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2018 Audi RS3 Sportback review

By Dylan Campbell, 02 Apr 2018 Reviews

2018 Audi RS3 Sportback

New engine makes RS3 one seriously lust-worthy hatch

When you drive a new performance car and think to yourself, ‘what an engine’, you cherish the thought – especially a hot hatch.

The scintillating chassis combined with a forgettable, aurally-overdone turbocharged engine has become somewhat of a modern stereotype with this class of car. But it’s a trend the updated Audi RS3 is bucking with its new 2.5-litre inline-five – a seriously awesome engine. The turbocharged powerplant, shared with the TT RS, is the big news for Audi’s hottest-ever hatch.

Up 24kW/15Nm on the outgoing five-potter, its 294kW means the RS3 retakes the ‘most powerful hot hatch around’ mantle from the A45 – and maximum respect must go to Audi for sticking with the legendary five-cylinder layout when the temptation must surely have been to ditch a cylinder for cost, packaging and economy reasons.

Comparison test: RS3 v A45

But stuck with it they have, even making it 26kg lighter, thanks in part to a new alloy crankcase, important as recent five-pot Audis have been a little front-heavy.

By continuing to fit 255/30 fronts and 235/35 rear tyres, there’s the hint that Audi hasn’t sorted all the RS3’s front-heavy woes. And this is still a very front-axle focused car by way of power distribution.

Twinster-style power oversteer? Nope, the RS3 prefers traction – and handling stability. But that does suit the slightly austere personality of this car.

With its understated styling – compared to a bewinged A45 – it’s no surprise to find a very comfortable, sensible-driving car in Comfort mode, with a nice urban ride as well (Magnetic Ride is optional). Engage Dynamic mode (or Individual with Comfort dampers and Dynamic powertrain) and all hell breaks loose.

The hissing, torquey five-cylinder warbles like an R8 under acceleration and cracks out the exhaust with every twin-clutch upchange. Holy moly, this is a potent little car – and the noise, it’s just rude. With a bit more poke, this engine could go in an R8. No joke.

And when did Audi’s S-tronic twin-clutch ’box get this good? It’s bordering on – dare we say – Porsche PDK quick. We’ve not felt this kind of twin-clutch responsiveness in any hot hatch before.

This car is now so fast, with such epic brakes as well (and our test car was on the steel items, not the optional carbons), that it’s almost crying out for stickier tyres. But that’s another story.

The RS3 is more fun for its potency and noise than its handling. And even though, at $81K without options, it’s the most expensive new hot hatch you can get, you’ll have a strange urge to look under the bonnet – it’s the best engine in any hot hatch on sale today.

Audi's five-cylinder icons

2018 AUDI RS3 SPORTBACK SPECS:

Engine: 2480cc inline-5, DOHC, 20v, turbo
Power: 294kW @ 5850-7000rpm
Torque: 480Nm @ 1700-5850rpm
Weight: 1510kg
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (claimed)
Price: $80,900

Like: Crazy fast; awesome five-pot warble; mega brakes; comfortable; dual-clutch ’box
Dislike: Still a bit front heavy; very front-biased AWD; high seating position; thirsty
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars