Audi A4 VS Audi RS3
- Beautiful inside and out
- Terrifically comfortable
- Excellent tech
- a bit restrained
- warranty looking short
- not very emotional
- Tough styling
- Great engine
- Excellent handling
- Firm ride could be hard to live with
- Small dash display screen
- Interior too similar to regular A3
Audi's A4 is one of those cars that everybody likes. Despite wearing a German badge, it doesn't feel the need to bellow about itself. If anything, the A4 is so subtle you have to check it's not either its smaller sibling the A3 or its larger one, the A6.
In 2019, the A4 has a bit of a blue on its hands - the new BMW 3 Series is a belter of a car. The rivalry is now freshly-fired, with the 3 lifting its game in every single area, including the interior. And the C-Class is still going strong.
The A4 isn't a whole new car, though, it's the mildest of mild refreshes of a model we've had here for just over three years.
|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|
The 2019 Audi A4 is a classic case of failing to break something that wasn't broken. It's a pretty suave, elegant looking thing and that philosophy extends to the technology and the drive experience. It's such an easy to car to look at, live with and drive.
At this price point, you probably want a car to move your heart a bit, and that's where the A4 might fall short for some. But it's awesomely comfortable, quiet and powerful, shrugging off whatever you can throw at it.
It stands apart from its rear-wheel drive rivals with its quattro all-wheel drive and the elegance of its design.
Does the A4 have what it takes to combat the resurgent 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments 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 update to the A4 hasn't changed much, so it's as it was - calm, cool and sophisticated. The new, wider grille is an improvement - when you see the two grilles side-by-side, the bigger one just looks better and the front and rear bumper detailing is different. Nothing major.
Current Audi design thinking is starting to carefully add curves, but the nearly four-year old design of the A4 is resolutely straight-edged.
I don't mind that, but if you're looking for a bit more 'look at me', you'll have to go to the S4 or RS4. Even S line doesn't do a huge amount to toughen up the A4's visual appeal apart from the very cool design of the new for this year Audi Sport wheels.
The horizontal themes and gentle stacking of visual elements is calming and the materials are superb. Run your finger along the climate controls and enjoy the visual and tactile quality. Just a little thing, yes, but it's a lovely cabin. The ambient lighting is also nifty if you have it fitted.
And I'm still a big fan of the jet-fighter style transmission selector.
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.
As a mid-size sedan, it's not especially roomy, but is fine for four adults. The rear seats are comfortable with decent head and legroom, but you won't want to be much taller than six feet before you'll feel the pinch. Having your own climate control zone in the back is rather nice, though.
There are two cupholders in the front and another pair in the rear, and each door will hold a modestly-sized bottle.
The centre console is relatively shallow and topped by an armrest and that's where the USB ports are to connect your phone to the MMI.
The glove box is cooled, so it's a good place to keep your Mars bars, I guess.
Like all the mid-size German sedans, the boot is a suspiciously uniform 480 litres (I'm guessing it's probably more than that) and is a usefully clean shape.
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
The A4 45 TFSI quattro S line is a fairly long name and, obviously, wants to give you an idea of exactly what kind of car it is. The 45 TFSI bit I'll explain in more detail later, but it means a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, the quattro bit indicating it drives all four wheels and S line means some shiny wheels and other bits and bobs.
Starting at $70,300 before on-road costs, it's clearly head-to-head with the BMW 330i. Out of the box, you get 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, three-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a comprehensive safety package, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, the 'Virtual Cockpit', electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, power everything and a space-saver spare.
A 10.1-inch screen graces the dashboard and is controlled by a rotary dial on the console. Audi's 'MMI' system include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (without any of BMW's subscription nonsense), DAB+, CD and DVD player. MMI is an excellent system and coupled with the digital dashboard Audi calls Virtual Cockpit, it's a bit sci-fi inside.
'Our' car had a bunch of individual options: sunroof ($2470), metallic paint ($1950), nappa leather ($1950 and very nice, if you must know), a colour lighting package ($520) privacy glass ($1105) and heated front seats ($780)
The $1300 S line Sport package switches the 19s for Audi Sport five-spoke design with titanium look, dashboard and headlining in black, various aluminium trim bits and perforated leather, sport front seats with Alcantara and leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The $2470 'Assist Package' adds adaptive cruise with stop and go (it'll keep you moving in traffic semi-autonomously), active lane assist, pre-sense front (senses you're about to, or might, have a crash) collision avoidance assist, auto high beam and turn assist (tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic).
The 'Parking Assistance Package' brings 360 degree cameras and auto parking for $1235.
The 'Technik Package' adds the excellent matrix LED headlights a Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System and head-up display for $5600 - that's a fair bit, but the matrix LEDs tend to be very expensive on their own.
All of that adds up to a hefty $89,680 as tested.
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 45 TFSI translates to Audi's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo developing a not inconsiderable 185kW/370Nm.
Using Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, all that heads to all four wheels through the company's famed quattro system. You'll see the ton in just 5.8 seconds.
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.
The official combined cycle figure is listed at 6.5L/100km, and do you know what? I reckon you could get pretty damn close to that.
My week was almost exactly 50 per cent highway and 50 per cent urban battling and the outcome was an indicated 7.7L/100km.
If some of it had been of a less enthusiastic nature, I'm confident that number would have dipped under 7.0L/100km. Not bad.
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.
I had forgotten how quiet and smooth the A4 is. It may be that this mild 2019 update has further suppressed pretty much every sound, making this cabin the calmest in the class.
The A4 took us up to the Blue Mountains in virtual silence, only the garbage surface of Sydney's appalling M4 motorway ruffled the interior calm.
On that same motorway is one of the laziest pieces of road engineering, a join to a bridge that can sometimes be a bit hair-raising in softly-sprung cars and downright insulting in stiffer cars.
The A4 handled the resultant heave with exceptional ease and comfort, but watching the other cars ahead was as amusing/terrifying as ever. It made me appreciate how well sorted the A4's springs and dampers are.
And the same impression came from winding our way up the Great Western Highway to Katoomba, with its variety of surfaces, corner types and inclines.
The body control is impressive but the ride is super-refined, remarkable given the huge 19-inch wheels.
The 2.0-lite TFSI is impressive in just about any Audi it's installed in, and in this latest A4 it's even quieter and more remote. The stop-start is unobtrusive and as you cruise to a stop cuts out at higher speeds than most.
There is little to complain about - while the steering is certainly a big improvement over the previous (B8) A4, it can feel a little artificial and light.
The quattro drivetrain is entirely fuss-free but does take the edge off the handling, especially relative to the more natural steering feel of the 3 Series.
Not everyone's worried about that sort of thing, and that's perfectly reasonable.
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 A4 ships with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensors, brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, exit warning, active safety bonnet, driver attention detection and brake force distribution.
There are also three top-tether anchors across the back seat and two ISOFIX points.
The A4 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars, the highest available, in February, 2016. This car had a few extras and all were welcome, but had no effect on the ANCAP rating.
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 is stubbornly sticking with a segment-competitive three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and chucks in roadside assist for the same period.
If you keep servicing your car at an Audi dealer, you get another 12 months of roadside with every service.
Audi likes you to return to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km and you can either take your chances on the day or pre-pay up to three years/45,000km of servicing for $1710 or five years for $2700.
As you can see, the longer plan is better value for money (both are substantially cheaper than the diesel service plan).
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.