I test several dozen cars a year, and no nameplate has come close to attracting as much attention on the road as the Audi RS 3. Even a passing glance at the high-performance version of Audi’s A3 compact sedan – especially when bedecked in flashy Catalunya Red – conjures vitality, hinting at the 400 horsepower lurking beneath the hood.
The five-passenger sport sedan is powered by a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine paired with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission and Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. Any way you cut it, the numbers foreshadow fun: 0 to 60 mph in a shade under 4 seconds, a top track speed of 155 mph (or 174 mph with the optional Dynamic plus package), and a quartet of drive modes — comfort, auto, dynamic, and individual — that help adjust steering and throttle response to the road.
Inside, three adults sitting in the back row may need to jockey for space, but occupants in the front seat benefit from generous head- and legroom. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, and buyers can upgrade to the range of features that have helped the German brand build a reputation in recent years for cutting-edge interiors: the Audi virtual cockpit digital instrument cluster with a 12.3-inch display, the MMI infotainment interface with handwriting-recognition technology, and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, among them. The optional Audi connect system provides online traffic info, weather updates, fuel prices, picture navigation, read-aloud personalized news headlines and Twitter alerts.
The Audi RS 3 has not been rated by either of the two federal safety agencies, but the Audi A3 from which it is derived received top scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The RS 3 comes with Audi pre sense basic, which closes the windows and sunroof and tightens the seatbelts if it detects an impending collision. Blind-spot monitoring is newly standard for 2018.
The sport sedan delivers a combined 22 mpg city/highway.
The 2018 Audi RS 3 starts at $54,900.
What the experts are saying
“The Audi RS 3 takes all the thrills of a pure driver’s car and disguises it with the practicality of a four-door sedan. That means you can take three friends with you to explore the joys of the 400-horsepower, five-cylinder engine on your favorite mountain road. It routes that power through a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission on its way to the stabilizing influence of quattro all-wheel drive. In a straight line, the Audi RS 3 is Corvette-fast, but it’s on undulating roads where it shines brightest. Dynamic mode sharpens the car’s responses, but also loosens the stability control restrictions, allowing you more freedom to push the car’s limits.” – Keith Buglewicz, senior associate editor at Kelley Blue Book
Sleek and sophisticated
“The newest member to Audi’s legendary RS lineage, the RS 3 pays homage to the brand’s original quattro rally car in a modern and sophisticated new package. Capable of surging from 0 to 60 in an awe-inspiring 3.9 seconds, the 2.5-liter powerplant produces a staggering 160 horsepower-per-liter and a uniquely symphonic sound thanks to its five-cylinder configuration and proprietary engine firing order. Standard accoutrements like the panoramic sunroof, full LED headlamps, smartphone interface, parking system, and magnetic ride suspension have the RS 3 as ready to tackle your morning commute as it is the Nürburgring. The optional ceramic brakes and sport exhaust system give the enthusiast the opportunity to truly personalize their RS 3 to their performance needs and driving style, while the Black Optic Package or RS Design Package lets them stand out with more aggressive-looking wheels, trim, and interior design elements.” – Tom Viner, certified pre-owned sales manager at Audi Burlington
Warbly and nimble
“Despite the market’s wholesale embrace of crossover SUV products, there are still plenty of people who hanker after a good old-fashioned sport sedan. Such vehicles typically have higher cornering limits because of their lower center of gravity, and, for many keen drivers, it simply feels better to sit low to the ground as they attack the twists and turns of a great mountain road. They also usually weigh less than their crossover SUV counterparts, allowing for greater acceleration and nimbler handling. For those who want a smaller ultra-high performance sport sedan, one could do far worse than the Audi RS 3. The RS 3 drips with Audi heritage, from its warbly five-cylinder engine that harkens back to some of Audi’s greatest race vehicles of the 1980s, to its quattro all-wheel drive system, to its sleek sedan profile that can trace its visual DNA back to iconic Audi designs like the original A4.” – Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at marketing research at consulting firm AutoPacific