via the 12.3-inch touchscreen or the button on the steering wheel), things really come alive, with sharper everything and a much more aggressive exhaust note.
The world will be a sad place when we stop building engines like this. Full of character thanks to its five-cylinder thrum, it’s sharp-witted and as punchy as the headline acceleration figure suggest. Add in the quattro four-wheel drive system and there aren’t many cars on sale that would be as effortlessly quick across a damp B-road.
Cars like these might be right-sized for the typical B-road, but they are getting pricey; the RS3 sedan starts at $93,900. But look past that, if you can, and this is a great addition to the pack. It’s taken the standard RS recipe of outlandish pace and built in improved handling – two elements that tick most of our boxes when it comes to performance sedans.
RS3 hatch or sedan? That’s a trickier one. There’s no tangible difference so it purely comes down to personal preference. On that basis, I’d go sedan.