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Audi RS 3 Sportback

Click to view picture gallery“335bhp. Five cylinders. Seven-
  speed paddle-shift DSG gearbox.
 
Fast (very). Five-door Sportback
  body. But even if you
ve got the
  necessary £39,930, you still can
t
  have an RS 3...”


UNFORTUNATELY YOU CANNOT buy an Audi RS 3 because all 500 of this cheapest (!) and smallest-ever RS-badged Audi have already been sold. Of course, there's always the chance that some turncoat owner might sell you his but don't hold your breath because the odds of that happening are probably the same as winning the Euro Lottery…

A shame, because with four side doors, a practical estate-cum-hatchback body (hence the 'Sportback' tag), five seats plus an intoxicatingly pokey powerplant, the RS 3 could be that elusive — some might even say mythical — vehicle: the practical performance car.

So what impels 500 keen drivers to spend £40,000 on what is, without the evocative RS badging and quattro GmbH workover, a mid-level family hatchback? A drive to die for, is what.

“It sings while it works
and it’s an endearing
offbeat five-cylinder
melody that, in the upper
reaches of the rev-band
takes on a metallic snarl
best enjoyed in Sport
mode when the exhaust
system
s ‘sonic flap’
opens to let more of the
rich, bassy ‘RennSport’
(German: ‘racing sport’)
soundtrack escape
...”
Providing the RS 3's formidable punch is a five-pot engine lifted from the TT RS, a 2.5-litre that, courtesy of Audi's TFSI turbocharging and direct injection technology, pumps out 335bhp backed-up by 332lb ft of torque between 1,600 and 5,300rpm.

And it dishes it out on demand; serving up large jabs of torque whenever and wherever asked. And there's more than enough to launch the RS 3 off the line to 62mph as quick as a Porsche 911 GTS: in 4.6 seconds. The RS 3's top speed is electronically reined-in when it hits 155mph.

It's a muscular performer, showing off its grunt best in the important mid-range, although perhaps not as vocally as you might be expecting — in fact, it's generally quiet in the cabin.

Even so, it sings while it works and it's an endearing offbeat five-cylinder melody. In the upper reaches of the rev-band it takes on a metallic snarl best enjoyed in Sport mode when the exhaust system's 'sonic flap' opens to let more of the rich, bassy 'RennSport' (German: 'racing sport') soundtrack escape.

But the RS 3 is much more than a rip-snorting engine and a 'voice' that would boost the ratings of a Simon Cowell show. It's also more accomplished on its feet than the cast of Riverdance — and for that you can thank Audi's quattro 4WD system (and a Haldex centre differential) through which power is channelled to the road via a seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic gearbox.

And it helps, too, that the RS 3's suspension has been lowered (it sits 25mm closer to the blacktop than a standard A3) and the tracks widened (by 22mm). It rolls on machine-polished titanium finish 19-inch alloy wheels wearing low-pro 35mm 'rubber bands'.

All of which is excellent news for grip, composure and balance. Extreme speed and an unswerving feeling of safety aren't often found together in very fast cars — but they are in the RS 3.

If you were at the opera you'd want the best seats in the house; the RS 3's street theatre demands the equivalent. And you get it — a fine cockpit with the best seats. The optional Recaro bucket seats are heated and upholstered in fine Nappa leather, have great bolstering and provide fabulous support in exactly the right places.

“Strapped into the
track-friendly Recaro
bucket, the driver
can physically
savour the RS 3’s
charms — actually,
it’s more a case of
‘unleash the wrath of
the titans’…
Twist the key and
right away the
RS 3 is raring to go
...”
All the essential 'top-tier' equipment is present and correct including dual-zone electronic climate control, one-shot power windows, heat-insulating glass, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, DVD-based SatNav with Audi's foolproof MMI (Multi Media Interface), 6-stage heated front seats, auto-dim rear-view mirror, Nappa leather upholstery, 7-speed S tronic transmission with Launch Control, flip-up rear window blind, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, RS Sports suspension, quattro all-wheel drive, Electronic Stability Programme (with a Sport setting), Servotronic speed-dependent power steering, RS Sports flat-bottom steering wheel with shift-paddles, RS-specific dials and a Bose hi-fi.

