New Audi RS3 hot hatch brings supercar thrills

Want the sound and sensations of a mega-dollar exotic without the crazy ownership costs? This could be the perfect machine for you.

Frank Stippler makes drifting look easy. It’s after dark in the deserted docklands outside Athens, where a spotlit circle bordered by red-glowing barrier blocks has been set up.

He smoothly circles the ring of cones, white wisps coming from the rear tyres of the new Audi RS3. It’s harder to do than the race and development driver makes it look. Getting sideways is simple, but circling while smoking takes skill.

Yes, the RS3 now has drift mode.

Audi calls it RS Torque Rear, but it enables drifting and more.

Since the first RS3 in 2011, the offbeat, raspy note of its signature five-cylinder turbo has made it different from other elite-level hot hatches.

They all have familiar-sounding turbo fours.

More recently, the Audi’s lack of drift mode became another point of contrast. The Ford Focus RS, launched in Australia in 2016, was first. In 2019 the Mercedes-AMG A45 S followed suit.

When Audi surveyed RS3 customers while planning the new model many requested drift mode.

Audi’s system relies on the same kind of twin-clutch rear axle as the others.

The clutches in RS3’s rear axle mean some or all of the engine’s output can be channelled through one rear wheel, both wheels equally, or any percentage between.

With both clutches locked, grip during foot-flat takeoffs from standstill is enhanced. Audi claims the new RS3 can rip from 0-100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. This is only three-tenths of a second less than the old model, but it’s enough to make the Audi an eyeblink quicker than its Mercedes-AMG rival.

Pushing more power through one or the other rear wheels, the axle also improves safety and handling. It can curb both tail-end slides and front-end ploughing.

Changes to the engine are minor. The 2.5 TFSI now punches out 294kW. This is 16kW less than the 2.0-litre turbo four in the Mercedes-AMG A45 S, but Audi’s turbo five matches it for torque.

The RS3 has a seven-speed double-clutch transmission while the A45 S has an eight-speeder. But the numbers that count for more with hot hatch lovers are the Audi’s hyper-competitive 0-100km/h and Nurburgring lap times, where it is five seconds faster than its predecessor.

The short but bumpy racetrack rented for the RS3’s international media launch wasn’t exactly the Nurburgring, but it did reveal the quality of its chassis set-up, at least on the optional-for-Europe adaptive shock absorbers.

The RS3 also has a wide-track front suspension and all-round lower ride height than the sporty S3.

As well as RS Torque Rear, there’s another new driving mode.

Called RS Performance, it’s intended for use on circuits both smooth and rough.

The Audi wasn’t thrown offline by lumps in the Greek track, and could really put down power out of its bends.

The steering feels lifeless, but the brakes are brilliant, the transmission is excellent and ruthless pace of the RS3 is awesome.

RS Performance is more supple than the car’s super-stiff Dynamic mode, and probably better suited for quick public road driving.

There’s also a new Efficiency mode that cuts engine output by 20 per cent, and is likely to be used only by the RS3 driver running low on fuel and far from a service station.

Pumped-out front guards and a big black grille give the RS3 plenty of hot hatch attitude on the outside, but the inside is better.

With body-coloured strips in the face-level air vents, hip-hugging front seats and an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel it brings a tasteful level of bling to the practical and very well equipped interior.

The new RS3 Sportback and sedan go on sale in Europe this month.

They will reach Australia in the first half of next year. Expect the price list to begin at about $90,000 for the hatch, without options.

Audi RS3 Sportback

Price: $90,000 (est)

Engine: 2.5-litre 5-cyl turbo; 294kW/500Nm

Safety: Auto emergency braking, lane-keeping and blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise, rear cross-traffic alert, vehicle exit alert

Thirst: 8.3-8.8L/100km

Performance: 0-100KM/H in 3.8 secs

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