Just 20 miles north of Rome, the 2015 Audi RS 3 Sportback attacks the Vallelunga Circuit, and since its charismatic, turbocharged, 2.5-liter inline-five engine spreads its 343 lb-ft of torque from 1,625 to 5,550 rpm, the speed available in every gear feels infinite and accordingly irresistible. The car never has traction troubles in the corners, and it decelerates with aplomb, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission automatically blipping the throttle during downshifts. The turbo five-cylinder makes a simply phenomenal noise when pushed hard — a jam session dominated by bass and drums, supported by the trumpets of Jericho. The music can be amplified if you opt for the sport exhaust, which blends a hoarse liftoff blat-blat with a full-throttle decibel explosion that almost hurts.
The 2015 Audi RS 3 is composed and compliant going into corners, although the car feels far less lively than the rear-wheel-drive M135i. Not to call it uninteresting. The RS 3 is devilishly fast, and you don’t have to sell your soul to master its oomph. Quicker steering, lightweight suspension pieces, higher-rate springs with an inch lower ride height, firmer dampers, larger brakes, smartly tuned all-wheel drive, and electronic nannies work together to keep the RS 3 pasted down. More money will buy magnetorheological dampers and carbon-ceramic front rotors, and the Drive Select system lets you personalize traits such as steering effort, throttle response, shift speed, damping calibration, torque split, and exhaust note, the latter varying in intensity from Wagner classicism to Kraftwerk rock to Ramstein Air Force Base. Top speed is a governed 155 mph, but Audi can program the ECU so that the RS 3 will reach 174 mph — for a cost, of course.
Looking tough, yet feeling good
Even without options, the 2015 RS 3 is more expensive than its competitors and encroaches on the territory of the Audi S4. To spend this kind of cash on a hatch, you need more than thrilling performance. You need street cred, prestige, and the right type of go-fast image.
The RS 3 has all that and more, thanks in part to butch wheels, glossy black air intakes, matte silver trim, and a skateboard-size rear wing. Audi even flared the front wheel arches to accommodate the optional 255/30R-19 tires, which are almost an inch wider than the rears. A menacing all-black body kit is optional.
Touch a surface inside the RS 3 and chances are you’ll find cowhide, faux suede, or metal. The car’s upgraded navigation system may not be the latest sensation, and there are only the most basic assistance systems on board, but ergonomics leave nothing to be desired, and the RS bucket seats are an absolute dream in terms of comfort and support (although they cost a small fortune).
The best that Quattro GmbH offers
The RS 3 might be a leather-clad, $50,000 interpretation of a $22,000 car, but it feels, looks, and sounds different enough to justify its price. Audi has done a tiptop job with the 2015 RS 3 Sportback, achieving what every automaker hopes to accomplish when pumping up a pedestrian vehicle.
Perhaps the company did too good of a job. You see, perfection counts less than character, chuckability is more important than grip, and involvement tends to be more critical than faultless execution. While the RS 3 is well sorted, feels encouragingly solid, and is absolutely predictable, its balanced, sometimes benign, character has us wanting to push the envelope even further. For this market segment, we want an even sharper mindset and even more aggressive forward thrust.
2015 Audi RS3 Sportback Specifications
|Engine:||2.5L DOHC 20-valve I-5/367 hp @ 5,550-6,800 rpm, 343 lb-ft @ 1,625-5,550 rpm|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback|
|Fuel Mileage:||21/37 mpg city/hwy|
|L x W x H:||171.0 x 70.9 x 55.6 in|
|Weight:||3,350 lb (est)|
|0-62 MPH:||4.3 sec|
|Top Speed:||155/174 mph (base/optional)|