Do you chuckle when you press your car’s accelerator to the floor? Do you have an exhaust that barks so loudly it startles passersby? Does your car cover ground so quickly that it’s just a blur to pedestrians?
If you wish you could answer yes to these questions, then Audi’s new £40,000 RS3 could be for you. It’s a four-wheel drive hot hatch that will keep up with even the most exotic machinery. But it’s not for everyone because it has little else going for it other than its impressive speed.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s extraordinarily capable. There’s nothing this side of a track-focused Lotus Elise that’ll keep up with it for the money. But this car is stuck in the Audi rut; it obliterates the competition on paper, but prompts little more than a shrug of indifference in real life.
There’s only so much fun to be had with intense acceleration, especially on British roads. But if you want a car that does more than make you feel like an irresponsible 17-year-old discovering handbrake turns for the first time, the RS3 probably isn’t for you.
To be fair, I tried it out on the potholed roads around Rome, which didn’t help. I pinned down the accelerator and even entered bends at horrendously optimistic speeds, but you can’t really go full pelt when a pothole threatens to unseat you at a moment’s notice.
They proved effective at testing the suspension though, which is firm, even with a £2,495 “dynamic package plus” including magnetic ride. Theoretically, this makes for a more comfortable cruise along the ancient broken roads we’re used to in Britain. But the experience is still of the standard you’d expect from a sports car rather than an Audi.
It’s highly unlikely you’re going to take the RS3 on a race track, but I took it on Italy’s smooth Vallelunga circuit in the hope it would help me bond with a car that, so far, had proved to be both bland and too firm for real life driving conditions.
Alas, all the track did was reveal its limits. With stability control turned on, the steering gave little feedback as I started to drive wide towards the tyre wall. Suddenly, it became wallowy – something it definitely can’t be accused of on the road.
For some people, the driving experience doesn’t matter, as long as it’s got an Audi badge. This alone makes it about as desirable as hot hatches come. But on closer inspection, it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. Many hot hatches boast body kits and big wings, which admittedly aren’t to everyone’s taste. The RS3 looks far more discreet, but what’s the point of spending this kind of money on a hatchback if you can’t shout about it?
Perversely, the interior does a better job in this department. The optional sports bucket seats are finished in Nappa leather, complete with an RS3 logo embossed at the top to remind you that you’re not driving a run-of-the-mill A3.
While it’s more practical than a TT, the amount of legroom in the rear is nothing to shout about and the boot space is down 100 litres compared to the regular A3 Sportback.
Perhaps I’m being a tad harsh on the RS3. It is a stratospherically fast and capable hot hatchback, after all. But with prices starting at £40,000 (with most buyers expected to spend at least £8,000 on options), it should be brilliant, not simply adequate.
It’s not exciting in the way a hot hatch should be, as it’s just too firm to be a fast, comfortable cruiser. Add that to the fact it’s not particularly practical and it doesn’t look the part and I’m left wondering why anyone would want to buy one at all.
THE FACTS: AUDI RS3 SPORTBACK
0-62MPH: 4.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 189g/km
MPG COMBINED: 34.9mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ★★☆☆☆