Audi A4 VS Audi RS3
- Classy cabin
- Looks terrific
- Great value
- No touchscreen - annoying!
- Squishy back seat with three on board
- Some hesitation at low speeds
- Tough styling
- Great engine
- Excellent handling
- Firm ride could be hard to live with
- Small dash display screen
- Interior too similar to regular A3
The current-generation Audi A4 range has copped it. It was only a matter of time before there was a Black Edition version, because it seems every car these days gets the special treatment.
And, no, it isn’t actually black - but it gets a bunch of black bits and heaps of additional extras, at not much more than the standard A4 sedan it’s based on.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW has its M-stamped cars, Mercedes has its AMG models and Audi has its performance-focused RS range. All three are taken very seriously, and rightly so, because the vehicles that wear those badges are the most hardcore road cars the three big German brands produce.
Even the smallest and most affordable (though the latter is relative) of them aren’t to be underestimated. Take the Audi RS3 Sportback, for example, which received an update at the end of 2017 that introduced a more powerful five-cylinder engine and new styling.
So, is the RS3 Sportback, with its almost 300kW and all-wheel drive, the ultimate hot hatch? Does it do anything better than its RS3 Sedan sibling? Or is it as unbearable to live with as a German flatmate who has recently discovered body building, spray tans and steroids?
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
There’s a good amount of value on offer with the Audi A4 Black Edition, not to mention a pretty flash cabin and sporty exterior design. I love the look of it, and that could be enough to get quite a few buyers over the line. For me, the wagon is the more appealing of the body types.
There’s no denying the A4 is often overlooked because shoppers gravitate towards the C-Class or 3 Series. Value-focused variants like this should help get people to look the A4’s way instead.
Would you take an A4 over a C-Class or 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The RS3 Sportback is going to take some commitment; the ride isn’t comfortable on less than great roads, but the performance payoff is outstanding. And at the same time, you have the convenience and practicality of a regular Audi A3 Sportback.
Like all RS models it’s a good compromise - just hardcore enough to be taking seriously, but just soft enough to live with every day.
What would you rather, the Audi RS3, a Mercdes-AMG A45, a BMW M140i or a Golf R? Tell us what you think in the comments below
The current-generation Audi A4 range may have been on sale for a while now, but it still looks as stylish as the day it debuted, back in 2015.
The angular LED headlights and rigid LED daytime running lights help give this car a strong signature on the road, with confident lines running from the front of the car to the rear, where the LED tail-lights anchor the powerful look.
Of course, the Black Edition takes the stylishness to a new level, with metallic paint included, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels in Audi’s signature ‘Rotor’ design, plus there’s standard-fit sports suspension that lowers the car down by 20mm over the top of those rims. It looks mean.
Plus the black exterior design package (encompassing door mirrors, a lip rear spoiler and side sill trims) and dark privacy tinted windows at the rear, along with the four-ring decal on the rear doors. The front doors get acoustic glass for better sound deadening, and there are four-ring LED puddle lights.
The cabin sees some nice Black Edition additions as well - check out the interior pictures below.
Hell yeah, there is. The RS3 Sportback is the hatch version of the RS3 Sedan, and it looks like a serious weapon - impressive, given it’s based on the incredibly sedate-looking A3 Sportback. Audi is magnificent at doing the Clark Kent-into-Superman trick, transforming its regular models into RS heroes.
There’s that big gloss-black grille with its quattro lettering and the splitter which wraps around under it, making the hatch look wide and low. Check out the images; it looks like an evil hover-car from the front.
The RS3 Sportback looks just as potent from the back, too, with its gloss-black and finned diffuser, meaty tail pipes and a roof-top spoiler that’s so sharp-looking it would surely be confiscated from your carry-on luggage. That front-three-quarter shot shows off the widened wheel arches best, too.
Our test car wore the optional 19-inch anthracite black alloys with the five-arm design (part of the $5900 'RS Performance Package 2'), but I think the standard 19-inch alloys with the matt-titanium finish look tougher. Red brake calipers are standard, but the back matt roof rails are an option.
Our car’s 'Ara Blue crystal' paint is a $2015 option, and so is the 'Panther Black crystal'. The only paint colour you won’t have to pay for is 'Nardo Grey', and while the rest are optional, they cost less than the crystal colours (at $1495), and include 'Catalunya Red', 'Floret Silver', 'Glacier White' and 'Mythos Black'.
If only Audi was as good at transforming interiors as it is a car’s outsides. Although the RS seats look great, the rest of the interior is almost identical to a regular A3 Sportback. I’m serious, I’m staring at a shot I took of the 1.4 TFSI Sportback’s cabin and another I took of the RS3 Sportback’s side by side, and they are pretty much the same, apart from the carbon inlays (part of the optional RS Performance Package), the Alcantara steering wheel and door trim, and the ignition button.
