What is it?
There weren’t many bonafide fans of the previous RS3 in the office, and you’d struggle to find anyone who thought the car justified its prodigious price tag. Audi sold them nevertheless, and the early word on the new model – delivered by a passenger-seated Matt Prior – is that quattro GmbH hasn’t proven entirely deaf to the initial criticisms.
Subsequently, as we approach the car’s official launch date, that ride-along has morphed into an early Finland-based squirt around Audi’s winter proving ground. The bullet points remain the same: this is a modestly lighter, cleverer and faster brand of RS3, albeit still exclusively (for now) in the Sportback mould.
Responsibility for each of these things lies, respectively, in the MQB platform (a 55kg saving), new RS-applied software that enables 100 per cent of available torque to be dispatched to the reaer wheels, and an overhauled turbocharger and intercooler on the in line five-cylinder petrol engine, the latter permitting a dialing up of the boost pressure.
As a result, total output is now up to 362bhp, and there’s 343lb ft from 1625rpm. Slightly less heady, although no less pertinent, is the news that, thanks to a number of detail changes, the motor is now Euro 6 compliant and might just potentially be good for 34.8mpg. That figure was impossible to verify in Finland, of course, along with all manner of other things.
What’s it like?
Being given a winter tyre-shod car to test on snow is rather like being asked to trial a new biro by writing exclusively on banana skin. The surface, in other words, has a habit of making everything seem unreal and richly dramatic. But the reasoning for Audi is perfectly obvious: there is nowhere better, perhaps on earth, to show that your car has improved rear-end bias than a 20-metre-wide circle of ice.
The RS3, happily, rises to the challenge in fine style. Held in third gear, and heavily prodded with the traction switched out, it canters into broad, catchable, rooster-tail slides, the back axle evidently keen to accept – and retain – much more of the torque split than it might have done previously.
Eventually, inevitably, the asymmetric four-wheel drive system will seek to conclude your fun by imposing its will back on the front axle – making indulgent, 360deg drifts improbable even on snow – but simultaneously reducing the potential for an inelegant spin, too.
With nothing to hit on a very slippery surface, it’s hard not to admire this reactive and forgiving set-up very much indeed. Put things in your way though – on a more sensibly proportioned handling stage, in this case – and there are reminders enough that you are not, in fact, Ari Vatanen, and the RS3 is not a WRC car.
The darty steering, switched into Comfort mode even by Audi’s underlings, is still unlikely to be a feature keen drivers will value much, and it isn’t as though understeer – its predecessor’s default response – has been abolished from proceedings either. There were also times we would have appreciated the manual handbrake fitted to quattro’s modified passenger ride car.
Nevertheless, the good omens outweigh the bad. Even away from the full-throttle, lock-stop heroism of the skid pan, the RS3 still shows a penchant for having its mid-bend line adjusted with the accelerator pedal. And if that attitude makes it onto the asphalt as a newly biddable, neutral-steer finesse, the model will have taken a giant step forwards in likeability. Especially as the engine, although only massaged here like a snowmobile motor, retains all its angry, bit-chomping charm, while the car itself, both inside and out, is studiously handsome.
Should I buy one?
Clearly that isn’t sufficient for us to suggest you put your money where only our mouths have been just yet, but we look forward to the forthcoming launch with considerably more enthusiasm now. Especially as it’s only taken two hours inside the Arctic Circle for the latest model to register at least one cautious new admirer at HQ.
Price £40,000 (est); Engine 5 cyls, 2480cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 362bhp at 5550-6800rpm; Torque 343lb ft at 1625-5500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1520kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 4.3sec; Economy 34.8mpg; CO2 189g/km
What is it?