There’s no doubting that we’re in a very special era in sports car history. Relatively practical cars, like the 2018 Audi RS3, are putting up horsepower numbers and 0-60 mph times that only mid-engine super cars from just five years ago could boast. That kind of performance, which was only attainable in the $150,000 price range, is now available in the $50,000 bracket. And the RS3 isn’t alone — there’s an honest competition heating up, conjuring up memories of some of the best sports car rivalries of the past.
The U.S got its first RS3 in 2015 but it seemed to be more of a reactionary move to the success of the BMW 1M and later M2. The 2018 RS3, however, is a surgical strike, and that blue and white roundel on the M2’s trunk might as well be a target.
Power comes from the same 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-five from the TT RS which means it splits the same 400 horses to all four wheels and can get from 0-60 mph in just under four seconds. On the track, you can see why AWD was banned from professional road racing — even with the traction control and driver aids off, there’s no searching for grip — coming out of turns, throttle wide open, all that’s needed is a dab of steering input and the quattro handles the rest. The RS3 is one of those cars that just likes to be tossed around, but the important thing is that it can handle the abuse and still never feel out of control.
Where the RS3 really shines, though, is on the open road. The practicality of a four-door sedan can’t be overstated enough, but it’s the engine’s performance that brings the platform to the place it needs to be. The base-level A3 drives as if there’s too much car for the engine and the S3 finds a nicer balance between power and control — but giving the RS3 100 horsepower on top of that adds the extra thrill needed to make the car really entertaining. And that might be the best aspect of the RS3: when you want it to be a true apex-hunting driver’s car it’s ready and waiting, but when you need it to be a sensible mid-sized sedan, it has you covered on that front too.
Ever since the A4 and BMW 3-Series moved up market, we’ve been deprived of a true competition in this segment. The Audi RS4 versus the E46 M3 was a good match, just like the E30 M3 versus the Mercedes 190e 2.3-16, and the BMW 2002 versus the Datsun 510 before that. The RS3 against the M2 is shaping up to be the title match of this generation.
Audi hosted us at Lime Rock Raceway in Connecticut for the day to experience the 2018 RS3.
Maybe Something in Two-Door Flavor
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