Compared to a regular A3 Sportback, the RS3 version is 22mm longer at 4335mm end-to-end, 15mm wider at 1800mm across, and sits 15mm lower to the ground at 1411mm tall.
What are the RS3 Sportback’s rivals? As a model comparison, there’s the Mercedes-AMG A45 - which looks like it’s ready to bite you - and there’s BMW’s M140i, which is low-key looking but never to be underestimated. An outsider that’s actually so closely related to the RS3 that it would expect an invite to its wedding is the Golf R – it has a less powerful engine, but it’s built on the same platform, shares much of the same technology and costs a whole lot less.
If you buy the Black Edition version of the A4, you get yourself some really nice additional bits and bobs, like colour ambient interior lighting front and rear, plus heated front seats and some S line sport interior trim elements like aluminium pedal facings, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Alcantara and leather trim with S embossing, brushed aluminium trim elements and additional adjustment to the front head rests.
The space on offer is pretty good - from a cabin storage standpoint, there’s little to complain about - bottle holders in all four doors, cupholders front and rear (the latter by way of a flip-down armrest) and there is a good storage area under the front armrest with a second USB port for charging - but you might find yourself using the cupholders for your phone, as that’s where the media USB port is. There are map pockets in the rear, too.
With two adults in the rear, there’s a decent amount of space - reasonable headroom, legroom and shoulder space.
But we had a few five-up trips in the car, and on one drive I decided to be a backseat passenger - I was in one of the outboard seats, and it wasn’t comfortable - there was a lack of leg and foot space, and the shape of the seat meant I was bending my neck inwards to avoid hitting the window / pillar on my side. This isn’t a car for five adults - but two adults and three compact kids could be fine.
I was pretty surprised at the boot capacity on offer in the A4 sedan. Personally, I’d go for the Avant wagon model in any instance, because I’m a wagon guy. But the sedan didn’t struggle with all the stuff I took with me on a four-day weekend trip (including supplies and bedding for four adults, two dogs and more!).
With 480 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up, the A4 sedan is bang-on against rivals like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 folding design, which allows a bit of extra flexibility, but they don’t quite fold completely flat.
There are practical benefits to the RS3 Sportback that don’t come with the RS3 Sedan.
First, legroom is better in the Sportback, but when I sit behind my 191cm-tall driving position, my knees are still digging into that thick seat back. Headroom is good though, thanks to that high, flat roofline.
Both Sedan and Sportback seat three across the second row, but you won’t want to be in the middle seat.
The Sedan has a bigger boot than the Sportback’s 335 litres of luggage space, but the Sportback’s hatch opening is larger and those seats fold down to give you 1175 litres of space. A mini-wagon of sorts.
Cabin storage isn’t spectacular, with a small centre-console bin and two cup holders up front, plus two in the rear fold-down centre armrest. You’ll also find large door pockets up front and two slim ones in the rear.
If you like nets, then make sure you’re sitting down because there are storage nets everywhere; in the front passenger footwell, on the seatbacks and in the boot to stop your oranges rolling away.
For your electrical bits there’s a USB up front and a 12V power outlet, there’s another 12V in the second row and a third in the cargo area.
Price and features
When I told my extended family that this car was $63,900 plus on-road costs, they were beyond impressed. Some thought it was a $120,000 car - which shows they aren’t car people, but also tells you that it looks more special than its price tag suggests.
That $63,900 price is just $2500 over the odds for the ‘regular’ A4 2.0 TFSI (140kW) model it’s based on - and for that money you get $7000 of additional kit. See the sections above for what the Black Edition adds - it’s mostly visual.
You can get a wagon version of the A4 Black Edition, too. It’ll cost you $3000 more, with a list price of $66,900 for the 140kW front-wheel drive version.
If that doesn’t float your boat, the standard equipment on this spec of A4 is the S line styling package with sportier front and rear bumpers than you’ll see on lower-grade European-spec A4 models, and in addition to the LED exterior lighting all around, you’d usually get 18-inch wheels with a space-saver spare wheel, where our Black Edition has 19s.
Other standard inclusions on this spec include auto headlights and auto wipers, tyre pressure monitoring, drive mode selection, smart key entry and push-button start, gesture boot opening, electric front seat adjustment, leather-appointed seats (including some fake leather elements), a leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters, three-zone climate control air conditioning, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Plus there’s a 7.0-inch media screen (not a touchscreen) with a rotary dial controller, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (which was patchy at best during our test), two USB ports, two SD card inputs, and DAB+ digital radio.
The safety specification of the Audi A4 is decent - see below for more detail.
