Feel the power: Audi puts Quattro back in the race
The RS3 saloon has proper motoring menace and a welcome nod to old Quattro fogeys
This is a complete premium package but with the performance of a thuggish hot hatch
Date Reviewed: May 31, 2018
Did Audi make Quattro or did Quattro make Audi? It’s one of the bar-stool questions that can keep petrolheads talking for hours.
The Quattro wing derived under the auspices of the Audi brand in the early 1980s, the firm’s answer to BMW’s M Sport division. But would the four-ringed brand have the sort of premium cachet it has today – or the sporting pedigree – if it wasn’t for the homage to its four-wheel-drive poster child? I’m in the camp that believes it would be merely a collection of posh pricey Volkswagens without Quattro’s endeavours.
Some smart executives with Powerpoint expertise and too much time on their hands renamed the Quattro division Audi Sport in 2016, but they wouldn’t have been able to afford their Baumler suits in the first place if it wasn’t for the kudos Quattro earned 30 years ago. To take such a unique identity and bin it for something as insipid as Audi Sport is on a par with the fools at Seat who dumped its memorable “Auto Emocion” tagline in favour of ridiculous “enjoyneering” nonsense several years ago.
But I’ll stop the rant now and get to the car at hand: Audi Sports takes on the popular A3 saloon. And in a nod to us old fogeys who remember what Quattro meant in its heyday, this little lightweight saloon proudly carries the old-school moniker across its front nose.
This, however, is not just some lazy, marketing ploy to bilk nostalgia buffoons like me of more euro. The RS3 saloon has proper old-school motoring menace.
This is one of those cars it’s hard to part with. I turned down the chance to spend the bank holiday weekend coasting around the island in Audi’s flagship A8 in order to continue the grumbling, bumpy ride in a car half its size. And I made the right choice.
Audi’s facelifted RS3 in saloon guise is a monster, 400bhp of fun complete with all the grip that the Quattro name carried back in the 1980s glory days.
Up front is Audi’s rumbling 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder, already on offer in the less spectacular TT RS. There’s a certain irony to the fact that the world’s mechanics are creating combustion engines of near perfection just as the world prepares to unplug them for electric powertrains.
Hear that gurgle
Unlike some direct rivals, it doesn’t cloak its potential when idling around town. Even in love-it-or-loathe-it matt grey, which looks like the car left the production line with just its undercoat primer, it’s the gurgle that gets the attention of passers-by. The fact this looks like a regular four-door economy-level Audi leaves most perplexed, or dismissed as just another mid-life crisis male in a €30,000 A3 with a body kit.
That’s understandable, for this is a complete premium package but with the performance of a thuggish hot hatch.
Straight-line speed is phenomenal, challenging any of the larger super saloons on the market at present. Combining Quattro power with the performance means it can lay a greater amount of its output onto the tarmac.
The official 0-100km/h time of 4.1 seconds pits it up against some heavyweight premium saloons. It also pitches it right up against its arch-rival, the BMW M2. It’s a delicious dilemma for the lucky few, with €80,000 or more to spend, to have to decide between the two.
One is a rear-wheel-drive purist’s delight, another 1980s homage, this time to the glorious E30 M3, the other a grippy all-wheel-drive Audi, happiest when in full song on the redline.
As multiple YouTube videos have shown, in straight line shoot-outs, that extra grip gives the Audi an edge on track, but on more challenging roads – aka Irish rural ones – the BMW brings the competition bumper to bumper.
The issue with the Audi comes down to the ride quality: this is firm to the point of discomfort. On everyday runs around town, it’s annoying. A little compromise on this front would be warmly welcomed.
Another issue is with the steering, which is simply not as sharp as the M2 or as linear in its delivery. The brakes are also incredibly snappy, particularly on the initial touch.
The final overriding downside is the price: it starts at €72,378, but our test car quickly shot up by a whopping €17,054 with the addition of items that frankly should be standard fare in a performance car like this. Take the “super sports seats” at €1,300, or the MMI Navigation Plus system at €4,347. And the so-called panoramic sunroof – that looks like nothing more than a regular sunroof – is €1,920? Then again, dressing up the M2 will also send prices shooting up.
Aside from its performance, the RS3 has another boon: it’s just so well-built. Inside feels like a proper premium saloon; there’s no compromise on this front and it remains the best car cabin out there.
For me the M2 feeds into a lifelong love for E30 M3. You feel much more engaged in it than any other similarly priced car on the market – or any other current performance BMW. Yet the RS3 is probably the better buy by a hair’s breadth. The only decision, then, is whether or not you really need 400bhp, or whether the high-end Golf GTi would deliver all the fun you can have on Irish roads, for a lot less cash.
THE LOWDOWN: AUDI RS3
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol putting out 400bhp and 480Nm or torque
Top speed: 250kmh.
Claimed economy: 33.6mpg (8.4 litres/100km).
CO2 emissions: 192g/km.
Motor tax: €1,200.
Price: €72,378 (€89,432 as tested)
Our rating: 4/5
Verdict: A pocket rocket Audi is always going to be a beautiful thing.