The three German luxury car manufacturers all have performance divisions. Here production models receive a variety of upgrades to enhance performance – and profits. At BMW, these models carry the M designation, at Mercedes it is AMG and at Audi it is Sport, formerly Quattro GmbH.
Audi Sport models carry the letter “R” in front of the S designation reserved for lightly tweaked versions of the company’s product. Until now, Canadians only had access to the “S”- designated Audis – S3 through to S8. These are a significant improvement, performance-wise, over the “base” models, but they pale in comparison to the RS versions. Now, for the first time, Canadians are getting access to RS models. For the 2018 model year, Audi is bringing RS versions of the A3, A5, A7 and TT across the Atlantic.
I just spent almost two weeks, and 1,000 km with the least expensive of these – the 2018 Audi RS 3. This little hot rod is just plain fun – but expensive.
The elephant in the room – price
The sticker on the test vehicle read $62,900 before options, and delivery – $73,395 in total. The base Audi A4 comes in at $37,600. That jumps 25% to $46,900 for the S version and a whopping 67% for the RS. Since performance is the main reason for the grade steps, let’s look at what you gain at each point. Horsepower jumps 57% from the base to the S version and 115% from base to RS. In this respect the difference becomes more tolerable.
From behind the wheel, it becomes even more so.
While the power is addictive, this is a complete package. Everything from the subtle changes in appearance inside and out to the engine, stupendous brakes and pinpoint-accurate steering has been upgraded. At this price point you expect and get the full array of creature comforts and features, so lets move on to the important stuff.
This car is all about the engine
First off the engine – this car is all about the engine. The base and S siblings have a turbocharged four-cylinder producing 186 and 292 horsepower respectively. The RS has the industry’s only current five-cylinder engine. This one is a major upgrade from the unit used in older Audis. It is all aluminum, instead of cast iron, putting 26 fewer kilos over the front wheels. It is also laced with the latest technologies, including both port and direct injection. The result is a hefty 354 lb.ft. of torque from only 1,750 rpm and a willingness to yowl all the way to 7,000 rpm where the 400 horsepower peak is developed. The sound from the ridiculously-huge black tailpipes will have you grinning and the neighbours complaining.
All this power actually gets to the ground instead of being lost to wheel spin, through a seven-speed dual clutch automatic and beefed-up Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Fast? How about 3.7 seconds from rest to 100 k/hr. and the quarter mile in less than 12 seconds! The launch control system ensures all four sticky, summer performance tires grasp the road with the dual-clutch automatic firing off shifts like rifle shots. This unassuming little four door can embarrass many more expensive and better-known vehicles.
Reducing understeer a priority
Audi has employed a variety of strategies to reduce the understeer its nose-heavy products are noted for. Understeer is what you get when the front tires are no longer able to handle the demands place on them, losing grip and allowing the front of the vehicle away from the intended direction. Understeer is dialled into most vehicles for safety reason. But the engine in most Audis is hanging out ahead of the front wheels, exacerbating the problem.
The Quattro AWD system in the RS can vary the amount of power to the rear wheels from 50% to 100%. As the power to the rear is increased, that to the front decreases, so the front tires can use more of the available grip for steering and the rears use that extra power for accelerating. There is also a system that applies the brakes ever so slightly to an inside front wheel, helping tug the car into the turn.
Slippery surfaces welcome
The RS delights in slippery surfaces, whether an unexpected layer of sand or leaves in a turn or nasty winter conditions.
In addition to being a joy to push hard, the RS is equally capable of behaving like a lesser car, quiet, smooth and unassuming.
It all starts with the same, scalable MQB architecture found beneath a variety of VW and Audi products. The Audi TT RS is the closest relative. This two-seater gets the same turbocharged five-cylinder engine. The RS gets a wider track in front, thus the flared fenders, driver-adjustable suspension, bigger wheels wrapped in performance rubber with larger brakes within. Great brakes are an important factor in a vehicle that generates speed as effortlessly and quickly as this one.
The RS 3 is visually separated from its lesser siblings by the aggressive front end with additional air intakes for the big turbo and associated intercooler. It hunkers down on its unique suspension with a big 19-inch wheel at each corner. The rear is also unique for the diffuser beneath the bumper, flanked by those massive tailpipes. It is also aurally unique. The sweet sound from those twin pipes, especially through the sport exhaust system, can only come from a five-cylinder.
Unique sound from five cylinders
Inside there are a myriad of touches and features that help justify the price. As expected from Audi, the design, quality of materials, and manner in which they are applied is impeccable. The instrument panel boasts Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display. The flat-bottom steering wheel and heavily-bolstered, diamond-stitched sport seats on the tester were augmented by optional carbon fibre trim and an optional “Black Optics “ package that replaced much of the standard aluminum trim.
The one obvious downside is a relatively tiny rear seat. But if you want more room, there are more and larger RS choices for you!
The 2018 Audi RS 3 is an expensive, and exclusive compact sports sedan, with heavy emphasis on sport.
Model: 2017 Audi RS 3 Technik
Engine: turbocharged, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, 400 horsepower, 354 lb.-ft. of torque, premium fuel
Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch automatic
NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 12.4 / 8.3
Length: 4,470 mm
Width: 1,960 mm
Wheelbase: 2,631 mm
Weight: 1,633 kg
Price: $62,900 base, $73,395 as tested, including freight
Option on test vehicle: Nardo grey paint, $800; carbon fibre inlays, $900; sport exhaust, $850; 19-in alloy wheels, $400; black optics, $850