The all-black cabin theme is lifted by differing finishes: aluminium inlays; satin chrome switchgear filleting; and tactile milled knobs. And the steering wheel is an inviting chunky-rimmed flat-bottomed RS item, its rim wrapped in perforated-leather. Instruments stand out for their clarity and exclusive RS design. Another special RS feature is the Driver's Information System's lap timer (it can also display boost pressure and oil temperature). And the digital mph display is a licence-preserving boon on public roads.

The 'Sportback' nomenclature implies a certain compactness but that doesn't harm the RS 3's five-door hatchback practicality. The rear seats will accommodate two adults in comfort, sociably separated by a wide, well-padded centre armrest. Three is definitely doable but two is the better number. A rigid parcel shelf caps the 302-litre boot but is easily removed and stored on the boot floor if you want to fold down the rear seats (they don't sit perfectly flat) and make use of the 1,032-litre loadbay. A nice touch is the flip-up mesh rear blind built into the rear parcel shelf.

Despite the high-end trimmings, like any good fighter the RS 3 has been weight-optimised: the front wings, with their fluently flared arches, are carbon fibre-reinforced plastic. And the weight-saving goes deeper: under the bonnet, the engine block is cast from strong but light vermicular graphite iron.

Like a fighter fresh from the gym, the RS 3's body is fit and lean: the sharp-end is marked out by a diamond-patterned, anthracite-coloured single-frame grille and deep apron flanked by LED daytime-running lights above widened air intakes; flared front wings, matt aluminium-look door mirror casings and prominent side sills define the flanks; and a large RS roof spoiler, high-gloss black diffuser and twin tailpipes sign-off the tail.

Strapped into the track-friendly Recaro bucket, the driver can physically savour the RS 3's charms — actually, it's more a case of 'unleash the wrath of the titans'… Twist the key and right away the RS 3 is raring to go.

“It grips tenaciously;
corners and esses can be
taken as fast as you can
physically keep pace with the precise race-
quick steering.
Turn-in is keen in the
extreme; you can almost
imagine you can feel
the rims digging
into the tarmac as it
claws itself round
...”
Slot the S tronic into Sport and you can almost feel a sizzle of anticipation through the powertrain. For good measure, also press the Sport button on the centre stack for sharper throttle response. There's Launch Control, but you don't really need it — just let the RS 3 rip and you catapult forward ferociously, with no scrabbling or weaving. You just GO.

Keep your right foot planted and the S tronic hangs on to its gears, each charging up-shift marked by an emotive 'woof' from the tailpipes. It grips tenaciously; corners and esses can be taken as fast as you can physically keep pace with the precise race-quick steering. Turn-in is keen in the extreme; you can almost imagine you can feel the rims digging into the tarmac as it claws itself round.

Reassuringly, the RS 3's stopping power is equally (and seriously) impressive: the high-performance brake system uses massive drilled and vented 370mm front discs (310mm vented at the rear) gripped by four-piston fixed callipers to provide all the progressive fade-free stopping you'll need either on the road or out on the track.

Trackdayers take note: the RS 3's ESP also incorporates a Sport mode that activates later intervention of the braking and acceleration retardation functions to enable greater adjustability; and for circuit use it can be completely switched off.

And Yes, the ride quality is on the firm side but nevertheless it manages remarkably well on most tarmac; comfort levels are fine for everyday driving — mark that down to an overall refinement that's definitely a class above. Even so, be kind: slow for speed humps.

For the lucky 500, one of the RS 3's core attractions is the blistering acceleration, which can be turned on like a switch at virtually any speed in any gear. Overtaking has never been easier. And yet it will uncomplainingly trundle along in stop-start rush-hour town traffic. And return as much as 31mpg in the Combined Cycle — at the end of a week's enthusiastic driving, our test average was a more than good 27.1mpg.

Now you understand why all 500 have already been sold; and, sadly, what you've missed. But there's always the lottery. And if your numbers come up, the endlessly entertaining RS 3 could be your perfect, practical performance car. — MotorBar

Audi RS 3 Sportback | £39,930
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds | Overall test MPG: 27.1mpg
Power: 335bhp | Torque: 332lb ft | CO2 212g/km