Audi’s hottest-ever hatchback, the RS3, made all the right noises, literally and figuratively, when it first lobbed in locally. The nameplate had lived shortly in other markets in gen-two (8P) guise but couldn’t hurdle the necessary ADRs. So Australia’s love affair really began with the arrival of its second iteration, based off the gen-three A3 (8V), in 2015.
With its hi-po turbocharged 2.5 five-cylinder, all-paw traction and 4.3-second 0-100km/h claim, it was instantly coined a giant-killer. For sheer performance, it was level above the likes of Volkswagen Golf R, among Audi’s quickest ever production cars and reset hot hatch benchmarks, albeit in direct competition with the just-launched and equally swift arch nemesis, the Mercedes-AMG A45. Independent media testing clocked it closer to four-seconds flat…
Initially offered as a five-door hatchback only, what made RS3 truly special was its wonderful straight-five engine plying 270kW and 465Nm. It’s tied to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a RennSport fettled quattro all-paw system with a multi-plate centre clutch, quick-ratio steering and massive 370mm eight piston front brakes. A wider front track, pumped guards, 19-inch wheels…it looks more menacing than the more affordable and milder S3 substitute, too.
Equally special was the price. The basic RS3, with passive suspension, nudged $80k. Start adding the fun stuff like ceramic brakes ($9k), fixed bucket seats ($4500), driver assistance updates ($2k) and the like and your RS3 could hit six figures. On that, the key Performance Pack ($6500) brought adjustable suspension, styling tweaks and carbon bits, a top speed lift (from 250km/h to 280km/h) and the bizarre spec twist of wider front tyres (255mm) than the rears (235mm).
That’s because while the RS3 is utter dynamite in a straight line, its formula made for a bit of understeerer on a racetrack where, presumably, you’d best tap its ultimate potential. Not to say it’s not a cracking back-road carver because the on-road pace the smallest RS model in the fleet could muster is quite breathtaking. It’s just not, famously, as playful a chassis as some other less- potent hot hatches.
Inside, the RS3 remains thoroughly contemporary, with Audi’s fine Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, full-featured multimedia (but no smartphone mirroring) and a choice of hard-core RS seats or (no-cost optional) milder leather-electric Sport pews.
By the time the sedan version arrived in 2016 (for an MY17 facelift) outputs had risen to 294kW and 480Nm bringing a sharper 4.1sec 0-100km/h claim. A plusher fit-out, including Nappa leather trim and added bells and whistles, saw pricing creep to $85k for the four-door versions, around four-grand up on the hatches, which could be personalized with one of four different Performance packs ($6k).
In 2018, the RS3 was removed from sale for 18 months due to issues with WTLP certification, returning in 2020 in re-face-lifted form and new (necessary) petrol particulate filter mods, if without noticeable performance degradation. High-spec Carbon Edition versions wanted for a few grand more than the regular hatch ($83,800) and sedan ($86,500). Adaptive suspension and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring was now standard.
For MY22, the RS3 was again revised in a guise sailing north of $90k, now powered by a 2.5L tune boasting 500Nm and offering claimed 3.8sec performance for a breed that just seems to get more potent and quicker with age.