IT’S early Sunday morning. I’d rather be asleep but my daughter has discovered insomnia. After two hours of trying everything to get her back to sleep I succumb to the fail-safe car trip in the hope of inducing her slumber. Outside it’s raining sideways. She’s wailing as I run to the car and wet by the time I get there. But thankfully she’s asleep within minutes. Which leaves me at 5.30am, in Bristol, looking for a road upon which to kill some time while my daughter sleeps.
It could be worse. Suddenly the morning is awash with possibilities. I’m driving Audi’s RS3 Sportback hot hatch, as hot a hatch as I’ve driven in years, and quite a treat on deserted South West roads: oh rarest of pleasures. The car goes back Monday. What I can I do? It’s my job to test drive the car. So test drive I do.
The RS3 is a distinctive-looking beast. With a big gaping air intake at the front and huge wide arches (made from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic), it looks swollen because the car has a wider track than the regular A3 and thus a bigger, more stable footprint. At almost £40k it’s not cheap. At more than twice as much as an entry level model, how good can it be?
Very, very good actually. The acceleration is surprising. I had expected it to be fast but not this fast: 0-62mph in a supercar quick 4.6 seconds. Developed by quattro GmbH, Audi’s race tech subsidiary, its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine pushes out 335bhp. It also has Audi’s marvellous Quattro four-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed S tronic dual clutch transmission system. Top speed is a wholly unnecessary 155mph (restricted).
Sticking such an insane amount of power in a modest family hatchback has always been the raison d’être of hot hatchbacks. Over the years, some have been decidedly dodgy in the corners. But not this RS3. The four-wheel-drive system brings all of that power under control and delivers it to the tarmac in well-mannered fashion. The car is really, really grippy, allowing you to go round corners at a heart-quickening pace. And because the Quattro system – which whirrs and chugs away underneath you – can send all of the power to the front or rear wheels, corner exits are quicker too: as soon as you step back on the gas, the car catapults off again. The engine sounds brutal, with a deep bassy note that bubbles and boils on idle, though disappointingly makes less of a howl under acceleration than you’d expect. Shifting gears is easy and quick via the paddle shifters and a sport button on the dash turns the exhaust note up to eleven while also quickening the throttle response. Steering feedback is not quite as good as it could be – it’s the only element of the car that feels a little lifeless – but it’s no deal breaker. And, in any case, I love the small, flat-bottomed racing steering wheel so much I almost don’t mind.
Despite all of this ferocity, my daughter dozes on as I throw the RS3 in and out of the Somerset bends. Amid such high jinks it’s easy to forget that this is a family car with 1,100 litres of boot space. In the boot I have a baby buggy plus a host of other crapola. Also there’s still plenty of leg room in the back. The model we’re testing has optional bucket seats which look great and are considerably more comfortable than they appear. The ride is firm even in the normal, non-sport function mode and there is some road noise from those 19-inch alloy wheels. Otherwise the RS3 has the kind of quality and refinement we’ve come to expect from Audi.
Despite being such a bruiser of a car, fuel economy is just good enough for your heart to get it passed by your head.
So all in all, Audi’s RS3 is a thoroughly decent car, genuinely exciting and practical enough to live with. It will put a smile on your face, albeit at a price.
THE FACTS: AUDI RS3 SPORTBACK
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 212g/km
MPG COMBINED: 31mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY