This is a segment with plenty of action. So where does one of the older players in this part of the market stand against its new competitors? Well, you might be surprised just how well it still stacks up, despite having first launched here more than three years ago.
There’s an all-new, powered-up RS3 expected in 2021, but the brand is seeing out the current model range with a new variant, the Carbon Edition, which is tested here. Is it still worth considering? You’ll have to read the lot to find out.
Audi RS3 2020: 2.5 Tfsi Quattro Carbon Editn
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Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The list price of the regular Audi RS3 sedan is now $86,500 plus on-road costs, which means it’s a bit pricier than when it first launched (at $84,900). That comes down to currency fluctuations over the past few years, as nothing has really changed over the period since launch in March 2017.
It’s worth noting there is a new addition to the 2020 RS3 sedan range - the RS3 Carbon Edition, as tested here - which lists at $89,900 (MSRP) and has no mechanical changes compared to the standard model, but gets a number of design changes which we’ll cover off in the next section.
That means it is considerably more expensive than the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe ($72,990) and even the Mercedes CLA35 ($85,500), though the RS3 has considerably more grunt than those cars - in fact, it’s closer in terms of engine specs to the CLA45 S, though that model lists at a huge $111,200. More on horsepower below.
The gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels are eye-catching.
And of course, the RS3 sedan is only one part of the RS3 range - you might also be interested to look at the Sportback hatch version, which is more affordable ($83,800). You can get it in Carbon Edition trim, too, at $87,200.
What do you get in the RS3? Standard equipment includes: 19-inch alloy wheels in matt titanium, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights with dynamic indicators, matt aluminium window surrounds, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a body kit, rear spoiler, auto headlights with auto high-beam, auto wipers, heated side mirrors with passenger’s-side auto-dipping when reversing.
Standard are LED headlights and LED daytime running lights.
There are LED rear lights with dynamic indicators.
At the rear of the RS3 is a blacked-out spoiler.
Further standard gear includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic assist, Audi drive select with four different modes (Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Individual), electric front seat adjustment, front seat heating, Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, 7.0-inch media screen with MMI touch dial controller, sat nav, Audi connect online services and Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, wireless phone charging, two USB ports and DAB digital radio, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers.
The pop-up 7.0-inch media screen is tiny.
For a full breakdown of the standard safety inclusions, see the safety section below.
Our test vehicle had Nardo Grey paint, one of several no-cost optional colours that also includes Mythos Black Metallic, Kyalami Green, Daytona Grey Pearl, Tango Red Metallic, Florett Silver metallic and Glacier White metallic. Two Crystal Peal colours will cost you an extra $728: Ara Blue and Panther Black.
Our car further had the RS design package for $1950. More on that in the design section below.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
I’ve long thought the Audi A3 sedan, and therefore the Audi RS3, is the most compellingly design small sedan of the modern era - possibly ever. Not many compact three-box models have the proportions and lines that this model has, and even seven years after the current-gen A3 launched this body style still looks gorgeous.
And in RS3 guise it cuts a striking figure, with the Carbon Edition adding plenty of eye-catching elements including different gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels, a gloss black exterior styling pack (logos and Audi rings in black), a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, and Carbon mirrors. The Carbon Pack also gets rid of the matt aluminium window surrounds in exchange for black finishes.
The Audi A3/RS3 is the most compellingly design small sedan of the modern era.
All told, it looks extremely sleek and surprisingly modern, given the age of the platform. The interior isn’t quite as up to date, though - more on that below.
But this particular test car had the RS design package inside, which adds a number of nice additions such as black armrests with red stitching, Alcantara trimmed knee pads on the centre console (also with red stitching) to stop you bumping your knees against hard plastic when you’re out on the track, as well as red surrounds on the air vents, red trim on the outboard seat belts, and floor mats with RS3 logos and red stitch.
The interior isn’t quite as up to date.
In terms of size, it is still a compact and urban-friendly offering, with dimensions of 4479mm long (on a 2628mm wheelbase), 1802mm wide and 1406mm tall.
I mentioned the interior is starting to look a bit old, and that’s because this design - while revolutionary back in 2013 when this generation of A3 sedan launched - hasn’t changed much over the years.
Sure you can now get it with the tech you’d want, like the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster which looks amazing, and the media system with the latest smartphone mirroring tech and wireless phone charging. But the screen itself isn’t touch-capacitive, and that means you have to use the rotary dial to go through menus - that’s not how smartphones were designed. You’re supposed to touch the screen.
The RS3 scores Audi's 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster.
So the concept of phone mirroring is flawed, here. It is good to be able to use your phone’s apps, but it’s not as easy to use as it should be.
Thankfully the media unit is teamed to an excellent, punchy sound system, and it’s the sort of car you’ll want to listen to your favourite albums in, rather than boring time-burning podcasts. It takes a certain drive experience to elicit that reaction - well, for me it does.
It’s a shame the dashboard design is looking rather plain by modern standards. The pop-up (even retractable) media screen is comparatively tiny, and while the ergonomics are good and all the buttons and switches feel of a high quality, it just isn’t quite as special feeling inside as the price tag suggests it should be.
Well, that’s until you see the sports seats. These are artworks, with beautiful stitching and superb bolstering and comfort. They really lift the ambience, and combined with the high-quality materials it feels sporty, but luxurious too. And the interior has the option of the black and red trim seen here, or black with rock grey stitching, or the blue-jeans-repelling Moon Silver with grey trim.
The sports seats are great with beautiful stitching and superb bolstering and comfort.
The seats are great, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to sit myself a little lower. I loved the feel of the part-Alcanatra steering wheel, too. There’s something about an abundance of Alcantara that just works (it’s on the door trims and the optional padded knee sections, too).
Of course there is dual zone climate control, seat heating and rear seat air-vents, and the aforementioned wireless phone charger is hidden in the centre covered armrest, and that also has twin USB ports plus a auxiliary jack.
Most other newer models have those ports and charge pads in front of the gear selector, but in the RS3 there’s not much usable space there. You can fit a wallet, but not much else, and behind it there are twin cup holders, and there are bottle holders in the doors.
Back seat space is okay but not great. My knees were hard up against the seat in front when it was set for my 182cm (6’0”) frame, and my head was scraping the lining as well. If you’re taller, you’ll also have to watch your noggin getting in an out as the door apertures are quite small.
Back seat space isn't great and foot space is limited because of the transmission tunnel.
There’s also limited foot space because of the transmission tunnel reaching from front to rear. But the seat comfort is very good.
The back seat amenities comprise a 12-volt outlet but no USB ports, and in the doors your find bottle holders while there’s a flip down armrest with cupholders as well, plus twin mesh map pockets.
While adults might find things a bit squishy in the rear (don’t expect things to be much better in any of its rivals!), there are dual ISOFIX outboard seat anchors, and three top-tether child seat points.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 9/10
Unlike all of its rivals, the Audi RS3 gets an engine with five cylinders instead of four.
Yep, it’s a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 294kW of power (at 5850-7000rpm) and 480Nm of torque (from 1950-5850rpm). As you can see, the power band is linear - despite the uneven number of cylinders.
The 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine makes an impressive 294kW/480Nm.
With so much performance and traction on offer, it’s no surprise the Audi RS3 has a 0-100km/h claim of just 4.1 seconds. That’s whether you choose the hatch or the sedan.
How does it compare to those rivals I mentioned earlier? The A35 sedan and CLA35 both have 225kW/400Nm, so you can see why I said it was a mismatch. The BMW M235i is closer, at 225kW/450Nm despite being a lot cheaper. And the CLA45? It punts them all on engine performance, with 310kW/500Nm.
Hey, there are rumours the next-generation RS3 will have as much as 331kW. So maybe wait for that car, if you’re really interested in horsepower heroism. But trust me - there’s ample grunt on offer here.
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
The claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Audi RS3 is 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which is reasonable for a car with this level of performance.
On test, across a mix of driving, I saw a return of 9.1L/100km. Not too bad.
The fuel tank capacity is 55 litres, but you need to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded petrol.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
There’s something really special about a five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.
