Charismatic engine; stonking performance; handling; ride (in Auto); interior
Remote steering; ride (in Dynamic mode); drivetrain lash; transmission calibration
IT’S THAT SPICY five that gives the RS3 a special flavour. With its handful of cylinders, the odd-number engine has a distinctive offbeat sound. It evokes the 1980s World Rally Championship glory days of the original Quattro, while also making the Audi stand out among the four-cylinder rabble-rousers of the all-wheel drive hot hatch elite.
But this new RS3 may be the last of the line. Next year Audi must decide whether or not to invest in updating its turbo five-cylinder to meet the tough Euro 7 emissions standards coming in 2026 or 2027.
It won’t be easy, admits Steffen Bamberger, Audi Sport’s head of technical development. The measures necessary to meet Euro 7 are costly, complex and bulky, and will take five years to develop.
As the shift to EVs accelerates, this is a risky investment. And it’s one Audi might well decide it doesn’t want to make. But though its long term-future is uncertain, there are years of liveliness left in the high-power five.
For the third-generation RS3, Audi Sport’s engineers haven’t sought more power from the 2.5 TFSI. It remains at 294kW, but torque has been increased slightly to 500Nm, broadening the range of revs, where maximum power is produced, in the process.
While the automatic transmission remains a seven-speed dual-clutch unit, there are big changes aft of the Audi’s engine compartment. The new RS3 has a torque-splitting rear axle, with a pair of electronically controlled multiplate clutches.
It’s the same sort of tech as first seen in the Ford Focus RS of 2016, followed a few years later by the current Mercedes-AMG A45 S. At a glance, the Magna Powertrain-supplied rear axle of the new RS3 appears almost identical to the unit in the A45 S.
As in the Ford and the MercedesAMG, one of the primary purposes of the torque-splitting rear axle is to enable drift mode. When Audi Sport surveyed RS3 customers during the planning phase for the new model, many asked for it.
But the Audi’s clever rear axle does more than facilitate the rapid conversion of expensive tyres into clouds of stinky smoke. There are safety and handling benefits, too. Cornering stability and traction are enhanced. The axle’s torque-vectoring talent also means drive can be selectively channelled to just one of the rear wheels, quelling power-on understeer or oversteer as required.
With both axle clutches locked, rear-end traction is maximised. Though engine power is unchanged, the new RS3 accelerates from 0-100km/h in a claimed 3.8 seconds. This is a three-tenths improvement over the current model and a tenth better than the A45 S, the Audi’s arch-rival.
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