First Drive: Audi RS3

We get into the driving seat of the all-new Audi RS3 and see if its blistering power and good looks are enough to make it a seriously hot-hatch


WHAT IS IT?

A key pillar in the hot hatch segment, the Audi RS3 has set the trend for some time now. 2017 sees it updated and this brings even more power – now close to 400bhp – as well as a quicker 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds. It's close to supercar territory, in a car that will just as happily trundle down to the supermarket as it'll eat up B roads.

There's a lot to like about the new RS3, but it does have some serious competition — the Mercedes-AMG A45 and BMW's M2, both of which are supremely capable

WHAT'S NEW?

A fair amount of changes have been made to the new RS3. Externally, there are LED lights at the front and rear, with dynamic rear indicators which strobe when activated giving a real impact to the back of the car.

The front grille is garnished with an aluminium-look surround, while dual exhausts at the rear hint towards the RS3's performance. However, the Audi's relatively understated appearance is one of its most appealing traits, underplaying just how fast it is. That said, it still has arches that are now wider by 20mm over the previous-generation car.

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?

First things first, the RS3 is fast. Make no mistake about it, the way it sets off is nothing short of remarkable. In the wet, it found a huge amount of traction, even under full throttle. It's an impressively quick car, but that should be expected, considering it produces close to 400bhp.

The ride, especially on standard steel springs, is very firm. It can make the RS3 feel unsettled – particularly around town – though interestingly the quicker you go the better it gets. Having said that said, we tested a car fitted with the optional adjustable dampers and, when set to comfort, this made the RS3 a lot more compliant and better suited to bumpy, undulating country roads.

One question remains: does the RS3 still understeer? Well, yes and no. Enter a corner too quickly, and the RS3 will still push on as you'd expect. However, apply a bit of throttle and it will bring itself back in tighter, even showing hints of oversteer at times. It's a car that remains best driven neatly, though, and it'll happily do that thanks to plenty of traction. The RS3 is well accomplished at covering ground exceptionally quickly in all conditions, and the combination of four-wheel-drive and a smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic 'box makes for a car that shouldn't leave many drivers wanting more involvement.

First Drive: Audi RS3

First Drive: Audi RS3

HOW DOES IT LOOK?

It's hard to argue against the fact the RS3 is a smart looking thing. Understated yet performance orientated enough to be a true RS, it's a very well-judged car. It's also available as a saloon, and this model looks sleeker still – though it's worth remembering that it can't offer the practicality levels afforded to those who choose the standard five-door hatch.

WHAT'S IT LIKE INSIDE?

The RS3's interior exhibits the level of build quality and fit-and-finish that we've come to expect from Audi. You now get the firm's excellent virtual cockpit display, which comprises of a 12.3-inch LCD monitor fitted where you'd traditionally find the analogue instrument binnacle. A lovely three-spoke 'RS' steering wheel has also been fitted and, though a small addition, makes a huge difference

The five-door hatch RS3 only has 280 litres of seats-up boot space compared to the standard A3 – a lot of room is taken away by the four-wheel-drive system – though this can be extended up to 1,120 litres by lowering the rear seats.

WHAT'S THE SPEC LIKE?

Given its £43,300 entry price, you'll no doubt be pleased to hear that there's a good degree of standard equipment on offer for the RS3. LED headlights and rear lights are included, as well as the previously mentioned virtual cockpit display. Sports seats come as part of that price too, along with RS's bespoke braking system and a full satellite navigation system.

However, our test car, when fitted with options such as a panoramic sunroof (£1,075 extra), an increased top speed (£1,600) and a sports exhaust system (£1,000) weighed in at a hefty £56,380. This a huge amount of money for a hot hatch, and goes to show just how 'premium' cars in this segment have become. We'd recommend the adjustable suspension (£995) and the sport exhaust system as two standout options to pick, but in reality, the RS3 is a perfectly well-specified car without having to tread anywhere near the options list.

VERDICT

The RS3 is a car whose very nature is dominated by performance figures. However, it's far more than that. Impeccably well-suited to the UK market, it's a car which can return almost anything you can throw at it. Yes, with options it is expensive, but stay away from too many extras and the RS3 is one of the best value cars on the market today.

KNOWLEDGE
Model as tested: Audi RS3 Sportback
Power: 395bhp
Torque:480Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 3.9 seconds
MPG: 34mpg
Emissions: 192g/km
Price: £44,300