The way that it builds pace and drama in such a linear fashion despite being inherently unbalanced is awe-inspiring.
The sound of your acceleration is actually more dramatic outside the car than in. When you’re driving and pushing the throttle hard, you’re rewarded with a muted roar - the sort you hear in movies when the kidnappee has been gagged with a cloth but can still make enough noise to get curious attention.
Outside the car it’s more prevalent, as the sports exhaust and heavy breathing air intake combine for plenty of road presence.
The sports exhaust provides a muted roar.
Audi has quite a history with this type of engine. And teamed with the brand’s “quattro” all wheel drive system and dual-clutch automatic transmission, the acceleration on offer is simply addictive.
The transmission is smooth and snappy when it shifts. In the sportier driving modes - with Dynamic selected, or in S on the transmission - the revs will rise and hold, before the transmission rapidly snaps to the next gear.
In more sedate driving - in Comfort drive mode in D - you will notice a little bit of low-rev turbo lag and transmission spool-up from a standstill. But if you do suddenly plant your foot on the throttle, it responds mightily no matter the mode.
For me, the five-cylinder engine offers a more entertaining experience than its closest high-power four-cylinder rivals. It’s quick, tremendously enjoyable to accelerate in, and just a whole lot of potentially-licence-risking fun.
With so much performance and traction on offer, it’s no surprise the Audi RS3 has a 0-100km/h claim of just 4.1 seconds.
The adaptive magnetic ride suspension is firm but that’s to be expected of a sports sedan with this level of intent, and in Comfort mode it actually settles pretty well. Even over repetitive pockmarks it never felt like things were getting clumsy or that it was tripping over itself. In fact it’s a beautifully composed car even in the most sporting drive mode, Dynamic, and over my drive it never felt like it was doing the wrong thing despite some challenging road surfaces.
There was immense grip and traction in tight twisting corners, and while the steering mightn’t be as pinpoint accurate in Dynamic mode as I’d like, it was still really easy to sew together a series of bends without ever feeling like things were getting out of hand.
I actually preferred to set up my own Individual driving setting, with Comfort steering and suspension but Dynamic everything else. In regular Dynamic mode the steering is a little heavy and dull while in Comfort mode the steering is lighter and makes the car feel a little bit more agile.
All told, I didn’t want to stop driving the RS3 - even after 700km. It bodes well for the next-generation model, that’s for sure.
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
The Audi RS3 runs with a five-star ANCAP crash test rating that was awarded to the regular Audi A3 range way back in 2013, and things have changed a lot since then. But so has the safety offer in the A3/S3/RS3 line.
The RS3 has auto emergency braking (AEB) which Audi calls Audi pre sense front which includes low-speed pedestrian detection - but unlike other versions of the tech that run under the same banner, the one employed in this generation of A3/S3/RS3 doesn’t have cyclist detection - the next-gen model is certain to. Also missing is a surround view camera and front cross traffic alert, among others.
In the RS3 you get seven airbags (dual front, driver’s knee, front side, full length curtain), and as mentioned above, there’s a reversing camera alongside front and rear parking sensors.
As mentioned, the game has moved on a bit - and we expect the next-gen A3/S3/RS3 to get considerably more safety technology, even if this existing model’s offering isn’t terrible.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Audi offers buyers the option of choosing a pre-purchase servicing plan, rather than offering a conventional capped price service plan.
That means you’ve got the option of a three-year/45,000km service plan, at a cost of $2320, or a five-year/75,000km plan at $3420. It covers most standard items, excluding brake pads or discs and wiper blades. Compared to AMG rivals, those prices are actually pretty sharp.
As you may have guessed, service intervals are pegged at 12 months/15,000km.
There may be newer competitors, but it could be said that the Audi RS3 - despite being a seasoned player in its segment - is a sweet spot offering for those after a compact, sporty and eye-catching car. I'd certainly have it over its closest rivals, even if it is getting long in the tooth.
It is due for some big changes soon and you just know the next-gen model will step up the game big time in terms of interior design and improved technology. But as a swan song, the final versions of the current RS3 in Carbon Edition trim see it out on a high.