2018 Audi RS3 Review - Wizard of Aahs

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
Fast Facts

2018 Audi RS3

2.5-liter DOHC 20-valve turbocharged and intercooled inline-five (400 hp, 354 lb-ft)
Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
19 city / 28 hwy / 22 combined (EPA rating, MPG)
Base Price: $55,875 (U.S.) / $64,995 (Canada)
As Tested: $62,425 (U.S.) / $69,195 (Canada)
(Prices include $975 destination charge in U.S. and $2,095 freight and PDI in Canada)
2018 audi rs3 review wizard of aahs

It’s nice to be born into good stock. Having the correct last name or access to a hefty trust fund certainly gives one a leg up on their competition. We see this in business, Hollywood … and car lines, too.

Not everyone makes the best of the hand they’re dealt. Plenty of famous sons and daughters have frittered away their chance at greatness assuming they can coast on the accomplishments of their forebears instead of doing, y’know, actual work.

The newly christened Audi Sport branch of the Haus der Ingolstadt trades upon its 80-year trail of success on motorsport. The R8, the RS5, and the fabulously bonkers RS7 all live up to family expectations with fabulous driving dynamics and a healthy dose of performance. Can their new little brother, the compact and slight manic RS3 do the same? Or has it simply been given a corner office without earning it?

The TL;DR is this: yes, dear reader, the RS3 is absolutely worthy of inclusion in the same sentence as its accomplished ancestors. Far from being a small sedan onto which Audi has simply applied visual juju, the RS3 has a sublime interior, goes like stink, handles superbly, and sounds great doing so. For all of you who simply clicked to find out the verdict, there it is. Scroll down the rest of the page for a bunch of pictures. Cool? Cool. Thanks for reading.

All right, good. Now we’ve gotten rid of those losers, we can talk in detail about what makes the RS3 really special – its engine. The inline-five is steeped in Audi Sport history like a record producer’s office is steeped in a fine dust of white powder. In a world filled with four-cylinder engines boosted to within an inch of their lives, this direct injection turbo five-pot excites the senses with an exhaust note that, at 88-decibels of full throttle, sounds like God’s own bedsheets being torn in half.

In fact, if the pencil-necked beancounters had their way, the RS3 probably would have a version of the 2.0-liter turbo. After all, it’s found in the Golf R and just about every other MQB machine in the performance end of the VW empire, so it would make a hell of a lot more sense on the balance sheet to simply stick it under the RS3’s low slung hood, turn up the wick, and call it a day. Fortunately, the gearheads at Audi slipped this superb aluminium block past the accountants.

Packing four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts, this lone wolf of the five-cylinder world is a full 57 pounds lighter than the engine in the old car and makes 400 horsepower at 5,850 rpm. Max torque of 354 lb-ft is said to be available at that sliver of rev range as well, but comes online as early as 1,700 rpm. Officially, Audi says it can dash to 60 mph from rest in 4.1 seconds, though some buff books have limboed well under the four second bar. All I can tell you is that repeated applications of the RS3’s launch control system introduced my spleen to the front of my chest.

Activating launch control in the RS3 is remarkably easy: put the seven-speed Stronic shifter in S, tap the Drive Mode button into Dynamic, fully depress the brake with your left foot, and bury the throttle with your right. If you’ve done it correctly, the inline-five will rev to 3,500 rpm – squarely in the meat of the torque peak – and remain there until the driver takes their left foot off the brake pedal. Verticalscope’s lawyers are tapping me on the shoulder reminding me to say that this should only be done on a closed course, natch.

Fun fact – a full-on assault of launch control will neatly jettison two medium coffees right out of the RS3’s cupholders. This development caused my passenger so much angst he could not attend his men’s group. At least the lids were tightly secured onto the coffee cups, saving me a trip to the detailer before returning the car to my long-suffering fleet manager.

Not that an RS3 driver needs any extra caffeination, of course; the car will gladly provide all the eye-openers he or she can handle. Aiding that sub four second sprint to sixty is Audi’s Quattro system, tuned here to work in concert with the 2.5-liter and provide grip like that of a cat on sandpaper. Audi’s Haldex-based Quattro system can direct anywhere between 50 to 100 percent of twist to the rear wheels, allowing the front hoops to concentrate on cornering rather than sussing out power delivery. This all but eliminates understeer.

The RS3’s redline is electronically limited to 5,500 rpm upon startup if the engine is cold, lest drivers try to shriek their way to seven grand the instant they back out of the driveway – a decision that would undoubtedly cause expensive noises to emanate from within the bowels of this fantastic five-pot motor.

Audi has been criticized by some (*raises hand*) for its different-lengths-of-sausage approach to sedan styling. In the RS line, though, Ingolstadt has figured out how to make a car look significantly more aggro than its mundane brethren without changing any of the sheetmetal. A new lower air dam and intake grille with “Quattro” hammered into it snarls at oncoming traffic, while side sills flare like a bull’s nostrils. The 35-series Pirelli P-Zero tires are a mere sheen of black paint around a set of 19-inch Anthracite rims. Around back, twin sewer cannons have been deployed for duty as exhaust tips.

