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Audi RS 3 2023 review: Sedan and Sportback

One of the most serious small cars you'll ever see with performance to burn.
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Audi has already shown us the new A3 and S3. But if you've been waiting for the ultimate performance version of the platform, that wait is over as the RS3 enters showrooms. The RS3 has always been fast and grippy, but this time, it's also showing a brutal side that is pure muscle.

After teasing us with the S3, all-wheel-drive version of its A3 sedan and hatch (Sportback in Audi-speak), Audi has finally given us the full-fat, RS3 variant of the same car. Any time you see an `R’ and an `S’ on the badge of an Audi, you know it’s the full nine yards in terms of all-wheel-drive grip and engine performance. And the RS3 is no different.

The power is enormous, the grip prodigious and the attitude is way tougher than any other A3 variant. It’s also well equipped, safe and nicely put together. But is that extra `R’ worth the added price of admission? And is this more Audi A-Series than you really need?

The other question is, given that the S3 is such a resolved package with its own shot of high-performance, do the numbers stack up for the RS3 version? How much is too much?

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

What you’re buying here is not a car in a different size or luxury category compared with its S3 and A3 stablemates, but a car with a much broader performance envelope. So it’s no surprise to learn that a lot of the extra money goes into that type of hardware.

So rather than the class-standard four-cylinder engine, the RS3 gets a five-cylinder engine measuring 2.5 litres and enough performance to challenge many a supercar of just a handful of years ago. That philosophy also requires bigger brakes, firmer suspension and a more complex, track-oriented version of the electronic rear differential that can turn the car into a drifter or a race-track hero. Wheels and tyres are competition-spec, too.

In turn, those changes have forced other alterations such as the wider fenders and more intricate body kit, the former to physically fit the tyres, the latter to control air-flow for high-speed stability and for thermal management.

Other RS3 additions to what was an already well-equipped car in the S3, include lots of Audi’s trademark honeycomb styling panels around the car, RS3 puddle lighting, LED headlights and daytime running lights, carbon and aluminium interior inlays, RS sports seats with four-way lumbar support and a massage function.

There are RS3 puddle lights. (Sedan variant pictured) There are RS3 puddle lights. (Sedan variant pictured)

There are two USB ports, wireless phone charging, another pair of USB ports in the rear, Bang and Olufsen stereo, head-up display, tinted glass, heated, folding exterior mirrors and Nappa leather throughout the interior. There’s also Android Auto, a wireless version of Apple CarPlay and digital radio.

The RS3 uses Audi’s celebrated virtual cockpit display with a choice of display layouts for the driver as well as a 10.1-inch touchscreen to control all the connectivity and infotainment settings. It uses the latest version of Audi’s MMI interface.

The 10.1-inch touchscreen  features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. (Sedan variant pictured)
The 10.1-inch touchscreen features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. (Sedan variant pictured)

Like the other A3-based Audis, there’s a price premium for the sedan body over the hatchback, making the five-door RS3 a $91,391 purchase against the sedan at $93,891. Compared with the S3 CarsGuide tested earlier this year, that represents a pretty big jump from that car’s $70,700 (hatch) and $73,200 (sedan). That said, there’s a fair bit more going on in the RS3 in every department, but you get the sense that this comparison will be one nearly every potential buyer will make.

Like most Audis, there’s a range of optional packages, starting in the RS3’s case with the Carbon Package which brings carbon-matte inlays to the interior, side skirts, exterior mirrors and a carbon roof spoiler for the Sportback and a carbon roof-lip spoiler for the sedan. That costs $7400 on the hatch and $6300 on the sedan.

The Matte Aluminium Package is next with a few trim pieces finished in an aluminium material for $2000 extra and there’s also a panoramic sunroof on offer for $2600.

The RS3 wears 19-inch alloy wheels. (Sedan variant pictured) The RS3 wears 19-inch alloy wheels. (Sedan variant pictured)

The RS Design Package gets you an Alcantara-covered steering wheel, seat belts in green or red as well as coloured elements to the seat shoulders, floor mats and the air-vent highlights. Yours for $2150.

The most serious option is the RS Dynamic Package which brings carbon-ceramic brakes with a choice of caliper colour as well as an electronic reflash to bring the top speed of the RS3 to 290km/h from its standard (limited) 250km/h. That adds another $13,000 to the price.

One thing that’s nice to see is that Audi has made even the pearl and metallic colours a no-cost option on the RS3. Other manufacturers should take note.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

While the overall shape of the RS3 suggests evolution rather than revolution, the RS3 treatment has led to a much sportier look. We still reckon the sedan is the pick of the two body styles, mainly because it looks a bit more aggressive. Certainly, though, an aggressive look is not something either version backs away from, and those deep, wide blacked-out honeycomb grilles front and rear give the thing lots of presence.

