2020 Audi RS3

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In an effort to remain at the pointy end of the hot hatch horsepower pyramid, both Audi and Mercedes-Benz have been locked in an intense battle of numbers for more than half a decade. First, the Audi RS3 took the honour of being the most powerful hot hatchback when it was launched back in 2011, only for it to be edged out by the monstrous 355bhp Mercedes-AMG A45 just two years later.

Now Audi is firmly back on top, with this revised Audi RS3 packing a whopping 394bhp from its TT RS-sourced five-cylinder engine. Power is sent to all four wheels, and both the car’s suspension and four-wheel drive system have been fettled in the hope of making the handling a little more entertaining.

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Will that be enough to lift the historically straight-laced Audi above the far less expensive, yet more playful, BMW M140i and Ford Focus RS? Read on over the next few pages to get our in depth impressions, and to see how this rocketship of an A3 compares with the competition.

With 354lb ft of pulling power available from just 1700rpm, the Audi RS3 is seriously quick off the mark. It gets to 62mph in a claimed 4.1sec – a figure that feels entirely achievable from behind the wheel. Indeed, there are few cars on sale in any class that are capable of such effortless performance.

That said, once you’re on the move the Audi RS3 doesn’t deliver the same high rev rush that you get from a BMW M140i or a Honda Civic Type R. The fact the engine is so strong at low revs means there’s little reward for revving it hard, apart from the glorious noise it emits if you’ve ticked the sports exhaust option.

31 Gallery of 2020 Audi RS3 and Interior

The only gearbox available is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic labelled S tronic. With Dynamic mode engaged on Audi’s Drive Select system, gear changes are fast without being jerky, although we did find the car occasionally unwilling to downchange when in manual mode. In less aggressive drive settings, the gearbox is mostly smooth, but it can be hesitant in traffic or if you suddenly put your right foot to the floor.

Happily, the engine is relatively light, which is good news for handling. With minimal weight over its front wheels, the RS3 turns into corners with more zest than the car it replaces. Where that would slide wide during fast cornering, the new car stays locked onto your chosen line. And you can even persuade the rear to step out slightly under power.

Just don’t expect the Audi RS3 to match the best hot hatches when it comes to driver involvement. You may be able to cover ground at an unbelievable rate, but the steering still offers little to no feedback and the car is almost too capable. It doesn’t challenge you in the way that the M140i and Focus RS do, and can instead be driven hard almost instantly.

More positively, the RS3’s standard suspension strikes a decent balance between body control and comfort. Yes, you’re always aware of bumps, but the car seems to move with the road rather than fight against it, while body roll is minimal. Tick the box for the optional adaptive dampers and you’ll find Comfort mode is significantly, well, comfier, whereas Dynamic mode is too firm for most British roads.

Aside from some road noise up at motorway speeds, the Audi RS3 is quiet enough at the legal limit. There’s very little wind noise, and switching the Drive Select system to Comfort keeps exhaust drone to a minimum.

The regular Audi A3 is impressive enough inside thanks to lots of soft-touch plastics, well-damped switches and beautiful chrome accents – and you get more of the same in the RS3. The minimalist design is head and shoulders above both BMW and Volkswagen rivals for quality.

True, some people might find the predominantly dark grey ambience a little too restrained, but there are enough bespoke touches to highlight that you’ve forked out for an RS model. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is a lovely thing to hold, embossed RS logos on the Nappa leather seats add a touch of class and you get Audi’s Virtual Cockpit – a digital display that sits behind the steering wheel in place of conventional instrument dials – as standard.

If that’s not enough, you can add a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, diamond-quilted Super Sports seats and a wireless smartphone charger for compatible devices.

Audi’s A3 Sportback is one of the more practical family hatchbacks, and this RS version is just as usable. There’s generous room for two adults in the front, and the standard heated electric sports seats (with adjustable lumbar support) are surprisingly comfortable, yet also supportive when corning hard.

In addition, three children can sit side by side in the back, even if the middle passenger’s backrest isn’t as comfy and there’s a small hump in the floor for them to straddle.

The RS3’s boot is one of the biggest of any hot hatch, and it has a nice wide opening. The boot is also fitted with a height-adjustable floor that reduces the load lip and ensures there’s no step up to the rear seats when they’re folded down. The opening is a decent size and shape, too, while a through-load hatch is an option, allowing you to accommodate lengthy items, such as skis, without folding down either of the outer rear seats.

The Audi RS3 Saloon may be more expensive, but it can’t match the Sportback’s practicality. While rear leg room is virtually identical, the roof sits lower eating into head room. Boot space also suffers; the opening is nowhere near as big as the Sportback’s and capacity takes a big hit, too. If you’re planning on lugging around bulky items, we’d definitely go for the hatch.

10 Photos of the 2020 Audi RS3

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