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wine in a seemingly old bottle.
2012 is a great
compact premium hatchbacks – Not only BMW 1-Series and Volvo V40 have
just been renewed, Audi and Mercedes are also joining the party with
new generation A3 and A-class respectively. In other words, all players
but Lexus CT200h are new to the market. Who will take the laurel? We
have inspected the 1-Series a few months ago and got a mixed
impression. Now we are going to see if Audi can do better. In a few
weeks' time Volvo and Mercedes should join the review list, too, by
then we can conclude which one will be the best premium hatchback for
the next 5 or 6 years. Can't wait any longer!
Born in 1996, Audi A3 does not have a long history, but it is already
older than all other competitors – Mercedes A-class arrived in 1997 and
BMW joined the battlefield in 2004. The original A3 was often seen as a
Volkswagen Golf with a classier look and less affordable prices. That
is because it was built on the same platform as Golf Mk4. In fact, the
Audi debuted a year earlier than its Volkswagen cousin, thus it carried
the mission to preview the influential PQ34 platform. This tradition
continued in the Mk2 (2003) and now the Mk3.
styling of Mk3 is an evolution of Mk1 and Mk2.
When we talk about the new A3, we don't need to spend a lot of words on
its styling. Look at the picture above and you can see it is no more
than a conservative evolution from the old car. Apart from the
new-shape front grille, headlamps and taillights – which have been
standard on any new Audis since A6 – you can hardly tell what separates
it from the Mk2 model. It even looks too boxy and conservative beside
the smaller A1, blame to the consideration for practicality, you know.
So after 9 long years waiting for the replacement of Mk2, we should be
disappointed to see the Mk3 so conservative! Actually, I think the Mk1
is far better looking than both its successors.
Because the styling is not worth our time, we had better to turn our
attention to the MQB platform that underpins the new A3. MQB stands for
Modularer Querbaukasten in German or Modular Transverse Matrix in
English. It will replace the current PQ25 (Polo / A1 / Ibiza / Fabia),
PQ35 (Golf / Jetta / Beetle / Touran / Eos / A3 / TT / Leon / Toledo /
Altea / Octavia) and PQ46 (Passat / Superb / Sharan / Alhambra)
platform altogether. In other words, close to 90 percent of all next
generation cars produced by the Volkswagen group will be built on this
platform. To make this possible, the MQB is engineered to be highly
flexible. Its wheelbase, overhangs and width are variable. Only the
distance between front axle and pedal box will be fixed. Besides, it
can accept all kinds of powertrains – petrol, diesel, hybrid and even
electric motors – without much modification. It goes without saying
that the common platform will result in huge cost savings and enhance
MQB platform will underpin close to 90% of all VW group cars...
The MQB also brings new generations of engines:
EA288 is a range of turbo diesel engines. It is improved with lower
friction, better thermal management and relocated twin-balancer shafts
to reduce vibration. The A3 offers two engines: 1.6 TDI with 105 hp and
2.0 TDI with 150 hp. The latter is 10 hp more than before.
EA888 is a range of larger petrol engines. It consists of 1.8 TFSI and
2.0 TFSI, although the A3 offers only the former at launch. Strictly
speaking, EA888 is not new because it was introduced late in the
lifecycle of the last A3 and Golf. The 1.8 TFSI on new A3 now features
Valvelift (variable valve lift) on exhaust cam and variable cam phasing
on intake side. It also sports a Toyota D4-S-style dual injection
system, which combines port injection and direction injection. As a
result, output is lifted by 20 hp to 180 hp.
The last new engine family, EA211, is probably the most important. It
made debut first in Volkswagen Up, but the Audi is the first to see it
in four-cylinder form, 1.4 TFSI. Key improvements include weight
reduction (saves 22 kg by switching to aluminum block and other
measures), twin-loop cooling circuit and an exhaust manifold integrated
with cylinder head (to quicken heat up of catalyst). The regular
version produces 122 hp and 147 lbft of torque, identical to the old
engine but guarantees lower fuel consumption. A more sophisticated
version adds dual-VVT and an innovative cylinder deactivation system
based on Audi's Valvelift mechanism. It shuts down the valves on
cylinder 2 and 3 under light load to save fuel. This engine produces a
respectable 140 hp and 184 lbft. It could be the best selling of all
kg lighter than the old car in average.
One of the key developments of MQB is lightweight engineering. The new
A3 uses not only a lot of high-strength and hot-stamped
ultra-high-strength steel to construct its monocoque but also aluminum
for its bonnet, front fenders and front bumper beam and a magnesium
dash support. Besides, its body size is virtually unchanged – same
length and height, just 12 mm wider and 23 mm longer in wheelbase – in
contrast to the trend of most rivals. More weight is saved by using
lighter seat materials and fewer cables. Audi claims it is 80 kg
lighter than the equivalent Mk2 in average. To my surprise, the claim
is accurate. According to my records, a Mk2 A3 1.4TFSI 3-door with
manual transmission weighed 1255 kg. The new equivalent car? Only 1175
kg. The difference is exactly 80 kg. Compare with BMW 114i or 116i, the
A3 1.4TFSI is a good 110 kg lighter. The gap gets narrower if you move
up to the iron-block 1.8 TFSI or TDI engines, but the A3 is still a few
dozen kilograms lighter than its rival.
Less remarkable is its aerodynamics. The new Mercedes A-class leads the
class with a 0.27 coefficient of drag. A3 and 1-Series trail it at
0.31. All three cars employ suspensions with the same layout –
MacPherson struts up front and multi-link at the rear – but the BMW has
an advantage with its rear-drive, longitudinal powertrain and 50:50
weight distribution. The Audi and Mercedes are more mainstream, being
primarily front-wheel drive and optional with 4WD. All of them have
switched to electrical power steering, or what the German prefer to
call "electromechanical" power steering.
the A3 seems yet to extract the potential of MQB. It once again pays
the price for piloting a new platform.
On the road, the new A3 feels immediately different from the old car in
its softer suspension tuning, at least on standard suspension (there
are stiffer and lower suspensions for Sport and S-line trims). Its
low-speed ride is a lot more compliant, although high-speed damping is
sacrificed a little. Wind, road, tire and engine noises are all
noticeably reduced. Drive it normally and you will enjoy the new-found
refinement. The steering is reassuringly weighted and free of kickback.
The body control is tidy, the grip and braking are all satisfying. Up
the pace and the story is not as good. The steering might gain weight
with the Audi Drive Select control switched to Dynamic mode, but there
is precious little feel it offers, and its ratio is a tad too slow for
the like of keen drivers. Hit a mid-corner bump and the chassis
bounces, hinting that the suspension is too soft or the damping is not
well resolved. The sportier suspensions might solve the problems but
they will undoubtedly bring a harsh ride. Dynamic-wise, the A3 seems
yet to extract the potential of MQB. It once again pays the price for
piloting a new platform. Given more time for development, I expect
Volkswagen Golf 7 will have these problems sorted out.
The powertrain range is more competitive. The 180hp 1.8 TFSI offers
good performance (0-60 in 6.8 sec) yet low emission (130g/km), although
it is not comparable to the higher power offerings from BMW (218hp
125i) and Mercedes (211hp A250). The 1.4 TFSI 140hp displays a bit more
turbo lag but it is fun to access and should deliver diesel-like
frugality. The 150hp 2.0 TDI is punchy, but for smoothness and
quietness we would choose the 105hp 1.6 TDI instead, especially when
the latter emits just 99 grams of CO2 per
km and qualify for tax break. In general, the A3 is greener and less
thirsty than its rivals.
low-set dashboard is inspired by A1.
However, what makes the A3 stands out is not the mechanical side but
the interior. We know it has always been strong in this aspect, but the
new car has lifted the standard again. Inspired by A1, the new
dashboard is low-set, clean and uncluttered. Jet-turbine-style air
vents inject more sense of style, as do the minimalist center console
and the free-standing slim LCD. The latter is part of the MMI
infotainment system. You control the MMI through the classy rotary knob
on the transmission tunnel. The knob also incorporates a
touch-sensitive writing pad on its top surface for character input –
just wonder how right-handers on RHD cars use it to write. As expected,
material quality, fit and finish set new standards for its rivals to
follow. The only downside is the lack of rear seat space. Knee room
seems to be benefited nothing from the wheelbase extension, thus it is
still tighter than the case of Golf. Not sure how it compares with
1-Series or new A-class, but they should be close.
Alright, the new A3 does not match the best for driving dynamics, and
it is not exactly fun to drive fast, but it is a desirable product in
its own right. It has a versatile range of powertrains, a green state
of mind and the highest quality cabin of the class. Strong resale value
means it won't be a wrong purchase. Nevertheless, I suspect the next
generation Golf could be an even better purchase, as its track records
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| A3 Sportback
romantic name can't hide the fact that it is a conventional 5-door
Audi uses the term
"Sportback" to represent what we normally call "5-door hatch" as it
believes the latter does not sound very upmarket. This name, in
to the chromed roof rails and larger rear quarter windows, give
the car a false impression of a sport wagon. In fact, if you inspect
its technical data you will find the A3 Sportback is every bit a
conventional 5-door hatchback. Audi said its wheelbase is stretched by
35 mm from the 3-door version, but the resultant 2636 mm is no
different to its 5-door cousins Volkswagen Golf VII and Seat Leon Mk3
which we have reviewed recently. This mean its rear accommodation is
more generous than the 3-door A3 but not more so than its cousins. The
goes for the boot, which has been boosted to 380 liters and matches
exactly those cars.
We can also question how "Sport" it is. Carrying an extra 30 kg,
sharing the same powertrains and suspensions, the A3 Sportback is
definitely no more sporting than its 3-door alternative. In fact, it
seems to understeer a tad more than the 3-door, while the longer
wheelbase improves ride quality a little bit. If you avoid the optional
sport suspension and large-diameter wheels, it is a perfect companion
on all sorts of surfaces, something cannot be said to the old car.
However, driving thrill is not its strength.
thrill is not its strength...
Like Seat Leon FR, the A3 is available with the new 184 hp
version of 2.0 TDI diesel motor. Its strong mid-range torque provides
extra thrills and the capability of 0-60 mph in 7 seconds. However, the
150 hp version 2.0 TDI suits the car better because of its smoother
Is the A3 Sportback a better car than Golf and Leon? Objectively it is
not, but if you don't mind to spend more money for a premium badge and
classier interior, it won't disappoint you.
||All rights reserved.
| A3 Saloon
borderline between A3 and A4 gets mushier with the new A3 Saloon...
There is a clear borderline
between Audi A3 and A4. One is a family hatch built on a mainstream FF
platform, whereas another is genuinely a premium saloon. Now with the
launch of A3 Saloon, this borderline is getting mushier. At the first
glance, the A3 Saloon looks more like an evolution of the last generation A4. It has the graceful
proportion of the old car and even shares much the same external
dimensions – save shorter overhangs. Underneath the skin, however, it
is the same MQB platform as other A3s, Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and
Skoda Octavia. In particular, it rides on the same 2636 mm wheelbase as
A3 Sportback. In this way, Audi succeeded to build a premium-feeling
car without resorting to a really premium platform, saving a great deal
of money and guaranteeing a good profit margin.
The A3 Saloon does not have many rivals. Mercedes CLA-class, which
beats it to the market by just a couple of months, is the only direct
competitor at the moment. BMW is still considering whether to build a
saloon version of 1-Series, so it won't come in the near term. Compare
with CLA, the Audi is a lot more conservative in design, but it strikes
back with a much higher quality interior, which is shared with other
A3s. The materials as well as fit and finish are good enough to be used
in A6. Audi has long been peerless in this respect. This car is no
As expected, the baby saloon is not going to threaten A4 for cabin
space. A couple of 6-footers can barely squeeze into the back seat with
no headroom and legroom to spare. Compare with A3 Sportback, its
curvier roofline sacrifices 11 mm headroom. On the flip side, the trunk
can swallow 425 liters of luggage, 45 more than the Sportback.
Moreover, the rear seat can be folded to expand luggage space.
with Sportback, its curvier roofline sacrifices 11mm headroom, but the
boot gains 45 liters.
While the packaging is absolutely premium, the dynamics is less
impressive. Audi offers it with some good engines, such as the 140 hp
1.4 TFSI with cylinder deactivation, 150 hp 2.0 TDI and 180 hp 1.8 TFSI
dual-injection. The 6-speed manual and twin-clutch gearbox are also
world-class. However, you can enjoy the same on a cheaper Volkswagen
Golf or Seat Leon – that is the inevitable downside of platform
sharing. If you want a performance edge, you will need to wait for the
S3 saloon with 300 hp 2.0 TFSI engine and Haldex 4-wheel-drive system,
but that will be another story. The A3 saloon does not have any
response to Mercedes CLA250 or BMW 125i.
Even if it had a more powerful engine, I suspect its chassis is not
good enough to match. Like any typical Audis, its handling is safe and
predictable, while ride quality biases towards the firm side. It
doesn't feel especially agile or interactive. The FF layout leads to
more understeer than desired. The steering is precise but lack of feel.
Competent its chassis might be, it fails to inspire driving excitement.
Not even the optional Audi Drive Select control or adaptive dampers can
change its nature.
That said, the Audi is not as flawed as Mercedes CLA. It is worth
recommending to those not particularly demanding on driving thrills, or
the majority of car buyers. If you demand more, then you had better to
look elsewhere. BMW 1-Series and Mercedes A-class are sportier, while
the new Golf GTI is an even smarter choice if you can sacrifice the
Audi's badge and upmarket looks.
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| Audi S3
EA888 engine is versatile: powerful, smooth, linear and light on turbo
BMW set the standard high
with M135i last year. It unusually combines six-cylinder turbo power
and rear-drive handling to provide the most satisfying driving
experience in the class. Audi S3 is relatively conventional. A 2.0
turbo four is mounted transversely up front and drives primarily the
front wheels. When computer detects the front slips, the rear axle is
engaged by a Haldex electrohydraulic multi-plate clutch to share the
duty of providing traction. In other words, it has the same format as
the last S3 as well as Volkswagen Golf R.
However, there are plenty of refinements from the old car. First of
all, the new EA888 engine is made stronger yet 5 kg lighter, although
its cylinder block is still made of cast-iron. It tilts to the back by
12 degrees to improve weight distribution a little bit. Now it gets
variable valve timing at both camshafts and "Valvelift" mechanical (a
2-stage variable valve lift) at the exhaust cam. Twin-balancer shafts
ensure a smooth running which is also crucial to its high-end
performance. The FSI direct injection system now adds port injection
(like Toyota's D4-S) which mixes fuel and air more effectively than
direct injection at partial load. A large turbocharger pumps 1.2 bar of
boost into combustion chambers through an air-to-air intercooler. As a
result, the new engine produces 300 horsepower and 280 lbft of torque,
more than even the 280 hp Opel Astra OPC. That is to say it is the most
powerful 2-liter hot hatch now, although the upcoming Mercedes A45
AMG will easily trump it with 360 hp.
can sprint from standstill to 60 mph in merely 4.6 seconds when paired
with the super-responsive S tronic gearbox.
The AMG might be a lot more powerful, but I suspect its power delivery
won't be as smooth and flexible as the S3. For a high-performance
motor, the EA888's turbo lag is mild, whereas its power delivery has no
special kick, so it spins linearly from very low rev right to the 6800
rpm cut-out. Such a friendly and versatile manner is impossible on the
less sophisticated engines offered by OPC, Renaultsport or Ford. Only
the larger BMW six-cylinder can better it. The sound it produces is
also quite delicious, thanks to a valve in the exhaust system which
opens up to a bassy soundtrack at higher rev. If not enough, the audio
system will be able to play an artificial engine note through speakers
to deceive the passengers that they were being propelled by a
Undoubtedly, the S3 is a very fast machine. In straight line, it can
sprint from standstill to 60 mph in merely 4.6 seconds when paired with
the super-responsive S tronic twin-clutch gearbox, and easily storm to
the 155 mph limit. In the twisty, its Quattro system shows an advantage
in offering better traction out of corner (especially on wet surface)
as well as keeping torque steer to the minimum, so it is faster than
its FWD rivals on an unfamiliar road.
ride is now so good that you might find the optional magnetorheological
adaptive dampers superfluous...
Compared to the old car, its handling is definitely better. The MQB
platform makes it 60 kg lighter than its predecessor. Aluminum bonnet,
front fenders, front subframe and suspension bearings save 17 kg from
the front axle, which has been moved forward by 42 mm to improve weight
distribution. In addition to a new variable-ratio steering, which turns
faster with more lock, the new S3 feels more agile in the twisty. Its
turn-in gets sharper, if not ultimately as sharp as the better balanced
M135i or the sportier setting Renault Megane RS265. Although its
suspension is set 25 mm lower than the regular A3, its stiffness is a
sensible balance between handling and ride comfort. In fact, the ride
is now so good that you might find the optional magnetorheological
adaptive dampers (previously reserved to TT) superfluous. This might be
a surprise to those familiar with any S-badge Audis.
