These days, Audi is firing on all cylinders. Their lineup is incredibly wide, covering almost every nook and cranny of the luxury market, currently offering everything from high-performance supercars like the R8, and excellent family SUVs like the Q7, to Autobahn cruisers like the RS7. Their interior design as become a benchmark for the industry, and none of their cars could be considered anything less than great. That said, out of all those excellent vehicles there’s one car that stands out above the rest, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.
Believe it or not, it’s the RS3: the high-performance variant of the least expensive car Audi currently offers. It may not be the most powerful or most luxurious car in the lineup, but it has a Goldilocks quality that has us absolutely captivated.
First, a little background. While Audi’s performance RS brand is very well established in Europe, and until recently the company didn’t sell any of their models in the U.S. with the exception of a very limited release of the RS4 and RS6 in the early to mid 2000s. However, due to the stateside success and profitability of BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG divisions, Audi began to bring the cool RS here, now offering four separate models including the RS3. The RS3 is the newest of these, and it serves as a counterpoint to the other major entry-level, high-performance sport sedans and coupes like the BMW M2 and CLA45 AMG. It’s based off of the A3 sedan, which is itself based off the strong but lightweight MQB chassis that serves as the basis for many small Volkswagens and Audis.
So then, what makes the RS3 so good?
While we currently live in a world where you can walk into most any Dodge dealership and buy a Challenger with 707 horsepower, there are very few ways to apply that power to the pavement on public roads. As much as car enthusiasts love to joke about how every car could probably use an extra 100 horsepower, there’s a balance to be made between what the chassis is capable of and how much power the driver is capable of using. This is the reason why the Miata is so much fun to drive. It only has a 180 horsepower, but it’s the perfect amount for the car.
With that in mind, the RS3 has the perfect amount of power. Its heart, a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder puts out 400 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, which is directed to all four wheels through a lighting-quick seven-speed dual clutch automatic. This combination delivers a veritable gut punch of acceleration, sprinting to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds according to Audi (several outlets have found it to be even faster). Furthermore, this acceleration is delivered in a very controlled manner, even on damp streets, thanks largely to the RS3’s all-wheel drive system. You can use all 400 horses immediately and often, without having to think twice about mashing that accelerator pedal (usually).
Secondly, it’s the perfect size. Over the past two decades or so, cars have grown tremendously in stature. Across the board, former compact cars like the Audi A4 and Honda Civic have expanded to be the size of what was once was considered a midsize car. The reasons for doing so are varied, from consumer demand and safety to helping to meet corporate fuel economy standards, but the effect is these formerly nimble compacts have lost their spryness. Think back to high school physics: a larger car has more inertia, and therefore it’s more resistant to changing direction.
The RS3 on the other hand is the size of what used to be fifteen years ago a compact car, slotting neatly below the A4 in Audi’s lineup. This size keeps the weight down, allowing the car to make better use of the 400 horsepower while also decreasing the amount of inertia. Furthermore, the RS3 has a shorter wheelbase that’s more conducive to the tight bends of windy country roads. When combined with the adjustable magnetic suspension, the result is a car that feels agile and nimble, with what feels like an endless amount of grip. While there’s no rear-end playfulness like you’d get in the rear-wheel drive M2, there’s much more security in pushing the RS3 to its limits.
Best of all, the RS3 remains a car you can live with and drive every day. It’s easy to park on city streets and maneuver through parking lots, and while it’s small, it still has four doors that make getting in and out from the rear seats a breeze, unlike the competing BMW M2. The RS3 is comfortable and luxurious, featuring the same technology that’s available on higher-end Audis like the Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster, Nappa leather sport seats, with diamond stitching, a panoramic sunroof and LED headlights. Finally, while the $55,875 starting price tag isn’t exactly inexpensive, the next cheapest RS model is the Audi TT RS two-door coupe that sells for $10,000 more.
All in all, the RS3 may not be the fastest or most comfortable car in the Audi line up, but it certainly features the most perfect balance between speed, agility, livability and price. It’s truly a great vehicle, and we hope to see them everywhere.