Thruster » Audi RS3 Sportback


It seems fitting that Audi Middle East had recently moved their fleet of press cars to the Dubai Autodrome facility, in keeping with a long standing and illustrious heritage of motorsports. It definitely helps with parking your own car too, thanks to a vast open area near the paddocks. The Catalunya Red RS3 was parked behind a flurry of other Quattro GmbH models, including the new R8, RS6 Performance and RS7 Performance.

The arrival of summer means that there is little to no activity at the facility, no thrum of race car engines, no team personnel shuffling about; just absolute silence. In the absence of any noise, the smallest member of the RS family fires up, its 2.5-litre turbocharged engine emitting a distinctive five-cylinder sound not unlike many Audi models from the past. Sounds unique, and very removed from the (surprisingly) rather subdued noises of its mightier siblings."

Current RS models possess that strongman-in-a-suit styling - steroidal and bulging yet very restrained and tasteful - but the RS3 somehow takes things down a notch, which can be good or bad depending how you like your toast. Regular car people might pass this off as a slightly tarted up A3 on flashy wheels, but the enthusiasts among you would notice familiar traits - gloss black honeycomb grille flanked by LED headlights, bigger air inlets, flared fenders, matt aluminium accents and a pair of large oval tailpipes at the back. Discreet 'quattro' and RS3 badges do their bit to enlighten the uninitaiated as well."

Based on the MQB platform that also underpins the Q3 compact crossover, the new RS3 sheds a whopping 55kg over its predecessor, according to Audi. It is very similar in size to the racier-looking Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, though a touch shorter and a wee bit wider. Sitting 25mm closer to the ground, the RS3 conveys a sense of mild aggression rather than scream for attention; if you're one who seeks to fly under the radar, get one in Nardo Grey and you're good to go. Interestingly, the 19" cast aluminium wheels are fitted with wider tyres at the front, 255/30 versus 235/35 at the rear, in the quest for improved front end grip."

Applications of the turbocharged five-cylinder include the previous RS3 and TT RS, and more lately in the RS Q3. On pure numbers, the 2.5L forced induction mill is slightly edged out by the A45 AMG, which makes 14 more horsepower and 10Nm more torque; that said, 367hp and 465Nm are more than adequate in the real world, and straight-line performance is explosive for a small family hatchback, which it is in essence"

The VW Group's dual-clutch gearboxes have been a wonderful tool across the board, and it doesn't fail to impress here; gears are held in manual mode instead of automatically shifting up, a boon when attacking tight corners. On spirited drives, you're never left wanting for thrust either, thanks to maximum torque being available from 1625rpm all the way to 5550rpm, at which point maximum power becomes accessible all the way to 6800rpm. Blip through the 7-speed 'box, and 100km/h comes in a tick over 4 seconds, while top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h. Braking is strong and surefooted, thanks to 370mm and 310mm internally ventilated discs front and back (carbon fibre-ceramic brake discs are available for the front)."

Much like the exterior, the cabin is restrained, almost prosaic, but boasts typical Audi quality and top-notch materials, including Nappa leather, aluminium, and carbon-fibre accents. Exclusive for the RS3 are sport seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel, boost pressure display located in the rev counter dial, and a driver information system featuring an oil temperature gauge and lap timer. Standard kit is aplenty, like the fabulous B&O sound system, panoramic glass roof, MMI sat-nav system, and rearview camera to name a few. The front sport seats do a good job of holding you in place as things get hotter, and hot it gets!"

The blistering performance is accompanied by a fantastic five-cylinder soundtrack, made all the more exciting by the addition of a standard sports exhaust; you soon get used to turning off the B&O as a result. AWD grip is phenomenal, and unflappable in most situations, but even with torque going to the rear wheels as and when necessary to reduce understeer - Audi says 100 percent torque can be channelled to the rear - the front end does go wide when you push hard. This is not helped by the steering, which, while sharp and weighty, lacks essential feedback needed to pull in that last bit of detail. Ride is good over Dubai's glass smooth roads, but somehow never feels settled down, and the optional Magnetic Ride adaptive damping has a disconcerting tendency to thunk over even small speed bumps. The RS3 Sportback is indeed a very effective tool for rapidly covering distances, but I find its rival from Stuttgart more exciting and involving, if a bit less well rounded."

Perhaps the RS3's toughest challenger comes from a segment below, and from within the extended family - the Volkswagen Golf R. It's not an obvious rival, courtesy an 87hp deficit and nearly 60K dirham lower price point, but in the real world, the Golf R is similarly useable and the shortage of power is not that apparent unless you drive them back to back. And the most important bit? We feel the hottest Golf offers a more involving drive than its pricier cousin.

Engine: 2480cc inline-five turbo
Layout: Front engine/AWD
Power: 367hp @ 5550-6800rpm
Torque: 465Nm @ 1625-5550rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch

Base price: AED 211,000
As tested: AED 222,500"