First Drive: The Audi RS3 Sportback Is a Supercar

Jan 22, 2015 06:00 PM EST | Jens Meiners

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Audi's quattro GmbH performance division has set out to create the ultimate hot hatch. Meet the 367-horsepower RS3 Sportback, from which the U.S. market may eventually be gifted a sedan derivative.

What is it?

Launched in mid-2013, the Audi A3 is not the biggest, but arguably the most stylish and upscale iteration of the Volkswagen Group's modular small car platform. While we get the four-door sedan and convertible only, in Europe, Audi also offers a three- and five-door hatchback.

Now, Audi is launching the ultra-high-performance RS3, a theoretical rung above the S3. If it comes to the U.S. market, it will likely be a sedan, priced somewhere in the mid-$50K range.

How does it drive?

Like a supercar. The turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine serves up 343 lb-ft of torque from a low 1625 rpm and up to 5550 rpm. At that point, there is a seamless transition to the lofty max power plateau of 367 horsepower, which stretches all the way to 6800 rpm. The power orgy translates into a 0-to-60 mph time of around 4 seconds and a theoretical top speed of over 180 mph. But alas, the RS3 is governed at 155 mph, or 174 mph with an optional package selected—making it faster outright than any other vehicle in this segment.

Mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, the powerhouse sends its torque to all four wheels. The ultra-quick all-wheel drive system assiduously sends the bulk of it to the rear wheels, in order to help the RS3 enter an easily controllable slide. The steering is on the lighter side, which we like, and cornering is especially quick when fitted with the optional 255/30 R19 front tires. 235/35 R19s are standard, and they are always fitted to the rear axle. You read correctly: The optional setup features front tires larger than rear tires. It helps turn-in, so get over it.

What's it like inside?

Cool, technical, upscale. Despite great strides by Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz, Audi still makes some of the best interiors. For illustration, look no further than the ultra-thin infotainment screen that rises from the upper dashboard with a subdued whir. Getting this feature approved by the bean counters must have been a memorable battle within Audi, but it was worth it. Why? Because the iPhone-like screen of a Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac's obfuscatory CUE system, and the smallish fixed screen in BMW models can't hold a candle to it.

Fit and finish in the RS3 is exemplary, and there is ample space for four passengers. For a vehicle of its size, the RS3 overdelivers massively. For its price, we say it's just a fair deal.

How's the competition?

When—and if—the RS3 comes to the US market, it will be a sedan, and will thus compete compete with the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. While the RS3 emits an air of cold superiority, the CLA45 AMG oozes a more emotional and romantic style. Customers willing to fork out this kind of money might also be tempted check out the rear-wheel-drive, and slightly larger, upcoming Cadillac ATS-V. And there is the Subaru WRX STi—similarly sized, but less refined. All of these choices are incredibly tempting.

Overall

An almost affordable supercar in preppy, casual attire. Bring it on, Audi.

Highs

Power, handling, and precision in styling and execution.

Lows

A CLA45 AMG gets better fuel economy.

The ideal setup:

We'd go for the wider front tires for handling, we'd choose the optional aluminum appearance package for its front grille treatment, and we'd get the performance exhaust—just because.

By the numbers: 2016 Audi RS3 Sportback

MSRP: Not yet for sale in the U.S.; could list for approximately $50,000

Power / drive wheels: 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, 367 horsepower / all-wheel drive

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission

EPA fuel economy: Not EPA rated

In showrooms: Not yet in the U.S.

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