8.0/10Score

Score breakdown

7.0

Safety, value and features

7.5

Comfort and space

9.0

Engine and gearbox

8.5

Ride and handling

8.0

Technology

Things we like

  • Quickest hot hatch you can buy
  • 5-cylinder engine is potent and sounds great
  • Ride isn’t overly harsh; could use it everyday
  • Beautiful, tech-infused cabin that’s also easy to use

Not so much

  • Tyre noise on coarse chip roads
  • Some cabin plastics feel on the cheap side
  • Boot is small, especially in the hatch
  • $100K is a lot for a hot hatch…

8.0/10Score

Score breakdown

7.0

Safety, value and features

7.5

Comfort and space

9.0

Engine and gearbox

8.5

Ride and handling

8.0

Technology

Things we like

  • Quickest hot hatch you can buy
  • 5-cylinder engine is potent and sounds great
  • Ride isn’t overly harsh; could use it everyday
  • Beautiful, tech-infused cabin that’s also easy to use

Not so much

  • Tyre noise on coarse chip roads
  • Some cabin plastics feel on the cheap side
  • Boot is small, especially in the hatch
  • $100K is a lot for a hot hatch…

Hang on a second…this is very un-Audi-like. I’m at the wheel of a Kyalami green Audi RS3 and it’s oversteering. Actually, scrap that. It’s power sliding. Audi’s new mega hatch is tracing big, graceful arcs around a skidpad and I’m using the throttle, not the steering, to change the angle of attack.

This newfound slidey-ness is courtesy of a ‘drift mode’ function and the fitment of a tricky torque-splitting rear differential but here’s the thing: the ability to perform lurid slides isn’t the best part about the new RS3. This car is a lot more sophisticated and polished than that.

Built on the fresh MQB Evo underpinnings of the new A3, Audi’s third-generation RS3 is now bigger, smarter and faster. But, and this is the best bit, it’s also more fun and more comfortable.

Unlike the manic Mercedes-AMG A45, which does its best to beat you up on the way to the shops, Audi’s new hyper hatch also has a softer side. Want the quickest hot hatch you can buy but also need an acceptable degree of ride comfort? This could be the car for you.

Question is, can a hot hatch really ever be worth six figures? Or should you consider an Audi S3 or a VW Golf instead, given they offer similar thrills for considerably less cash?

We flew to Adelaide to drive the new RS3 on track and on some twisty tarmac rally stages to find out.

How much is it and what do you get?

There’s no easy way to say this, so we’ll just blurt it out. The RS3 now costs $91,391 for the hatch and $93,891 for the sedan, before on-road costs.

It’s a huge amount of money for a grocery-getter and also a sharp spike of around $8000-9000 over the car it replaces. Ouch.

The value equation gets even stickier when you factor in models like the $65,990 VW Golf R and Audi’s own $72,391 S3 (both before on-road costs). Like the RS3 both are all-wheel drive, are only around a second slower from 0-100km/h, and in the VW’s case, also include a drift mode for sideways shenanigans.

But if ultimate performance is your goal, the RS3 is in a league of its own. It’ll rocket from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds, making it the quickest hot hatch you can buy, and it also has one of the most charismatic petrol engines currently on sale.

In a world of four-cylinder rivals, the RS3 continues with its iconic 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol.

Power is identical to the old RS3 at 294kW but it’s not quite a direct transplant from the previous car. Tweaked software and a bump in boost pressure have liberated an additional 20Nm for a total output of 500Nm and that full wallop of twist is available over a usefully broad torque band.

There’s also a new variable exhaust that dials up the aural aggression as you cycle through the drive modes. The previous RS3 was a bit tame in the soundtrack department due to its petrol particulate filter. This new model is noticeably louder.

Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, which helps the RS3 achieve its headline-grabbing 0-100km/h time but as we discovered on the skidpad, for this generation the system includes a new ‘RS Torque Splitter’ rear differential. Torque is still divided 50:50 front-rear but of the drive that’s sent to the rear axle, the new diff can send 100 per cent to the outside wheel.

It’s a clever piece of tech that helps to kick the car sideways in its ‘torque rear’ setting, but you don’t have to be sliding around a skidpad to reap its benefits. The diff also controls torque across the rear axle during fast road and track driving and the way the new RS3’s all-wheel-drive system works to control under- and oversteer is genuinely excellent.

There’s plenty of visual aggression on offer, too. Clock a new RS3 in the metal and it looks properly angry. It sits 10mm lower than an S3 (and 25mm lower than a regular A3) while the wider front track gives it a muscular, four-square stance.

Alloys are 19-inches all round and like the previous RS3 they’re actually wider up front than they are out back, which helps to quell understeer. The Bridgestones fitted to our car measured 265/30 ZR19s at the front and 245/35 ZR19s for the rear.

Clock a new RS3 in the metal and it looks properly angry.

Matrix LED headlights are also standard in Australia and they don’t only offer excellent illumination and the ability to mask out oncoming traffic but they also spell out ‘RS3’ in cool 8-bit graphics when you unlock the car, which is a nice feature.

