First drive: Audi RS3 Sportback


Audi's RS models tend to offer the best performance and in most cases are run out models before a new generation car is launched.

Well, with a new A3 due, Audi appear to be offering the ultimate A3 in the form of the £39,930 RS3 Sportback. Except, that if you want one you're going to be out of luck as Audi has sold all 500 cars for this years allocation and there's no guarantee that Audi are going to bring in any more.

The formula for the RS3 certainly looks simple enough, with the mechanicals from the capable TTRS dropped into the practical five-door Sportback body.

Considering this is the fastest A3 ever, the RS makeover is discreet. There's just a deeper front bumper with larger air intakes, flared carbon-fibre reinforced polymer front wings, sill extensions, a roof spoiler, black rear diffuser and 19-inch alloy wheels, to differentiate this car from lesser A3 S-line models.

Inside, the changes are also difficult to spot. The A3's dashboard design isn't looking as fresh as it once was, but there's no doubting the quality and the RS3 has plenty of equipment to justify its sub £40,000 price. Key equipment includes a decent stereo, sat-nav and Bluetooth. A key option are the Recaro bucket front seats.

The RS3's Sportback looks might not be as cool as rivals such as the BMW 1-Series M Coupe and Porsche Cayman R, but it's much more practical with decent boot space, which offers between 302 and 1,032 litres and there's enough room in the back for a couple of passengers.

So what's the RS3 like to drive? With the TTRS's 2.3-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine rated at 340bhp and a massive 332 lb/ft of torque going to all four wheels, there's no doubting the RS3 is a very fast and satisfying car to drive.

Acceleration to 62mph is dispatched in just 4.6 seconds, which is faster than both the 1-Series M and Cayman R. Like the BMW and Porsche, the RS3 carries on to a limited 155mph.

Sadly for manual lovers such as me, there's no manual option. This is purely because Audi believes there will be no demand for it; instead the RS3 is fitted with the super-smooth and quick seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission. Still, at least there's a manual mode, giving you full control.

Press the Sport button on the dash and things get even more exciting, with the charismatic five-pot warble developing a harder edge and the throttle response gets sharper still. You can even practice perfect racing starts as the RS3 has launch control; this allows you to fly off the line without any wheelspin.

Considering the fact that the RS3 is running on 19-inch alloy wheels, the ride quality is firm but surprisingly supple on the Austrian test route. Plus, there's virtually no body roll and with Quattro four-wheel drive, plenty of grip. The steering is also nicely weighted and gives just about the right amount of feel.

In practice, there certainly can be few other ways to cover ground so quickly and practically than an RS3. If you're one of the lucky 500 buyers, you'll be very happy with the car you get in a matter of weeks, but for me it's just not as involving to drive as the BMW and Porsche rivals.