Audi’s smallest RS returns and enters our garage
Perhaps I’m uncompassionate or cold-hearted, but I’ve never really understood the sobbing groupies and wailing fans when a band announces they are breaking up.
At least, that was the case until earlier this year when French electronic legends Daft Punk dropped the bomb with the announcement no one saw coming and, after nearly three decades, the enigmatic duo would go their own curious, anonymous, robotic ways.
As far as bands and musical ventures go, this feeling of emptiness was very new to me, and yet its deep uncomfortable ache seemed familiar. Some hours later and after countless replays of Daft Punk classics like a heartbroken schoolgirl, I finally remembered.
The last time I felt like this was when Audi discontinued the RS3.
Amid the chaos of switching over to the new Worldwide Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) in 2018, the German manufacturer halted production of its A3 flagship with no guarantee it would return in the present third-generation.
With the fourth-gen A3 now out and about in Europe and other parts of the world, it seemed increasingly likely we would have to wait until the yet-to-be-confirmed all-new RS3 appears in local showrooms for a taste of the magical five-cylinder and quattro combination.
But again, with widespread downsizing and hybridisation in response to strict emissions regulations, there is no such thing as a guaranteed engine and transmission combination in today’s automotive landscape.
"This 294kW machine is a very welcome visitor to the long-term test garage"
So when I heard that the Neckarsulm production line would once again start pumping out the current-generation version I finally understood how people felt when Axl, Slash and Duff buried the hatchet in 2016 and reformed iconic band Guns N’ Roses.
From 2020, the most muscular version of Audi’s small hatchback and sedan returned to local dealerships. Pause for applause.
With the next incarnation of the Audi A3 imminent however, the freshly returned RS3 is very much having its swansong. But its momentary resurrection offers an important opportunity to evaluate what the hi-po hatch does well and, more importantly, what its successor could do even better.
That’s why I have taken (okay, snatched) the keys to an Ara Blue example with light grey leather upholstery until mid-winter. I love the colour. Ara was initially an Exclusive colour by Audi for the R8 V10 plus and, for a while at least, was initially seen only on the supercar.
I’m happy to report the fudamentals remain excellent. What’s changed? A top-spec Bang and Olufsen sound system, that leather, wireless device charging and adaptive dampers are all now standard fare – along with a $2200 price increase to $83,800 for the Sportback. You can still also get the sedan equivalent for $86,500.
Oh and if you were thinking of dropping a frankly absurd amount of cash on the optional carbon ceramic brake package, then Audi has done you a favour and discontinued it. Trust me, if you drive this 1500kg hot hatch hard enough to need space-age anchors then I suspect slowing down really will be the least of your worries.
But there’s one update that I’ll be keeping a particular eye on – or should that be ear?
To sneak through the more stringent WLTP emissions standards, the RS3 now has a particulate filter plumbed into its exhaust and, while the sophisticated device is doubtless great news for the environment, they have a tendency to strip aural character from the exhaust as efficiently as they scrub particles.
If the rally style pops and cracks on overrun that the pre-WLTP version offered have gone, then a little of the RS3’s soul will go with it.
The next few months will not be a frivolous folly and a personal indulgence in a car that I like very much, but one that fails to capture a significant audience.
Unlike some other high-performance halo variants, the RS3 is not a micro-volume seller that acts more as a hero for the rest of the range. On the contrary, with a quarter of all 2018 A3 sales accounted for by the range-topper, it’s happy to earn its keep.
It’s not clear how long you’ll have a chance to grab your own example of the RS3 or when its replacement will arrive in all-new guise but, like bumping into an old friend you thought was long gone, this potent machine is a very welcome visitor to the long-term test garage.
The revenant Audi RS3 is not significantly harder, better, faster or stronger but, for both pragmatic and shamelessly nostalgic reasons, I’m still delighted to get behind the wheel… one more time. - DG
Things we love
- Return of old fav
- Straight-line pace
- Plush cabin
Not so much
- Sound reduction?
- Last of its kind?
- It's not mine
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