However, the all-round ability is accompanied with a typical drawback
of Audi – lack of communication and character. Its steering is
undeniably direct, but even by the standard of electrical power
steering its feedback is poor, failing to connect the driver to the
road. Meanwhile, the oh-so-good manner of its engine, suspension and
traction result in little drama in the driving. Even if you dial the
new Audi Drive Select control system to the sportiest mode, it still
refuses to oversteer like M135i or Megane RS265. Consequently, it
delivers an effective rather than entertaining drive. For a
high-performance hot hatch, this is not good enough. Lastly but not
least, the S3's exterior design is too dull, too conservative to ignite
excitement. Can't understand why the same company that produced the TT
could accept this lukewarm styling.
||All rights reserved.
| Audi S3 Saloon
looking body adds appeal to S3.
A compact sedan with 4-wheel drive and a 300-horsepower 2-liter turbo
engine. 0-60 is accomplished in 4.7 seconds. All sound like a
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo or Subaru Impreza STi, yet its interpretation is
so different. Calmer, more civilized and more restrained. Much better
built and more refined. This is the Audi S3 sedan.
The sedan body shell looks more graceful and better proportioned than
the S3 Sportback with which it shares wheelbase and all the
mechanicals. It doesn't catch attention like the radical Mercedes CLA,
but that understated image is exactly what many buyers prefer. While
the CLA drives less well than its look suggested, the S3 never
disappoints. It has all the traditional strengths of fast Audis, such
as excellent traction and grip and very strong performance. Meanwhile,
it doesn't carry over the traditional weakness of Audi, i.e. a harsh
ride. With the adaptive damping set to Comfort mode, it actually rides
pretty good. The body control, the precision of steering, the engine
sound and the gearshift are all up to the job. The only thing we wish
it can do better is driver interaction. It would be good if it could
deliver more steering feel and its tail could be more adjustable on
throttle. You can't get them because the Quattro system implemented by
Haldex multi-plate clutch is front-biased most of the time and never
sends the majority of power to the rear axle. Another small complaint
is some turbo lag presented below 2000 rpm, something won't happen on a
That BMW is really a headache to the Audi. It is slightly quicker yet
feels more relaxed to do so. It has a classier motor and a true sports
car layout yet it costs less to buy. Unless you can't live without the
high quality cabin of Audi, it won't be too sensible to choose it
instead of the BMW.
|All rights reserved.
| Audi A3 Cabriolet
switch from hatchback to 3-box body makes the new A3 Cabriolet more
Having switched from
hatchback body to 3-box body, the new A3 Cabriolet looks more upmarket
than the last generation. You might not notice that it actually shares
the short wheelbase with A3 3-door hatch, but you do appreciate the
elegant trunk, the lack of rollover bars as well as the heavy use of
chrome on its windscreen pillar and shoulder line… all these make it
more like the late A4 Cabriolet.
As before, the heavily modified structure means it could not be built
on the same line as the regular A3, so its production takes place at
the Gyor plant in Hungary, just beside the production of TT.
Its new MQB platform employs more high-strength and ultra-high strength
steel, an aluminum bonnet, aluminum front subframe and bumper beam such
that its body is 30 kg lighter than before. Its soft top has a
lightweight frame made of magnesium and steel. Its power mechanism is
brilliant, capable of opening or closing in 18 seconds and work at
speed up to 50 km/h (31 mph). Unfortunately, when it is opened, you do
notice a lot of wind buffeting, especially for those at the rear seat.
They also suffer from limited legroom, so don’t expect to take adults
at the back unless for a very short trip. On the plus side, the longer
trunk contributes to 60 liters more luggage space, now measures 287
liters with the roof stowed or 320 liters with the roof up.
it is competent rather than exceptional...
On the road, the A3 Cabriolet is generally refined. Sometimes on poorer
roads you can feel some body flexes or vibrations from the steering
column, but that is to be expected for a compact cabriolet. The
optional acoustic roof does a great job to silent the interior. The
engines and S Tronic gearbox are expectedly refined. Even the steering
is muted in Audi’s fashion. Don’t expect it to be an Alfa Romeo Spider.
The Audi offers neither sharp feedback nor sweet soundtrack, nor its
boxy exterior as sexy in real metal. Its dynamics is competent rather
than exceptional. The forthcoming BMW 2-Series Convertible has a good
chance to beat it.