A final piece of exterior design worth mentioning? There’s a new square cooling vent on the trailing edge of the front wheelarches that looks brilliant in the metal. It’s the small things, sometimes.

Inside, the RS3 is richly trimmed and well equipped. The driver scores fully configurable digital dials, there’s a head-up display as standard (a first for the RS3) and the central infotainment screen measures 10.1-inches.

Apple CarPlay is wireless – though annoyingly Android Auto requires a cable – and you also score a powerful 680-watt, 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.

How do rivals compare on value?

This is where things get interesting. While the RS3 might seem expensive in isolation, it’s actually cheaper than its key rival from AMG – and by a useful sum. Where the RS3 hatch starts from $91,391 before on-road costs, you’ll need an additional $6885 to buy an AMG A45 S.

It’s an even bigger jump between the sedan versions of both cars: the CLA 45 S is priced at $117,687 before on-road costs, making it $22,987 pricier than the RS3 sedan.

Across virtually every other metric, the RS3 and A45 go tit-for-tat. The AMG has more power (310kW plays 294) but the Audi is quicker to 100km/h (3.8sec vs 3.9).

In virtually every other metric, the RS3 and A45 go tit-for-tat. The AMG has more power but the Audi is quicker to 100km/h (3.8sec vs 3.9).

Both cars have drift modes, officially drink about the same amount of fuel and measure up as roughly equal for standard equipment and safety gear.

Another rival worth considering is the BMW M240i xDrive that starts at $89,900 before on-road costs. Like the RS3 and A45, it offers all-wheel drive but is armed with BMW’s silky-smooth B58 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo that produces 285kW/500Nm.

The downsides? It’s a coupe-only proposition and the 4.3sec 0-100km/h time means it can’t match the others in acceleration stakes.

Interior comfort, space and storage

Audi makes beautiful interiors so this should be a slam dunk, right? Weirdly, though, the RS3 makes a few missteps inside.

First up, the good stuff. Slip into the driver’s seat and the RS3 makes a brilliant first impression.

The touchpoints are finished with high-quality materials, build quality seems top notch and the cabin design feels modern and tech-infused but it’s also easy to navigate. Want to adjust the temperature or fan speed? Simply reach for a neat rocker switch below the HVAC screen.

Want to change the drive mode? Look for the Drive Select button on the far left or press a button on the steering wheel.

These might sound like minor details but in a world where many car-makers seem hell-bent on burying as many functions as possible into the central touchscreen, getting the basics right isn’t a given.

Seat comfort in the RS3 is a highlight thanks to heavily bolstered buckets trimmed in soft Nappa leather and the driving position is mostly spot on thanks to ample reach and height adjustment from the steering wheel.

A minor complaint? We wish the driver’s seat went a touch lower. It’s not a dealbreaker but strangely the passenger seat seems to drop lower than the driver’s pew.

Cabin storage is decent, without being overly generous. There’s a large centre cubby ahead of the stubby gearshifter that houses two USB-C ports and a wireless charging pad. There are two central cup holders and the door bins are roomy, although weirdly, they aren’t rubber-lined or flocked so objects can slide about and rattle.

As for general cabin space, the new RS3 rides on the same MQB Evo platform as the new A3 and it has grown in every dimension. There’s decent room up front and six-foot passengers can easily fit in the rear seats thanks to generous levels of head and toe room.

Knee room is on the snug side, though, with our legs falling just short of touching the seat in front. It’s also worth noting that we only tested the rear bench in the hatch. We’ll jump into a sedan soon.

As for those missteps I mentioned? The first concerns the quality of some cabin plastics. While the cabin seems richly trimmed initially, search below the beltline and you notice that the plastics on the lower doors and central console feel harder and scratchier than you might expect in a car costing six figures.

There’s also an unwelcome amount of tyre roar on coarse-chip roads but by far the biggest compromise with the new RS3 is boot space. Fitting the new ‘torque splitting’ rear diff has eaten up some valuable space and in the hatchback, the boot now only measures 281 litres.

That’s around 100L less than you get in the AMG A45 or a Hyundai i30 N, while a Golf R offers 340L. Happily, the RS3 sedan fares marginally better, with 321L of boot space, but neither car is what you’d call commodious when it comes to lugging stuff about.

What’s it like to drive?

In short, it’s deeply impressive.

THE BASICS
Engine 2480cc inline 5-cyl, DOHC, turbo-petrol
Power 294kW @ 5600-7000rpm
Torque 500Nm @ 2250-5600rpm
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch
Drive all-wheel
0-100km/h 3.8sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption 8.3L/100km (combined)

Our first taste of the new RS3 is on track and it only takes a few laps to understand that this is quite a different car to the models that have gone before it.

Previous versions of the RS3 have always been blisteringly quick but they haven’t been the sharpest or most engaging cars at the limit. This time around, though, there’s both speed and chassis talent to exploit.

The steering is on the light side but it’s quick and unwaveringly accurate, grip levels are high and the traction and punch out of tighter turns is addictively immense.

Push too hard and the underlying chassis balance falls into safe understeer, but trim your entry speeds a touch and the RS3 is an accurate and fun track car.