It’s an effect that works. Those who knew nothing about cars could still tell this RS3 was something special. Those who were in the know peppered me with parking lot questions. One bespectacled youth, driving a late model four-door GTI, all but bowed to me at the gas pumps. In the VW world, it would seem the RS3 has no peer. Except for its sexy TTRS sister, of course.

The interior does a fine imitation of the R8, with quilted leather seats flared out like a cobra’s hood that grip in all the right places [insert expected juvenile joke here] and a clean dashboard from which all other manufacturers should take note. In the RS3, the infotainment screen does not stand atop the dash like an errant iPad; rather, it motors silently out of sight when not needed, leaving a flush surface behind and minimal distractions for the driver. The screen can be manually lowered, as well. It is a fine place in which to spend time – whether that time is spent cruising the freeway or performing manic rips to 60 mph is up to the driver. The RS3 will happily do either all day.

The Audi inline-five engine has a long history, dating back to when Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl were flying through rally stages and laying waste to their WRC competition in the mid-Eighties. Through its rip-snorting exhaust note, retina-detaching acceleration, and telepathic handling, the RS3 captures that spirit, earning its place in the Audi Sport line.

Unlike the lucky sod who was simply born into the right family but squandered all his good fortune, the RS3 builds upon its heritage and works hard earn its seat at the Audi Sport table.

[Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]

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2 of 49 comments
  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Jan 03, 2018

    GREAT paint color and the seat BACKS look great, but I get the sense that the designers didn't bother to touch the seat BOTTOMS...it's like they don't match. I'm good with manual seats too...my wife and I like almost identical seat adjustments...I recline a notch or two more than she does, so the headrest doesn't feel like it's nudging my head forward.

  • Aron9000 Aron9000 on Jan 08, 2018

    Going to call the author out for not saying a thing about the ride quality, is it good, only good on smooth roads, I'd like to know how much this thing is going to beat you up. Also no mention of the incredibly tight back seat and trunk. That being said, the inline 5 is simply fabulous. Guy at cars and coffee had one, open it up, it has a hint of Huracan/Audi R8 V10 sort of vibe to it. Best sounding engine I've ever heard with less than 6 cylinders. Wish Audi would stick this motor in the A4(and A5), as the A4 is a much roomier package than the A3.

  • BklynPete So let's get this straight: Ford hyped up the Bronco for 3 years, yet couldn't launch it to match the crazy initial demand. They released it with numerous QC issues, made hay for its greedy dealers, and burned customers in the process. After all that, they lose money on warranties. The vehicles turn out to be a worse ownership experience than the Jeep Wrangler, which hasn't been a paragon of reliability for 50 years. The same was true of the Aviator, Explorer, several F-150 variants, and other recent product launches. The Maverick is the only thing they got right. Yet this company that's been at it for 120 years. Just Brilliant. Jim Farley's non-PR speak: "You don't get to call me an idiot. I get to call myself an idiot first."Farley truly seems hapless, like the characters his late cousin played. Bill Ford is a nice guy but more than a bit slow on the uptake too. They have not had anything resembling a quality CEO since Alan Mulally turned the keys over to Mark Fields - the mulleted glamor boy who got canned after 3 years when the PowerShi(f)t transaxles exploded. He more recently helped run Hertz into the ground with bad QC and a faulty database that had them arresting customers. Ford is starting to resemble Chrysler in the mid-Seventies Sales Bank era. Well, at least VW has cash and envies Ford's distribution reach and potential profitability.
  • Mike Beranek This guy called and wants his business model back.
  • SCE to AUX The solid state battery is vaporware.As for software-limited pack capacity: Batteries are obviously the most expensive component of an EV, so on the rare occasion that pack capacity is dramatically limited (as in your 6-year-old example), it's because economies of scale briefly made sense at the time.Mfrs are not in the habit of overbuilding pack capacity just for fun, and then charging the customer less.Since then, pack capacities have been slightly increased via software because the mfr decides they can sacrifice a little bit of the normal safety/wear margin in the interest of range. We're talking single-digit percentages, not the 60/75 kWh jump in your example.Every pack has maybe 10% margin built into it, so eating into that today (via range increases) means it's not available to make up for battery degradation tomorrow. My 4-year-old EV still has its original range(s) and 100% SOH, but that's surely because it is slowly consuming the margin built into the pack.@Matt Posky: Not everything is a conspiracy to get your credit card account, and the lengthy editorial about this has nothing to do with solid state batteries.
  • JLGOLDEN In order for this total newcomer to grab and hold attention in the US market, the products MUST be an exceptional value. Not many people will pay name-brand money for the pretty mystery. I can appreciate the ambition of selling $50K+ crossovers, but I think they will go farther with their $30K-$40K offerings.
  • Dukeisduke They're where Tesla was when it started - a complete unknown. I haven't heard anything about a dealer network. How are they going to sell these? Direct like Tesla? Franchises picked up by existing new car dealers?