Audi, with their RS3 Sportback, have quite possibly gained the status of ‘King of Hot Hatches’ in a very bold segment with many a debate to be had over who is king. However, for most modern drivers, when they hear the name Audi, they will think one of many things; Vorsprung Durch Technik, Reliable, Good Quality, Premium, Expensive, Mundane, Last Forever, Family Car and of course the old Northern Ireland favourite; Diesel.
Now these are all pretty acceptable answers that I would expect to hear from varying walks of life and from varying ages with differing needs from motoring. Though when it comes to those with a bit of a passion for cars, and indeed a petrol-head you will hear answers such as; GrpB Rallying, 24hr Racing, Touring Cars, Quattro, Fast, S and RS Models and these are the answers that first sprung to my mind.
At a venue that can only be described as akin to a Royal abode, after a relaxed drinks reception, I entered the dining room for dinner, only to be greeted by Automotive Royalty from Audi’s heritage fleet in the guise of some of the aforementioned.
That’s right – Walter Röhrl’s 1985 Semperit Rally winning Quattro S1 which was also driven by Stig Blomqvist in Finland the same year and Frank Biela’s 1996 British Touring Car Championship winning A4 Quattro sat alongside a Quattro homologation road car. To be joined by such esteemed company from Audi’s rich motorsport history is something that I am grateful for, sometimes the statement ‘it’s just work’ can’t really cover moments like this, it was special, really special! Having spent a week in the previous RS3 Sportback a couple of years back, I knew what to expect from this model, but with a facelift and extra power, I was excited to ‘fire up the Quattro’ on a cold but calm morning in the Kettering area.
This latest RS3 Sportback sits perfectly with its siblings, featuring the signature Audi styling, incorporating front and rear LED lighting technology whilst the flared arches give inkling that it’s not a TDi with nice wheels and big exhaust. Finished in metallic Glacier White, this model tested features Gloss Black style pack as well as split width 19-inch alloy wheels that I will touch on later. You can’t help but notice the HUGE floating brake discs and extra-large calipers, a reminder that this car means business.
Luggage space on offer is suitable for a week’s shopping, a few kit bags and family life (so long as they aren’t too young with bulky prams) along with a spaniel or two and when I opened the door for the first time I couldn’t help but want to sit in the seats. Beautiful cross stitched, heated leather reclining bucket seats is the easiest way to describe them with their one piece back and more than generous bolsters all round to help hold you in no matter what the terrain or speed. The half leather / alcantara flat bottom steering wheel is easy on the eye whilst carbon fibre dash and door inserts really put a smile on my face.
If I was spending over £50k on a car however, (RS3 models start from just shy of £45k, plus options) I would want fully electric chairs up front, however I do understand that being an RS model this car is kitted with the manual seats to save a little weight. Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’ now features, utilising two screens as such – firstly, a retractable 7-inch screen that pops out of the dash and secondly a 12.3-inch screen in place of an analogue dial cluster behind the steering wheel. Between these you can split sat-nav, music streaming, car data, email and sms to name but a few things that could be viewed and adjusted using the drive wheel or touch-pad in the centre console. I will admit, I am not a fan of the pop-up screen as it looks a bit of an afterthought.
Wireless phone charging features alongside an utterly amazing Bang & Olufsen sound system, connectivity to Android and Apple devices is done with ease as well as the use of Google Earth being a big part of the tech on offer. So far we have established a huge amount of quality and indeed a huge price tag, especially compared to the likes of the VW Golf R or the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG which would be a fair enough comparison in the class.
In firing up the Quattro, I was beaming from ear-to-ear as the engine came to life with a few pops and bangs – Audi’s roots and success in rallying back in the mid eighties was with a five-cylinder engine and the Audi RS3 is blessed with a 2.5 litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with a soundtrack to match the heritage and stigma that goes with such a configuration. With 394bhp and 354lb/ft going through all four wheels to the ground via the seven speed dual-clutch ‘box, the RS3 is most certainly no slouch and with a manual shift option via the gear stick or paddles on steering wheel, as well as a sport mode in auto, this car has an option for everyone. There is even launch control as per most modern hot hatches and the Audi system is most certainly one of the most aggressive I have come across, once the car launches and the traction system sorts out optimum grip, it propels you like a homing missile, incredible technology that really works.
When driven in a spirited manner using the sport auto mode, it’s the best gearbox around for holding gears correctly and predicting what gear you need to be in. I had several blasts along meandering side roads and found it faultless, never struggling with gears at all and the brakes, well I reckon they could have stopped the Titanic from pending iceberg. Sportiness is all well and good, most certainly fun to be part of when you’re in a car that is aimed directly at having fast fun in, however when “moving”, the economy will drop to the mid-teens which isn’t ideal when it comes to the daily commute so a real world late twenties can be expected on mixed driving.
The Audi RS3’s ride quality is firm at best but very grounded and predictable with good feeling via the steering wheel, it is that quick from point-to-point, you often find yourself braking for most corners as it gathers speed like a fighter jet before cornering like a spitfire. Understeer seems to be an unwanted by-product of many all-wheel-drive systems and is something some Audi’s do suffer, but to combat this, Audi offer a spilt-width wheel option giving a front wheel and tyre that is wider than the rear, and with it, the ability to turn-in more precisely with much less nose pushing – a must option in my mind.
With a top speed on the model tested of 174mph (£1600 option over the 155mph top speed as standard), 0-62mph comes in a blink-of-an-eye, 4.1 seconds with safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, emergency braking and traffic jam assist all available. So is it the king of hot hatches? Well as far as a hot hatch goes in my head – NO!
A hot hatch should be something that needs driven at ten tenths, a car that you get out of shaking as it has been on the absolute limits. Modern day hot hatches however, will never do this, as technology and safety has progressed so far and indeed the modern day hot hatch is far removed from the 205GTi’s and Mk2 Golf’s we once fell in love with so bearing this in mind I will make my decision based on what a hot hatch has since become. YES – I do believe the Audi RS3 sits on the hot hatch throne due to its sheer pace alone! It is also the roomiest inside, thus being a perfectly practical daily that could easily absorb the odd track day, yes ok it’s £15k more than some of the rivals but I could easily talk myself into that extra spend!