Audi releases the RS 3 Sportback

It counts as a ‘good day’ in our book whenever Audi launches a new RS-model, it used to be a rare occurrence because Audi only made 1 RS model at a time, but that’s all changed and we’ve now got 3 RS Audi’s to choose from, or at least we will when in spring next year the RS 3 Sportback goes on sale.

The timing of this new RS 3 model is nothing if not convenient, with BMW’s 1 Series M Coupe due on sale just 3 months later. In fact there’s plenty more these natural competitors have in common – both are powered by turbocharged engines producing nearly 340 bhp, both are to be priced just under £40k (or maybe slightly over in the BMW’s case), and they’re as near as dammit rivals in the usual apples-and-pears way that Audi’s RS models square off with BMW’s M Cars.

Audi’s RS 3 uses the same 5-cylinder turbocharged TFSI engine first seen in the TT RS. This all-new unit fills the cabin with a rich, bass-heavy five-cylinder tone as it channels 335 bhp and 450 Nm of torque to the road through a standard seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive. A sound flap in the exhaust branch intensifies the sound even further when the driver presses the Sport button, which also varies throttle response.

Maximum torque is readily available at the low end of the rev range, from around 1,600 rpm, and remains constant up to 5,300 revolutions, making for excellent flexibility and response.

Unlike BMW’s 3.0-litre inline six cylinder bi-turbo engine, the RS 3 uses a single large turbocharger generating up to 1.2 bar of boost pressure, and downstream of it is an intercooler which achieves an efficiency rate of more than 80 per cent. The combination of the latest forced induction technology with FSI direct injection facilitates a high compression ratio (10.0:1) along with a correspondingly high efficiency ratio. Flaps in the intake tract mix the air as it flows in whilst the two camshafts, each adjustable by 42 degrees of crankshaft rotation, also enhance the efficiency of the mixture formation.

Performance is as you’d expect RS-quick, 0-62 mph passing in just 4.6 seconds and an electronically governed 155mph top speed. Less predictable is the potential for up to 31 mpg according on the combined cycle and just 212g/km of CO2.

The efficiency of the RS 3 Sportback is due in large part to a delivery-on-demand oil pump and a regenerative system that recovers energy as the car decelerates, but is also facilitated by weight-saving measures including the use of strong but light vermicular graphite for the engine block and carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) for the front wings. It still weighs 1,575kg, which is predicted to be around 70kg heavier than BMW’s 1 Series M Coupe.

More sporty chassis and lower weight

The RS 3’s chassis has been suitably upgraded over its nearest sibling, the S3 – lowered by 25mm compared with the standard A3, and running on a wider 1,564 millimetre track, planted on 19-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/35 series tyres at the front and 225/35 at the rear. The standard wheel finish is a machine-polished titanium look, but a black finish with red rim inserts is also available as an option.

The electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering provides a suitably direct gear ratio of 16.2:1 for keen turn-in, while internally ventilated disc brakes measuring 370 millimetres in diameter at the front and 310 millimetres at the rear help modulate speed powerfully and progressively. Their aluminium covers are encircled by four-piston fixed calipers painted a high-gloss black and bearing RS logos. To support them, the electronic stability programme (ESP) features a Sport mode that activates later to enable greater adjustability without compromising safety. Audi say it can be switched off entirely for circuit use.

The quattro permanent all-wheel drive system oversees proceedings, granting the RS 3 Sportback an extra measure of traction, composure and stability. Its central component is an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch, mounted at the end of the propeller shaft to achieve a favourable axle load distribution. Located in its interior is a plate package bathed in oil.

Thanks to its quattro system, the RS 3’s propulsive power can be distributed to each axle as needed. Whenever slip occurs at one of the axles, an electric pump intervenes immediately to increase the oil pressure. The pump presses the clutch plates together, thereby permitting the torque to be redirected accordingly. Thanks to a powerful accumulator, this process takes just a few milliseconds and is undetectable to the driver.

Those all-important RS details

The performance potential of Audi’s new RS 3 is conveyed subtly but unequivocally at the front end by a deeper front apron incorporating enlarged air intakes, an anthracite coloured single-frame grille with diamond-patterned styling and xenon plus headlamps. The side view is dominated by the flared, lightweight front wings covering 19-inch alloy wheels, prominent sill panels, mirror casings in matt aluminium look and a large roof spoiler. A high-gloss black diffuser insert and two elliptical exhaust tailpipes on the left accentuate the styling at the rear.

Inside, sports seats are upholstered in Fine Nappa leather with silver contrasting stitching, and inlays are finished in Piano black or the new Aluminium Race look. A flat-bottomed RS steering wheel and an exclusive design for the instruments and S tronic selector lever also highlight this car’s status, as does a specially configured Driver’s Information System which displays boost pressure and oil temperature and doubles as a lap timer.

The array of standard equipment also includes the Sport button, acoustic rear parking sensors, electronic climate control, DVD-based satellite navigation with MMI (Multi Media Interface) functionality and xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights. Optional features include front bucket seats, roof rails in matt aluminium look and styling packages in black or matt aluminium. Five exterior colours are available, plus an unlimited selection of custom paint finishes.

The new 335 bhp Audi RS 3 Sportback will be available to order in the UK from next month priced at £39,900 OTR, and is expected to reach its first customers next April. It will be fun to find out whether Audi have stolen BMW’s thunder, or merely whetted our appetite for the real deal…