It is not short of performance though. You are served with 5 engine
choices: 110 hp 1.6 TDI, 150 hp 2.0 TDI, 140 hp 1.4 TFSI ACT, 180 hp
1.8 TFSI and 300 hp 2.0 TFSI – the latter is reserved for S3 Cabriolet
and is mandatory with Quattro. All cars are claimed to have unusually
high top speeds thanks to the drag coefficient of 0.30, which is
actually lower than the A3 hatchback. I would like to see the addition
of 220 hp 2.0 TFSI (Golf GTI) engine, but it seems that the open top
chassis is not good enough to take on that option without resorting to
4-wheel drive. Overall speaking, the new A3 Cabriolet is a credible
choice in the niche segment, but not especially memorable.
|All rights reserved.
| Audi RS3
5-cylinder engine achieves V8 level of output and a distinctive 5-pot
We buy hot hatches
because they are fast, nimble, fun to drive yet practical and
affordable. If the definition of hot hatch is stretched beyond these
qualities, is it still a hot hatch? Audi RS3 always falls into such
confusion. Because of the presence of S3, the range-topping RS3 has to
offer more in every way. Most notably is the engine. While most others
employ 2.0-liter turbo fours, the super Audi runs a 2.5 TFSI 5-cylinder
motor. Codenamed EA855, it is modified from the last generation RS3.
Thanks to its extra cylinder and displacement, it needs no more than
1.3 bar of turbo boost pressure to achieve V8 level of output, i.e. 367
hp and 343 lbft. Mind you, that overshadows Mercedes A45 AMG to be the
most powerful car in the hot hatch crowd. Milder turbo boost explains
why its power delivery is noticeably more linear and more accessible
low down than the AMG motor, although the latter does feel more
exciting. Its peak torque is available across a very wide band, from
1625 to 5550 rpm, while peak power does not dip until 6800 rpm. The
distinctive five-pot rhythm is also quite delicious.
The 174 mph top speed easily beats the best effort of new Honda Civic
Type R (167 mph), yet it is still regulated electronically. More
relevant to real-world performance is the 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds,
which qualifies to be a junior supercar. Nevertheless, part of that is
attributed to the flawless response of its 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox
(with one more ratio than lesser S3) and Haldex 5 Quattro system. In
the real world, some said it doesn’t feel as quick as A45 AMG. In fact,
not much quicker than a VW Golf R.
The story of excess engineering and equipment does not end there. The
new RS3 has massive rubbers measuring 235/35ZR19, or even wider
255/30ZR19 front tires if you take the option (the rears remain the
same). Its standard steel brakes are already large (370 mm discs and
8-piston calipers up front; 310 mm discs and single-pot calipers at the
rear), but Audi recommends those taking the car to race track to opt
for ceramic brakes, something absolutely unique to the hot hatch class.
The suspension is not forgotten. It is stiffened and lowered by 25 mm
compared with standard A3. The front track is widened by 24 mm, while
the front pivot bearings are converted to aluminum to save weight.
Magnetorheological adaptive dampers, which are optional on the S3, are
made standard here. All told, this is the classiest hot hatch we have
ever seen, more so than the last generation RS3.
a heavier nose, it doesn’t steer as sharp or as eagerly as the lighter
Unfortunately, it also makes the car unnecessarily complicated and
expensive. Its £40,000 starting price is already out of the reach
of most people who would consider hot hatches (well, except those AMG
buyers). Adding the must-have options, such as the adaptive dampers
(otherwise the ride is too hard), loud exhaust, sports bucket seats and
satellite navigation and you will get the world’s first £50K hot
hatch. Wouldn’t it be wiser to buy a mid-engined Porsche or BMW M3?
However, giving the RS3 the biggest threats or embarrassment should be
its close cousin, Golf R. The simpler, less engine, less powerful Golf
is lighter and feels more agile. While the new RS3 is already 55 kg
lighter than its predecessor (thanks to MQB), it is at least 100 kg
heavier than Golf R. Moreover, its iron-block 5-cylinder motor hanging
beyond the front axle doesn’t help agility. This means, although it
does understeer much less than before – thanks to the Haldex 5 which
sends power to the rear wheels more quickly – it still doesn’t steer as
sharp or as eagerly as the lighter Golf R. Neither does the dull
steering engage its driver as it should be at this level of
competition. Once again, the Audi has superb traction, lateral grip,
braking and even a quick steering rack, but its inadequate tuning just
fail to put all things together and realize a dream driving experience.
