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10 Mar 2011

The Audi RS 3 Sportback has the strongest residual values of any series production car currently available in the UK. That this is the best headline with which to kick off a review of a turbocharged five-cylinder, four-wheel drive performance car is ominous.

The residual value figure comes from CAP, which predicts that after three years your RS3 will be worth 49 per cent of what you paid for it. And since you asked, what you paid for it was £39,900.

On the face of it this seems like an awful lot of money for a Golf-sized hatchback, especially so when there's an all-new A3 due one year from now, but with only 500 confirmed for right-hand drive UK production the RS3 will at least be exclusive.

It is also extremely fast. Power comes from the 2.5-litre turbocharged five-pot from the TT RS, mated to a seven-speed twin-clutch S-tronic gearbox and quattro four-wheel drive. There's no manual option purely because Audi believes there will be no demand for it, and the only body style available is the five-door Sportback.

The turbocharger generates up to 1.2 bar of boost pressure and combined with the inherent grunt of a five-cylinder unit ensures the torque peak of 332lb ft lasts from 1,600-5,300rpm. Maximum horsepower is 335bhp between 5,400-6,500rpm, while an on demand oil pump and regenerative system that recovers energy when the car decelerates enable the RS3 to return a claimed 31mpg on the Combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 212g/km.

Audi also makes a big deal about the weight saving achieved with the RS3's flared carbon-fibre reinforced polymer front wings, which as a pair are 1.8kg lighter than the items on a standard A3. However, as they appear to be the sole nod towards saving mass one can only conclude that, as beautifully finished as they are, these new wings are as much about marketing as they are enhancing performance, and at 1,575kg the RS3 is still no lightweight.

Mind you, squeeze the aluminium-look accelerator pedal all the way to its stop and it's clear that with this kind of firepower on board a family hatchback doesn't need to be particularly light. 0-62mph is covered in 4.6 frantic, stomach churning seconds and although we didn't test it, there can be no doubt that the RS3 would slam into its 155mph limiter in no time at all.

As fast as this car is though, there are some elements that don't quite live up to expectations. For a start, experience of driving the TT RS tells us that this is a wonderfully vocal engine, producing a distinctive high-pitched warble combined with hisses and sighs from the turbocharger setup. You do get elements of this in the RS3, but it's noticeably quieter, as if smothered by the A3's inherent refinement. Even with the optional Sport mode activated to open the exhaust system's "sonic flap" (as well as sharpen throttle response) it's still only half as loud as it should be.

The visual makeover is just as discreet, with a deeper front bumper with twin air intakes, those new front wings, 19-inch alloy wheels, sill extensions, a roof spoiler and black diffuser making this look not much different than any other S-line equipped A3 - of which there are many.

Inside it's a similar story, a point reinforced by the fact that the A3 is starting to look a bit long in the tooth anyway compared with the rest of Audi's product range. The rotary dial heating controls are a case in point, even if they do still work with typically Audi-like precision.

Suspension is MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear, with a wider track and ride height lowered by 25mm over a standard A3. The quattro hardware employs an electronically controlled multiplate clutch that can shuffle torque between the front and rear axles as needed, but sadly the RS3 doesn't get Audi's clever Sport differential which, by juggling power between the rear wheels, gives cars such as the S4 and RS5 an almost rear-wheel drive feel.

It might not be able to power oversteer, but the RS3 proved to be an incredibly sure-footed car on our test route in the south of France, and one with simply huge levels of lateral grip. Lean on it really hard and the tendency is for slight push-on understeer. Aggressively lift off the throttle at this point and the RS3 remains unflappable, its balance switching to neutral, but rarely anything more exciting, despite Audi fitting slightly narrower tyres on the rear axle than the front. It is, however, usefully quicker than the four-cylinder S3, with higher levels of grip and better steering too, being both nicely weighted and just about able to hint at what the front tyres are up to.

The few sections of broken tarmac encountered highlighted a ride that was fairly firm, particularly at low speeds thanks to springs and dampers that are 25 per cent firmer than an S3's - a point to look out for when the car comes to the UK in June.

No complaints about the brakes which, with enormous 370mm discs up front gripped by four-piston callipers, are tireless in their stopping power and even under extreme use resistant to ABS intervention.

If this review sounds a bit negative it's not because the RS3 is a bad car. On the contrary, the combination of the usual Audi attributes of fine build quality and a well-finished interior with the kind of cross-country pace that will embarrass many a supercar has its appeal.

There's just a nagging sense that, given the ingredients Audi had to work with, the result should feel a bit more... special.


Audi RS3

Tested: 2,480cc, five-cylinder petrol, turbocharged, seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, all-wheel drive

Price/on sale: £39,900/now (deliveries in June)

Power/torque: 335bhp @ 5,400-6,500rpm/ 332lb ft @ 1,600-5,300rpm

Top speed: 155mph (limited)

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds

Fuel economy: 31mpg (Combined)

CO2 emissions: 212g/km

Ved band: K (£550 first year, £245 thereafter)

Verdict: Exclusive and very fast, but if you want a rapid Audi for £40,000 then the S4 is a better driver's car.

Source : telegrapgh.co.uk

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