You can also alter the balance by cycling through the many drive modes that, among other things, tweak the behaviour of the new rear diff. Three new ‘RS’ modes join the usual suite of Comfort, Efficiency, Auto and Dynamic.

RS Individual allows you to configure the aggression of the powertrain and chassis through multiple stages and RS Torque Rear is how you tap into the drift mode function.

But it’s RS Performance that’s the most fun on track. It exploits the new rear differential to make the chassis as neutral as possible and it also winds back the stability control so you can enjoy small slides on the way in and out of corners.

If regular track days are your thing, Audi also offers two performance upgrades: stickier Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres and larger carbon-ceramic brakes. The rubber is worth considering but we’d question the value of the bigger stoppers.

Push too hard and the underlying chassis balance falls into safe understeer, but trim your entry speeds a touch and the RS3 is an accurate and fun track car.

As standard, the RS3 is fitted with 375mm steel discs with six-piston calipers up front and they provided excellent stopping power and modulation during our brief stint on track.

Even better news is how the RS3 performs on the public road. This has to be one of the quickest point-to-point performance cars you can buy, especially across Australia’s network of gnarly back roads. And much of that is down to how this new RS3 soaks up bumps.

The old RS3’s magnetic ride control has been replaced with a more sophisticated adaptive damper set-up and the wheel control and compliance on offer are superb.

Unlike an A45, which can skip and jump on poor surfaces, the RS3 breathes with the road and rarely feels harsh or jarring even in its firmest drive modes.

Does that make it less exciting than its rival from AMG? Possibly. The RS3 certainly feels more polished and less manic but, given its superior ability to keep all four wheels in contact with the road, we’d also wager it’s probably the quicker hyper hatch to hustle in the real world.

Then there’s the engine. Audi’s oddball 2.5-litre turbo has long been a core RS3 attraction and, as ever, it feels and sounds properly muscular and exciting.

Ample low-down torque is there to exploit too, which isn’t only a benefit out of tight corners but means the RS3 is a doddle to drive about town.

Throw in the extra bandwidth with which Audi’s engineers have gifted the chassis and this is a hardcore performance car that you could easily drive every day.

How is it on fuel?

Saving fuel isn’t a top priority for performance cars but Audi’s powertrain boffins have included some useful features to help you save money at the bowser. When you switch the car into its Efficiency drive mode, for example, the all-wheel-drive system favours the front axle in order to save fuel.

Power and torque are also trimmed to 80 per cent, although you still get the full whack if you deliver a large enough press of the throttle. Efficiency mode also allows for a coasting function that drops the engine to its idle speed in certain situations.

Officially Audi says the new RS3 Sportback drinks 8.3L/100km on the combined cycle, while the RS3 sedan is marginally more frugal at 8.2L.

From our long-term experience in driving the previous RS3 over a number of months, we’d wager you can expect a real-world fuel usage of around 10L/100km.

Warranty and running costs

Like all Audis, the 2022 RS3 Sportback and sedan come with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Capped-price servicing schemes are also available and can be purchased at any time in the first 12 months of ownership. A five-year service plan costs $3580, which works out at around $700 per service.

Owners can also buy an additional two-year Audi Advantage pack for $3800. This provides an extra two years of servicing and a further two years of factory warranty.

Audi also allows buyers to purchase two of these packs to use back-to-back. So for an additional $7600 you can effectively increase the factory warranty from five years to nine years and also cover your service costs.

VERDICT

Is it the best hyper hatch you can buy? That’s a tougher one to answer.

It’s a deceptively complex and deeply impressive thing, this new RS3. At first blush, it’s easy to dismiss it as a lightly reworked version of the old car that’s been fitted with a fancy new diff. But that’s selling it short.

This is a distinctly different machine to previous RS3s. It still offers incredible pace and grip but thanks to its new all-wheel-drive system, it’s not only more capable than ever but also more fun. Throw in a ride and handling balance that is surprisingly polished and comfortable and this new RS3 delivers enough of a leap over the S3 or Golf R to justify its lofty price tag.

Is it the best hyper hatch you can buy? That’s a tougher one to answer. While the RS3 offers a subtly different character to the AMG A45, the two rivals are so similar in performance and pace that it almost feels like a dead heat.

We feel a comparison test coming on…

2023 Audi RS3 specifications

RS3 Sportback
Body 5 door, 5 seat small hatchback
Drive all-wheel
Engine 2480cc inline 5-cyl, DOHC, turbo-petrol
Compression 10.0:1
Bore/stroke 82.5 x 92.8mm
Power 294kW @ 5600-7000rpm
Torque 500Nm @ 2250-5600rpm
0-100km/h 3.8sec (claimed)
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch
Weight 1570kg
Fuel consumption 8.3L/100km (combined)
Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
L/W/H 4389/1851/1463mm
Wheelbase 2631mm
Brakes 375mm discs with 6-piston caliper (f) 310mm discs (r)
Tyres 265/30 ZR19 (f) 245/35 ZR19 (r)
Wheels Alloy 9J x 19in (f) 8J x 19in (r)
Price $91,391 + on-road costs

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