By on January 2, 2018

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)

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?

Audi RS 3 Sedan

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.

Audi RS 3 Sedan

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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49 Comments on “2018 Audi RS3 Review – Wizard of Aahs...”

  • avatar

    How much better is it than the S3 + APR tune (which gets around 350-360 hp, IIRC)? Are there any actual enhancements to the transmission, other than programming (which APR also offers)? Any actual LSDs added, bigger brakes, stronger driveshafts, that sort of thing?

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say my ATS4 2.0T is ecu tuned to 400 lb-ft and is bonkers quick for a sub $20K that sees 37 mpg at 65 mpg.

    • 0 avatar

      My 2007 A3 2.0 had a GIAC chip and it was pretty fast. These things are are just too much for me. I might change my mind if I had a fatter wallet tho.

    • 0 avatar
      chuck baye

      They do look sweet but I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. So I took my 09 A4 2.0t Quattro and APR tuned it to stage 2. I put in a IE performance intercooler, high flow cat and K&N air charger. I love the APR tunes what a difference I’m putting about 350-360 HP. Not bad and it hauls ass. I have alot of fun smoking cars that think it’s just a 210HP 2.0t. And when I power brake it at the light and I’m gone they will stop later and ask what do I have under the hood. I do love that I can run Cam 2 racing fuel and they can’t.

  • avatar

    Possibly the best looking fwd cars currently being made. Too bad about the repair costs, and the commercials.

    • 0 avatar

      If you can afford to buy one new in the first place, you can afford to repair one forever. If you can only afford to buy one (well) used, caveat emptor.

      I don’t get the point. My 220hp GTI is already fast enough to get my license shredded in a nanosecond for literally 1/3rd the price. The S3 is even faster. I would find the RS3 frustrating in the inability to use all that power for more than two seconds at a time. Fun car to do a Euro Delivery in though.

  • avatar

    My next car will be a mid-life crisis commute mobile and TBh this fits the bill perfectly as i am looking at about 400HP, smallish and nicish interior. So yeah this is perfect except for the price.

    Instead i am thinking first gen X1 with the 3 litre Turbo, chipped to 400HP (easily attainable) for about 35% of the sticker of the RS3.

  • avatar

    Amazing – guess I can stop reading reviews – perfection has been reached as apparently this model has no defects or weaknesses of any kind.

  • avatar

    They may have slipped this one by the company accountants, but my personal accountant says no. She just isn’t as much fun as she use to be.

  • avatar

    I’d echo some of the earlier comments. Without getting into the GTI/Golf R discussions (which is legitimate), for those who must have an Audi, I’m not sure I’m convinced how much more fun this is than an S3. Still, when you scroll down TTAC’s recent reviews, this car is much more appealing than the AMG GLA.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t know about much more appealing. Here’s the recent summary of the review that you referenced:

      The Verdict

      Silly. Absurd. Bonkers. I’ve used some adjectives here that I typically wouldn’t when describing a rather expensive car.

      But I’m glad Mercedes-AMG offers this insane GLA 45. It’s a sign that, even though every car maker has shifted its focus to the dreaded crossover, there are companies willing to make driving those crossovers enjoyable.

      The price is steep, though I’m sure with judicious option choices the sticker might become more palatable. But the sheer joy of driving this vehicle, knowing that it is fundamentally a crossover, makes me seriously consider what it would take to put it in my driveway for good.

      [Images: © 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

      • 0 avatar

        Personally, i’d find the apparently significant turbo lag of the boosted-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life 4 cylinder a definite dealbreaker on the AMG. Another reason to be happy that VAG didnt put another EA888 in the RS3.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the extra fun vs the S3 comes from the soundtrack of the I5.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Those seats look like they were made by Extensive Enterprises.

  • avatar
    Null Set

    I don’t mean to sound petty, but I looked at one of these at the local Audi dealer, and in ten seconds I found a deal breaker: manual seat adjustments. In a seventy-thousand-dollar car. And of course, no seat memory function. Features I can find in an Accord. The arrogance and cynicism of this boggles the mind. So, no, Audi. Go suck on some Eier.

  • avatar

    I’m glad this car exists, but as usual, I can’t get the math to work. The premium charged just doesn’t make any sense to me. Part of the problem is there’s a guy down the street who has an S3, and the word douche couldn’t more accurately describe someone.

    Completely unfair to the RS3, but nevertheless….

    • 0 avatar

      Comparisons with other Audi’s aside: the RS3 is a good value on paper. Fully loaded it’s still cheaper than the AMG GLA, while packing more punch. Even compared to the significantly lesser BMW M240i, a base RS3 is in the same price range as a fully loaded 240 while packing more standard equipment. I noticed this trend across all of Audi’s line-up: they’re good value compared to their premium German brethren.

  • avatar

    The last photo in the article of the seats shows the problem I have with this car and the accompanying GTI. Imagine sitting in the driver’e seat. Now look left – you have a great view of the B-pillar. Do the same in a WRX and you look out the window. Small point if you believe your electronics will always reveal cars hidden in your rear three-quarter, but useless for a quick over the shoulder check. The B-pillar is also in the way getting in or out if you’re not too limber.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s possible the seats were adjusted for an unusually tall driver. At 6′, in most cars I have the seatback about even with the B pillar and would be looking out the glass.

      It’s a moot point, you should be using your mirrors :-)

      • 0 avatar

        My initial test-sit in a Golf R was the same thing – I adjust the seats to where I’d LIKE them, and I was looking at the B-pillar, and there was no room in the back for my kids to even squeeze their legs between the seats. I would imagine the same problem for the S3/RS3, since they’re basically the same car underneath.

        The WRX/STI has a HUGE advantage in rear legroom.

  • avatar
    Trev Limiter

    I enjoyed the clever writing of this review, but the content is lacking.

    “handles superbly,” no understeer. Is that all there is to say about the car’s handling? How about steering feel? Is there any feedback from the wheel, or does it drive like a video game?

    No mention of the brakes either.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know about the RS models, but I’ve driven the new A3 and A4 and they both suffer from understeer and very poor steering feel. It feels like a video game controller, as you said, with practically zero feedback. For these reasons I’ve given up on the idea of ever owning one.

  • avatar

    The gaping chasms that make up the side bumper intakes (assuming that they are actually functional) is getting to be ri-god-damn-diculous. They are twice the size of the headlamps! The sooner that fad dies off the better.

  • avatar

    28mpg highway rating for this AWD, designer dynamite sled, is Corvette grade impressive wrt it’s engineers’ command of narrow band, hyper specific, EPA test tuning. Real world, over several thousand miles of open road, I couldn’t get that from a tiny FiST, which is about half the car of what this is, while also geared for good Highway MPGs. While the A8 manages to stay closer to it’s, admittedly lower, rating; at least partially by overall dynamics making it less demanding of being flat out flogged at every opportunity.

  • avatar

    Wizard of ehh. No stick, no sale.

  • avatar

    I looked at the interior of this car at a dealer lot and after that I wasn’t even interested in the test drive. So I have to wholeheartedly disagree with the interior characterization in this article. In this picture it looks OK, in reality it doesn’t, more like a Lego car than a real one. For me it was a deal-breaker.

  • avatar

    Not much about ride comfort, other than a vague reference to being a suitable highway cruiser. I’m skeptical of that.

    I realize comfort isn’t the point of something like this, but it would be good to know how much of a penalty there is for that performance.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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