The world’s fastest hot hatch feels like a $500,000 supercar if you close your eyes to focus on its gut-churning G-Forces and spectacular soundtrack.
Naturally, this sort of sensory experiment is best done from the passenger seat of an Audi RS3.
There’s a uniquely musical quality to the much-loved five-cylinder engine under the bonnet that calls to mind Audi’s R8 V10 or the Lamborghini Huracan. And this hatch backs its bark with relentlessly rapid thrust.
How rapid? Audi claims a 3.8 second sprint to 100km/h (easily besting the latest Porsche 911 Carrera), but independent tests suggest it’s significantly quicker.
The top speed is 290km/h – a truly impressive number for something that shares its bones with the humble Volkswagen Golf.
It’s easy to see – and hear – why this sonorous and sophisticated choice is a favourite for hot-hatch enthusiasts.
The last-generation RS3 represented as much as one in four A3 sales during an off-and-on relationship blighted by supply constraints.
But it never matched the driver engagement of conventional sports cars available for a similar price. Audi aimed to fix that with a raft of changes including a slightly more muscular engine, revised suspension, a wider stance and a fresh all-wheel-drive system.
Priced from $91,391 plus on-road costs as a hatchback (the big-booted RS3 sedan costs $2500 more), this is one of the most expensive hatchbacks on sale – though it undercuts the arch rival Mercedes-AMG A45.
It’s loaded with gear worthy of the crown jewel in Audi’s small car range.
It has the best digital dashboard in any car this size, along with a 10.1-inch central touchscreen stocked with sat nav, wireless smartphone mirroring and charging, a premium stereo, head-up display and more.
It looks purposeful inside and out, though Audi fans will miss the motorsport-inspired flat-bottomed steering wheel from the old car, removed in favour of a regular round item compatible with the latest driver-assist tech.
Performance inclusions range from wider bodywork and oversized brakes to a turbocharged engine with 294kW and 500Nm and an active exhaust. Customers can go further with optional ceramic brakes, carbon fibre highlights and semi-slick Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R rubber.
The biggest selling point for owners looking to trade in the last-generation car might be a torque-vectoring rear differential that transforms the driving experience.
The new diff pushes power to the outside rear wheel when cornering, helping turn the car when you apply power in a bend.
Front-end bite is improved by a wider stance and 19-inch front wheels that are a full inch wider than the rears.
Narrower back tyres encourage the tail to relinquish grip before the front, which minimises understeer to deliver agility when you commit to a corner.
There’s even a drift mode for tail-happy shenanigans that weren’t possible in the old model. We tested the feature on a racetrack skid pan and it certainly can slide, although it feels a little confected. It’s not as natural or predictable as a rear-wheel-drive BMW or Mustang.
You need a committed right foot and plenty of space to get the tail swinging – it’s really something best left to the skid pan.
There’s no doubt this is the best RS3 yet, particularly in terms of driver engagement.
And it’s much more practical than two-door sports cars, significantly easier to live with every day.
It’s as easy to drive as any other hatchback in town, with silken power delivery and multi-mode shock absorbers that do a decent job of maintaining composure over bumps.
Outstanding ergonomics and impressive infotainment features add to its day-to-day appeal. Factor in a truly special engine and the result is something worth savouring.
Verdict: Engaging to drive, relentlessly rapid and cheaper than the competition, Audi’s RS3 represents a winning combination.
PRICE About $100,000 drive-away
ENGINE 2.5-litre 5-cyl turbo, 294kW and 500Nm
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5-yr/u’ltd km, $3589 for 5 yrs
SAFETY 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert.
BOOT 282 litres
SPARE Repair kit