If you want to steer by throttle, you will be disappointed with its
reluctance to react. This robs the fun to drive on track and renders
the ceramic brakes useless.
The lack of interactive chassis might matter less on public roads, but
then you will find the ride quality is always on the firm side, lacking
the compliancy of most rivals. In the end, the best assets of RS3
remain to be its weather-proof handling and its superb powertrain.
That’s not good enough to be worth so much money.
|All rights reserved.
| Audi RS3
400hp make a new hot hatch king?
Finally, the “400hp
hot hatch” is born! We have been anticipating this since Ford Focus
RS500 lifted the bar to 350 horsepower in 2010, and the feeling got
stronger again in 2015 when Mercedes-AMG improved its A45 to 381
horses. Although Audi RS3 still trails the AMG for specific output –
the latter’s engine is a cylinder and half a liter down, remember –
being the first hot hatch to reach the 400-horsepower milestone is
still something worth celebration. Back in 1984, this is the horsepower
produced by the world’s most exotic supercar, Ferrari 288GTO. The GTO
achieved that level with 8 cylinders and twin-turbocharging, whereas
the Audi needs only 5 cylinders and one turbo, yet it shows less turbo
lag and offers a much flatter torque curve – the 343 lbft of peak
torque is available from just 1700 rpm and keeps flatting out for the
next 4150 rpm. Technology has really moved on a lot in the past 3
Compared with the RS3 introduced 2 years ago, the 2017 update differs
in a number of areas. The 2.5-liter five-cylinder motor is taken
straight from TT RS. This means it has various improvements, such as
dual-mode injection, Valvelift (on the exhaust side), higher boost
pressure (up from 1.3 to 1.4 bar) and an aluminum cylinder block. The
latter saves 26 kg and, crucially, makes the RS3 less nose-heavy. The
chassis has received appropriate modifications, too. The tracks get
slightly wider (by 20 and 14mm front and rear respectively), the
suspension setting is stiffer, and the ESP software is retuned.
Outside, the car received a facelift like the rest of the A3 range, in
particular a sharper hexagonal grille, headlights and intakes. All
combined to make the RS3 looks more aggressive, if not more tasteful.
Oh yes, the RS3 is finally available in saloon form, so America and
China will be happy.
to the lighter nose and retuned suspension, the RS3 is no longer
default to understeer...
On the road, both versions drive virtually the same (why not? they are
only 5 kg apart). Both are very quick, capable of 0-60 mph sprint in 4
seconds flat, if not as quick as the lighter TT RS. The new engine
still displays some turbo lag low down, but it gets really strong from
2500 rpm and it doesn’t stop revving until 7000 rpm. The 5-cylinder
motor is smoother and sounds more characterful than the 4-cylinder
you normally find in this class, although I reckon the straight-six of
BMW M2 is even better. The M2’s Getrag twin-clutch gearbox is also
slightly better than Audi’s S tronic, whose gearshift is less incisive
and consistent. Anyway, in straight line the Audi is just as quick as
the BMW. In corners, it might even have a slight advantage, thanks to
the Quattro traction.
What really differs it from the old car is handling. Thanks to the
lighter nose and retuned suspension, the RS3 is no longer default to
understeer. Its turn-in is sharper, and the balance is more neutral.
The Quattro system seems to be keener to send torque to the rear. As a
result, it feels more agile and less nose-led, although still not quite
as agile as a rear-drive machine like the M2. On winding roads, it is
definitely more entertaining to drive than the old car.
If you push the car hard into corner and lift off abruptly mid-corner,
you can even induce a bit of oversteer, something not possible on the
old car. That said, the power slide it affords is relatively subtle.
Unlike an M2 or Ford Focus RS, which is benefited with GKN Twinster
device, you won’t be able to hold the power slide at large attack
angles. So while the car is more entertaining to drive than before, it
is not quite the last word in the hot hatch crowd. In fact, far from
it. Its steering is precise but a tad light and numb. The ride is stiff
so you need to opt for magnetic adaptive dampers to deal with B-roads.
As a hot hatch, its talent is still too one-dimensional, placing too
much weight on power.
Another weakness is price. Entry price has risen by 5 grand to
£45,000. Add a boot and adaptive dampers and it will be a
£50,000 purchase, which sounds nonsense to me despite the unusual
straight line performance it offers.