As for colour options for the standard A4 model range there are only two are no-cost options, 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White'. There are 12 other hues available in metallic and pearl finishes, including two red, two blue, three grey, one brown, one green, one white, one black and one silver (all $1420 extra). This Black Edition model has four colours to choose, all included in the cost.
The RS3 Sportback lists for $81,900, which is not just expensive for a small car, but also compared with its Mercedes-AMG A45 rival, too - the other German undercuts it at $78,611. BMW doesn’t have a proper M rival in its 1 Series to go head-to-head with the Audi and can only offer up the M140i at $59,990, while the Golf R is $55,490.
The Audi S3 Sportback is the RS3's far less hardcore 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-powered sibling, and that one costs $73,000.
So, the RS3 must come loaded with heaps of features, right? Not really. You get some great standard stuff such as the 12.3-inch virtual instrument cluster, those awesome leather RS sports seats, which are heated but manually adjustable, the Alcantara RS steering wheel with paddle shifters, adaptive cruise control and auto parking. Then there are the things you’d expect on any car such as sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, the 10-speaker stereo, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control and LED headlights.
Then there is some disappointment: the standard display screen is tiny at seven-inches (have you seen the giant screens in the $47,200 A200?), Qi charging is a $325 option and you can’t order head-up display even if you want one.
Want ceramic brakes? That’ll be $9500. Which is fine. Tinted rear windows will cost you $910, and roof racks will set you back $780.
There’s a mountain of safety equipment, which you can read all about below.
And if you don’t like grey then you’ll have to pay for every other paint colour. If you’re wondering how much they’ll add to the price, I’ve listed them in the section on design.
Engine & trans
The A4 2.0 TFSI model we have is the front-wheel drive model, which runs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 140kW of power (at 4200-6000rpm) and 340Nm of torque (1500-4200rpm).
It is available only with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic.
There’s a second Black Edition version of the A4, which is the one with quattro all-wheel drive and a higher tune of the 2.0-litre engine (185kW/370Nm). That’s the one I’d go for, if the budget allowed.
The RS3 Sportback is special. It doesn’t just get a tuned version of a regular A3 engine - that would be an insult to the whole RS tradition.
Nope, the RS3 Sportback has a unique 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol lurking under the bonnet, complete with red bits on the engine cover (have a look at the images).
Five-cylinder turbos are a big part Audi’s performance history, and the one in the RS3 is the same that’s in the Audi TT RS, and with an identical output of 294kW (just under 400 horsepower) and 480Nm. The previous RS3 had a five-cylinder engine, too, but this new one is lighter, more efficient and more powerful.
How fast is the RS3 Sportback? It’s quick; we’re talking 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds. The TT RS is about 0.2s quicker, but the RS3 is having to shift 70kg more weight, at 1510kg all up.
Mash the accelerator and Audi’s quattro system sends the drive instantaneously to all four wheels through an active centre differential, with gears being shifted - quicker than you or I could - by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. No manual gearbox, I'm afraid.
Over my week with the car, I did more about 1000 kilometres. A lot of the time I had the boot full, two adults and two dogs on board. But in other instances I had five adults on board, running from town to town on a long weekend holiday.
My fuel use on test was just 7.1L/100km, which I was very impressed with.
I drove the RS3 for a week and put about 200km on the clock, but my actual fuel-testing route took in 81km and covered commuting from my house to the CBD in peak-hour traffic, plus a loop through the national park. For that fuel test I used 11.18L of 98RON (measured at the pump), which gave me fuel consumption of 13.8L/100km. The trip computer reported an average of 12.7L/100km.
Can you guess what Audi’s figure is for a combination of urban and open roads? Officially, the fuel economy should be 8.4L/100km, which is doable with motorways and conservative driving added into the mix.
This particular version of the Audi A4 range has always perplexed me a bit.
There’s another front-wheel drive model below it with a 1.4-litre turbo engine (with 110kW/250Nm), which I’ve driven and I liked quite a bit. And it costs about $5000 less than the non-Black Edition version of this grade.
Then there’s the model above it, which uses the same 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder but has quattro all-wheel drive and more power (185kW) and torque (370Nm). To me, that version is a lot more appealing, although it does cost about $8000 more.
The 2.0-litre in this version, with 140kW/320Nm, isn’t necessarily short of grunt, with Audi claiming a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.3 seconds. That’s not blistering, but it’s quick enough.
At low speeds the engine and transmission can be a little slow to act, with some turbo lag and dual-clutch transmission hesitation to contend with, but you do get used to it.
At higher speeds the gearshifts are clever and brilliantly slick, and the gearbox has a decoupling mode, which allows fuel saving because the transmission can be disengaged when you’re coasting down hills.
Even with the sports suspension and bigger wheels with low-profile tyres, the A4 was mostly comfortable when it came to handling inconsistencies in the road surface. There was some twitching over mid-corner bumps, but it never got out of hand, and around town with five on-board I had to ensure I slowed down for speedhumps, as it could be a bit sharp.
The steering isn’t as involving as a BMW 3 series, but it is light and easy to twirl, making for super easy low speed moves. At pace, there’s a reasonable amount of feel and feedback, but twister bends made for a little bit of understeer if you hit them with pace.
I didn’t particularly love the drive experience of this Audi A4, but nor did it upset me to any great degree. Sure, you get more handling purity in one of its rear-wheel drive competitors, but in regular day-to-day driving, it was decent. Just not overly exciting.
To be honest, my biggest testing gremlins were multimedia based. I had a lot of trouble connecting and reconnecting via Bluetooth, with audio problems aplenty. Plus the CarPlay system - when paired with a rotary dial rather than a touchscreen - is beyond painful.
It’s designed for a touchscreen, like a phone, strangely enough. That and the fact the screen looks out of date already, plus the reversing camera is pixelated… all of that let the drive experience down a bit.
If you’re going to live with the RS3 Sportback then you’re going to need to be committed.
The standard wheels are fairly big at 19-inches, the rubber is super low profile and the suspension is on the ‘ouch’ side of firm. So unless the roads around your home are super smooth, the ride is going to be less than comfy.
Our test car was fitted with the RS Performance Package 2, which adds Audi’s 'Magnetic Ride', but even with that clever adaptive damper system set in its cushiest Comfort mode, the ride is still firm. I don’t need to tell you that, with my wife and four year old in the car, the dampers were always in Comfort, and even then my captive audience complained.
For reasons unknown even to me, I personally spent way too much of my time with the dampers in Sport. And combined with our car’s Pirelli P Zero 235/30 R19 tyres at the front and 235/35 R19 at the rear, the ride on Sydney’s patchwork, potholed streets teetered on unbearable. On one mission to the supermarket about 5.0km away, I developed a headache just because of the jarring ride.
But when I was finally on a smooth and twisty bit of country road I quickly forgot the pain of travelling though the city. To be honest, out there in the hills on amazing roads, there were times when I wished the suspension was firmer and that the car was tauter.
Composed, controlled, confident and sharp, the RS3 Sportback is agile, with great turn-in and steering that’s always telling the driver through the wheel everything that’s going on. There’s a moment of turbo lag, but the power comes barging in before you can whinge about it.
Dynamic mode sharpens the throttle response, quickens the shifts, adds weight to the steering and firms up that suspension even more. The exhaust note also become throatier; snarling and crackling on the down-shifts. The traction is outrageous, too, and the grip from those Pirelli P Zeros is outstanding.
The RS3 seats are as good to sit in as they look – comfortable under you, supportive around you. But I’m not a fan of Alcantara steering wheels; they’re grippy if you’re wearing racing gloves but feel slippery in dry bare hands. Also, have you seen how they wear? Google it and prepare to be disgusted.
The Audi A4 four-cylinder range was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating in 2015, and that still applies today.
The entire model range has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection that works up to 85km/h, plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and Audi’s 'Exit Warning' system that will warn/stop you from opening your door into the path of pedestrians, cyclists or other road users. Driver attention assist is standard, too.
Also standard is a reversing camera (with a pretty poor, pixelated display, it has to be said) and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a package that includes a 360-degree surround view camera system and semi-autonomous parking, at an additional cost.
There are eight airbags fitted (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain), and the rear seat has three top-tether points for child seats and two ISOFIX anchors.
Missing from the safety package is any form of lane keeping assist, lane departure warning and radar / adaptive cruise control. If you’re willing to spend an extra $1900 you can have that stuff in a bundle with high-speed AEB, auto high-beam lights, and a system called 'Collision Avoidance Assist' which makes the steering extra responsive to avoid potential collisions.
The RS3 Sportback has a five-star ANCAP rating. Along with seven airbags, there’s an impressive amount of advanced safety equipment including AEB, lane-keep assistance, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and road-sign recognition.
For child seats, you’ll find three top-tether mounts across the second row and two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats.
You’re not going to find a spare wheel, the RS3 has puncture repair kit.
Audi - like its German luxury car competitors - offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is fine, but many mainstream brands are bettering that level of cover.
Further, there’s a three-year service plan you can choose, which covers the first 36 months / 45,000km of servicing (with intervals every 12 months / 15,000km). It’s not a capped price service plan, per se, as you have to pre-purchase it, and it will cost you $1620 (price correct at the time of writing).
Roadside assistance is included at the time of purchase, and spans three years - just like the warranty.
The RS3 Sportback is covered by Audi’s three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. It’s a bit disappointing that RS models aren’t eligible for the servicing plan that can be purchased for regular models.