2016 Audi RS3 Review

This should be the one Hot Hatch to rule all Hot Hatches. But is it?

By Shahzad Sheikh

Click below to watch our video of the 2016 Audi RS3 review

Oh hand me the keys and step aside! I’ve been looking forward to trying out the new Audi RS3 for some time now.

After all, here’s a compact practical hatchback with a creamy five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine putting out 367bhp and 343lb ft of torque from just 1625rpm, giving it a 0-100kph time of a supercar-challenging 4.3 seconds and a 280kph top speed.

2016 Audi RS3 Review

Plus it puts that power down through a Quattro all-wheel drive system via a 7-speed Dual Clutch gearbox. A juvenile part within me does still so loves and desires a really good hot hatch, and I desperately want this little Audi to be epically good.

It ain’t cheap, as it’s priced from AED211,000 though with options fitted to this car, including trim packs and magnetic ride suspension, this press unit goes up to about AED222k. The pricing though, is very deliberate, as it lines up just below the car this Audi squarely targets – the fantastic Mercedes A45 AMG, which starts at about AED213,500.

When I tested it two years ago (read here) it had only 355bhp. But last year they upped the power output from the astonishing 2.0 four-cylinder turbo unit to 376bhp! Still with there being only a tenth of a second advantage in the standard acceleration run, there’s very little in it on paper between these cars, when it comes to performance.

Coming back to the RS3, it is, if anything, even more practical than the A-Class – particularly in this Sportback (read Estate/Wagon) form. Luggage space is good for the class – plus there are nets, hooks and 60:40 split folding rear seats. Rear seat accommodation is definitely better, as I had no trouble sitting behind the front seat set for myself and at around 6ft 2in tall, that’s really impressive. There are also rear a/c vents and a power port.

At the front, there’s a good seating position, decent visibility, enough space and very familiar controls if you’re used to Audis. Too familiar, in fact. This car doesn’t boast the new age digital instrument panel we’ve seen in recent Audis, the infotainment interface also feels previous gen and, the worst sin of all, it still makes use of Audi propriety cables with there being no USB ports – now standard on most new Audis.

How is to drive though?

Over the last couple of days I’ve been driving it around town. Bear in mind that it’s very hot at the moment in Dubai this August – over 45C with humidity. As such I’m trying to make an excuse for this car really not ‘feeling’ as fast as the figures would suggest. With 367bhp this should be a ‘supercar of hot hatches’ but it merely feels ‘hot’ most of the day (a bit like me!).

2016 Audi RS3 Review

The ride too, despite optional magna-ride, fails to impress, not only is it firm and even a little harsh over slower bumps, potholes and speed-humps, but actually clunky with quite a bit of thump into the cabin.

Again as an excuse, I’m almost tempted to say that there might be an issue with this particularly car, as it is a 10,000km press car that no doubt some of my brethren have had their very wicked way with. And this is, by the way, with the Audi Drive Select set to ‘Individual’ where I keep everything in Dynamic, but the suspension in Comfort.

So far, whilst it proved a competent hot hatch, it failed to get my juices flowing.

Until, that is, the afternoon of my third day with the car. That is when I took it up to my favourite little Mountain Road, where the end-of-day temperatures were a little lower, aided by a murky overcast sky.

2016 Audi RS3 Review

 

Taken off its leash, it seemed to find renewed urge and keenness. The kick down acceleration even taking my neck muscles by sure-to-be-painful-the-next-day-surprise. Less astonishingly of course, there’s tremendous grip from the venerable Quattro system, the 7-speed dual-clutch paddle shifts allow considerable control and the longer gearing let the torque flow more evenly across your input range.

The brakes do a fantastic job of devouring momentum as you drop anchors for a corner, then it hangs on tenaciously in the bends and powers early out of an apex with confidence and poise – the stiffer ride now making its purpose felt in keeping the car surprisingly flat throughout.

I could do with a bit more feel and directness from the otherwise faithful helm, and turn-in can be a little hesistant initially – we’re talking fractions of a moment though. Understeer is only apparently on long high-speed sweepers, whereas it changes direction far more keenly on the tighter stuff.

2016 Audi RS3 Review

Verdict

Put aside the Mercedes A45 for a minute, because the greatest threat to this RS3 I believe actually comes from within its own family VAG stable. I recently tested the new Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport and you can read and watch that review here.  You may not consider that a rival to this car, but actually it is definitely worth comparing the two.

Like the RS3, the Clubsport is based on a car introduced in 2012, but rather than leave everything as it was and just focus on the drive, Volkswagen has updated the instrument panel, infotainment and part of the interior, making the GTI Clubsport feel more modern and up-to-date.

The VW’s ride is astonishing in that it is both smooth and comfortable around town, but tight and controlled when on it – there is a significant difference in the modes. The steering is better and it didn’t really feel like it was that much slower than the Audi despite a 100bhp deficit though perhaps it is less muted by the heat. The lower-geared six-speed DSG, which incidentally could do with another ratio, really helps to make the Golf feel punchy.

2016 Audi RS3 Review

It’s also over AED70,000 cheaper than the Audi. So whilst you may want to know if I think you should get the Audi RS3 or the Mercedes A45 AMG, if it was my money, it would be going on the Clubsport at this moment in time – although I would have to act fast as there’s only a limited number of them coming here.

Okay, okay, between the Merc and Audi, I think the A45 just edges it, and I haven’t even driven the new more powerful version. One of the key winning features is that the AMG really looks the part, whereas the RS3 seems to go for a more stealthy Q-car approach – not ideal in Dubai where you want to shout about having ‘More Bower!’.

Now don’t get me wrong – this Audi RS3 is actually a good car, a great car even. It’s a truly astonishingly little thing that combines excellent practically with incredible pace and agility. However I think it arrived just a couple of years too late, which is more a testimony to the pace of development in the automotive world, than any criticism of this superb offering from Audi.

2016 Audi RS3 Review – The Specs

Price: AED211,000 ($57.5k)
Engine: 2.5-litre 5-cyl, 367bhp @ 5550rpm, 343lb ft @ 1625rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 4.3, 280kph, 8.1L/100km
Transmission:  7-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic auto, All-wheel drive
Weight:  1520kg

Let us know what you think of the Audi RS3 below

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