  • The overall shape of the RS3 suggests evolution rather than revolution. (Sportback varaint pictured) The overall shape of the RS3 suggests evolution rather than revolution. (Sportback varaint pictured)
  • The RS3 treatment has led to a much sportier look. (Sportback varaint pictured) The RS3 treatment has led to a much sportier look. (Sportback varaint pictured)
  • The wider fenders gave Audi the chance to do some creative aero-management. (Sedan varaint pictured) The wider fenders gave Audi the chance to do some creative aero-management. (Sedan varaint pictured)
  • We still reckon the sedan is the pick of the two body styles. (Sedan varaint pictured) We still reckon the sedan is the pick of the two body styles. (Sedan varaint pictured)

So too do the blistered fenders, allowing for the extra track width that gives the RS3 its unique footprint. The front track itself is 30mm wider, but the wider fenders also gave Audi the chance to do some creative aero-management. Unlike, say, the Toyota Supra, for instance, with its faux vents up each side, the RS3’s lower-front vents and aero-slits behind each front fender are fully functional, directing air into the engine bay and away from the brakes respectively.

Another really neat function is the LED daytime running lights’ one-act play when you unlock the doors. As the car unlocks its doors, the LEDs spell out `R’, `S’ and `3’in sequence. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s a lovely touch that some manufacturers will never understand.

The RS3 scores LED daytime running lights. (Sportback variant pictured) The RS3 scores LED daytime running lights. (Sportback variant pictured)

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

Like the rest of the Audi A-series range, the RS3 is available in two body styles, a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. The five-door hatchback layout is the most practical of the two RS3 layouts, but both feature plenty of front-seat space and a rear seat that folds 40:20:40. 

Paddle shifters are mounted on the steering wheel rather than the column, so they move with the wheel. That can make it difficult to select the correct paddle in a hurry with lots of lock applied.

The Drive modes are operated by a switch low down on the centre-stack that is clearly designed for left-hand-drive cars. It’s too far from the driver and needs to be cycled through in one direction, rather than being able to select the next mode or the previous one.

  • The RS3's interior has a quality look and feel to it. (Sportback variant pictured) The RS3's interior has a quality look and feel to it. (Sportback variant pictured)
  • There's plenty of front-seat space. (Sedan variant pictured) There's plenty of front-seat space. (Sedan variant pictured)
  • The RS3 loses some space compared to the regular A3. (Sedan variant pictured) The RS3 loses some space compared to the regular A3. (Sedan variant pictured)

Beyond that, the interior is a lesson to other car-makers on how to get an interior right. There’s a quality look and feel with the possible exception of the plastic trim below the passenger-side air-vents which looks and feels a bit cheap. There are plenty of cup-holders and cubbies around the cabin with two USB plugs in the front and two in the rear (for charging).

The RS3 loses some space compared to the regular A3 because of the performance hardware. Where the hatch can take 282 litres with all seats in place (1104L with second row stowed), the sedan can swallow 321 litres.

  • The sedan's boot space is rated at 321 litres. (Sedan variant pictured) The sedan's boot space is rated at 321 litres. (Sedan variant pictured)
  • Cargo capacity is smaller in the Sportback, only being able to carry 282 litres. (Sportback variant pictured) Cargo capacity is smaller in the Sportback, only being able to carry 282 litres. (Sportback variant pictured)
  • Folding the rear seats increases space to 1104L. (Sportback variant pictured) Folding the rear seats increases space to 1104L. (Sportback variant pictured)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

While the five-cylinder engine is more or less a carry-over from the previous RS3 model, the end result is still a pretty stunning one. With 2.5 litres of capacity, the turbocharged unit accounts for 294kW of power (the same as the previous model) and 500Nm of torque (up 20Nm).

The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch unit that is quite a familiar sight around Audi by now, and the all-wheel-drive system uses a centre differential with an electronic clutch-pack on each rear axle to give the car a Drift mode (although Audi insists you don’t refer to it in those terms) as well as torque vectoring with the ability to shift 100 per cent of rear-axle torque to the either wheel to maximise grip.

The 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder produces 294kW/500Nm. (Sportback variant pictured) The 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder produces 294kW/500Nm. (Sportback variant pictured)

There’s now also an RS-specific exhaust system with an active flap to increase or tame exhaust noise according to which drive model is selected. The drive modes themselves stretch form Comfort to Auto to Dynamic, altering shift points, gear-shift aggression, throttle response and suspension firmness as well as that exhaust flap.

Brakes are enormous 375mm front rotors with six-piston calipers, that hardware forcing the fitment of a 19-inch alloy wheel (specific to the RS3) for brake clearance.

How much fuel does it consume?   6/10

Audi’s official combined fuel consumption figure for this car is 8.3 litres per 100km. Obviously, start using all that power and torque and that figure will grow significantly. Based on that, the car emits 190 grams of CO2 per kilometre, and with the 55-litre tank (which looks a bit small on paper) the range should still be around 600km between fill-ups.

The only catch with that is the high-tech nature of the engine means it requires the more expensive, Premium ULP at the bowser.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The RS3 hasn’t been crash-tested locally, but the A3 on which it is substantially based has been and scored five stars back in 2020. The caveat there is that that result related to the lighter front-wheel-drive version of the car, not the RS3’s all-wheel-drive variant.

The RS3 is well equipped from a safety perspective with seven air-bags including a head-level curtain airbag that protects occupants in both the front and rear seats. There’s also Audi’s Pre-Safe which closes the windows and sunroof and pre-tensions the seat-belts if the car thinks a shunt is imminent. In the RS3’s case, that program has been extended to include autonomous emergency braking which works at speeds up to 250km/h and can identify pedestrians and cyclists up to 85km/h.

There’s also a tyre-pressure monitoring system, lane-change warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane departure warning with active intervention of the steering, parking cameras front and rear, park-assist, and a 360-degree camera system with various points of view.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Service intervals for the RS3 are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Audi offers capped-price servicing for the RS3 at $3580 which covers servicing costs for the first five years.

The car is covered by Audi’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. The vehicle is also protected against body-rust perforation for 12 years.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

First impressions are that this is a typical Audi in the way it fits together beautifully and is made from quality materials. The ergonomics – particularly the virtual cockpit - are spot on and it even smells like an Audi. Noise is well suppressed, the controls feel quality and the front seats are comfy. But from there, the overarching view is dominated by that powerhouse of an engine.

The RS3's suspension is firm compared to the S3. (Sportback variant pictured) The RS3's suspension is firm compared to the S3. (Sportback variant pictured)

This isn’t just a quick car, it’s actually brutal in the way it builds boost almost immediately and then hurls the car down the road. To be honest, it’s almost too much, and the way the RS3 reels in the horizon will leave some drivers ignoring other sensory inputs in order to keep up with the car. Brutality breeds brutality, too, and the subsequent steering and braking inputs required when the throttle is pinned will not always be the considered, gentle type; they’ll often be gut reactions.

Thankfully, the rest of the driveline and platform has the smarts to make all this work. There’s awesome grip from the Quattro all-wheel-drive system and the car stays flat and steers in a fast, neutral but pin-sharp way. The dual-clutch transmission feels perfect for the engine, too, with ultra-quick shifts that become more aggressive as you ramp up the drive modes. Ride quality is good but we reckon there’s less bandwidth in the various drive mode settings than exists in the same system fitted to the S3 model we drove a few months ago. While the latter offered a broad range of suspension firmness, the RS3 seems to be a bit of a prisoner of its own performance, with Audi leaning all the drive modes towards a firmer setting in the name of body control.

The RS3 is brutal in the way it builds boost. (Sedan variant pictured) The RS3 is brutal in the way it builds boost. (Sedan variant pictured)

That’s supported by Audi’s decision to offer us some race-tack laps in the RS3 to safely explore its high-end tendencies. At this point, the car emerges as a proper track-day proposition, all that power and control blending into a car that loves being thrown around a circuit. Perhaps the front seats could do with a little more side bolstering at track-cornering speeds, but overall, it’s clear that the RS3’s brief does, indeed, include a degree of race-track use.

Verdict

If conventionally powered cars really are on the endangered list, it’s vehicles like the Audi RS3 that will remind us what we’ve lost. There’s so much fun to be had in this car, that you really need to take it to a track to tap into it safely and responsibly. And there’s the rub.

While there’s no doubting the RS3’s potential, neither is there any doubt that the driveline absolutely dominates the experience. In fact, we reckon the S3 with its more modest (but still ample) performance and friendlier nature is probably the smarter car for the everyday. It’s also cheaper by about $20,000 and while it lacks the aggressive looks, it’s still a charming car. Perhaps all the more charming for its easier-going nature and balance of abilities.

So why buy the RS3? Because it’s the one that will keep you entertained for longer if you’re a serious enthusiast driver. But if you don’t plan to use the car for track days, there’s a strong argument that the RS3 is way more car than you’ll ever need. Of course, that sentiment never stopped performance-car lovers, did it?

EXPERT RATING
7.4
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality6
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption6
Safety9
Ownership7
Driving8
David Morley
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$91,391

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data
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