One hot, hot, hatch
A great deal of bang for your buck
Superb engine noise
Slicker than your average hot hatch
If anything, it's too civilised
Needs open roads to reach full potential
Many more will surpass it in the power stakes

First Drive review: Audi RS 3 Sportback (2015)

Attila the Hun forgets his table manners

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First Drive review: Audi RS3 Sportback

2015 Audi RS 3 Sportback at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★☆
  • Performance: ★★★★★
  • Design: ★★★★☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★★☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

WITH THE Audi RS 3 Sportback it’s all about the numbers, so take a moment to marvel at the accompanying specifications box. This is a car that ostensibly looks like anybody else’s five-door hatchback but gets from zero to 62mph while you’re still on the pavement fumbling with the key fob. If Audi didn’t limit it, the engine would go on from there to reach 174mph, causing your eyes to take up new positions just in front of your ears.

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Because its 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine generates 362bhp, the RS 3 Sportback is one of the most powerful production hatches on the market. It therefore cocks a power-snook at the BMW M135i, lords it over the upcoming Ford Focus RS and blows the Volkswagen Golf R into the weeds. Only the new Mercedes-AMG A 45, with a ludicrous 376bhp, beats it in the power stakes — while matching it exactly on price.

Along with the VW Golf R400, which arrives next year with 395bhp, these cars form a new breed of ultra-hatch, costing about £40,000, whose founding purpose and lasting mission on earth is to annoy people who spent six figures on a supercar. Performance with practicality is the deal. The RS 3 can beat Audi’s V8-engined R8 up the road but, unlike the R8, it can also hold a baby buggy and a sack of hedge clippings. And did we mention that it costs only £40,000?

First Drive review: Audi RS 3 Sportback

Essentially, at the annual automotive summer party, the RS 3 and its pals are going round the room saying, “You’re a sucker . . . and you’re a sucker . . . and you’re a sucker . . .”

Such triumphalism is by its very nature short-lived, though. Soon, no doubt, a hot-hatch manufacturer will break the 400bhp limit, and, just like that, the Top Trumps cards will need to be printed all over again.

If it’s going to hang around looking desirable, then, the RS 3 is going to need a reason to be loved beyond mere statistics. So how does it cope with that?

Then, just when every screw in the car is coming loose, you let the brake go and fly up the road like jelly flung off a spoon

Well, being an Audi, it’s not shouting about itself outwardly. The RS signifiers are few and quiet: honeycomb grille, swollen arches, 19in alloys, roof spoiler. That’s it. Inside, my test model had leathery and easeful — and optional — Super Sports seats, and in combination with the quietly poised dashboard, the feel was more executive lounge than yob heaven.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel clad with Alcantara was more of a traditional giveaway, but the drive selector, which takes you from Comfort through Auto and up to the fully snorting Dynamic mode, is a simple, quiet tab at the end of a row of other simple, quiet tabs; the badging is relatively discreet and the interior, almost unthinkably, survives without one single recourse to red stitchwork.

You shall know the car’s darker purposes by the fact that it is fitted with a) a lap timer and b) launch control. This allows you to stand on the brake and the accelerator at the same time and wait for the engine to go out of its mind with frustration. Then, just when every screw in the car is coming loose, you let the brake go and fly up the road like jelly flung off a spoon. It’s certainly a novel way to start the day, though it has to be said the practice tends to be frowned on in built-up areas, especially residential ones.

First Drive review: Audi RS 3 Sportback

Audi has jiggered with the software so that the automatic gearbox whips more quickly through its seven speeds. The quattro system Velcros the wheels to the surface, as you would expect, and the steering wheel has some proper heft to it, but the overall experience is super-smooth rather than low-down and dirty. If anything, the drive is too refined and other hot hatches (and cheaper ones) may approach the business of going stupidly quick with a bit more simple glee.

It’s hard to quibble with the engine noise, though. Turn the key and the twin exhausts blurt with excitement and then settle down into a bowel-stirring low thrum. They then continue to pop and burble through downshifts in a way that I couldn’t imagine myself tiring of very quickly. There’s your reason to buy, right there. Performance figures are temporary but that noise is permanent.

Until someone brings out a poppier, burblier one, of course.

2015 Audi RS 3 Sportback specifications
  • Engine: 2480cc, 5 cylinders, turbo petrol
  • Power: 362bhp @ 5550rpm
  • Torque: 343 lb ft @ 1625rpm
  • Transmission: 7-speed S tronic automatic, four-wheel drive
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 4.3sec
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Fuel: 34.9mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 189g/km
  • Road tax band: J (£490 for first year; £265 thereafter)
  • Price: £39,995

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Audi RS 3 Sportback rivals

Mercedes-AMG A 45, £39,995 (view cars for sale)

  • For Goes like billyo; smart interior
  • Against The styling is not to everyone’s taste

Volkswagen Golf R, £30,820 (view cars for sale)

  • For The perfect combination of price, handling and performance
  • Against Set to be replaced by R400