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Long lives the 5-cylinder! A love letter to the Audi RS3

As the last car manufacturer, Audi still produces the characteristically unique 5-cylinder engine. But what makes this engine so special and much appreciated?

First impressions

Of course, the RS3 is wider than the A3 or even the S3 model. But compared to the predecessor, it looks like the new one has become swollen cheeks. In relation to the track width from front to rear, the car looks extremely wide and muscular. Partly supported through the real and huge front grills and the boxy wheel arches. Thanks to the revised chassis and the body lowered by 25 millimeters and the well-known but still unique mixed tires of size 265/30 ZR 19 at the front and 245/35 ZR 19 at the rear, the RS3 appears in a new freshness. The car itself is marginally longer, wider and taller than the previous RS3 Sportback, but with the same wheelbase, and comes equipped with less luggage space (by about 50-litres).

What it’s all about

The definition of a hot hatch with historical background given to the R5-engine and the all-wheel-drive system. The special feature of the R5 engines is a special ignition interval, the intervals between which are shorter than with the in-line four-cylinder. This makes for a more even, smoother power delivery in comparison. In addition, there is the firing order of many in-line fives: 1-2-4-5-3. She is responsible for the rough and very unique engine sound I bet I can recognize every time when I’m hearing it. And finally, the Audi RS3 has always been in competition to be one of the best hot-hatches on the market!

Driving experience

The fascination of the RS3 definitely comes from the powerful drive train in the "small" but above all agile car. The essence of the hot hatch is best revealed when driving on winding country roads. It doesn't matter whether the driving style is playful with the turbo lag or under constant boost pressure. Fun is guaranteed even though the power output is nearly the same like the predecessor had.

The Audi Drive Select now features seven different settings (auto, comfort, dynamic, efficiency, RS individual, RS performance and RS torque rear). After that, the ‘RS Individual’ mode allows a triplet of adjustments to the drive system, suspension - where ‘comfortable’ is a long-legged performance setting different to ‘comfort’ - steering, engine sound, and stability control intervention thresholds. And yes, while this offers a good deal of personal fine-tuning, it’s also a bit annoying initially. Worth persevering with though. Even though such fine tuning is a bit of a faff, you can set up the relevant ‘individual’ mode so that you just double-press the ‘RS’ button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel to access it (first press gets you the ‘RS Performance’ mode), and from then on in, it’s as you like it.

Do that, with the correct set up, and the RS3 is deeply impressive. The engine warbles away, grip is consistent and strong, body control just the right side of telling you what’s going on without leaning. But the best bit is the damping, because it makes all the systems feel remarkably natural - on a bumpy, unknown b-road, this would be the car to have. On very slick roads the car can feel a little bit too front-wheel drive if we’re being picky - probably the safest option, to be honest. And the option Audi itself wants to provide because the brand isn’t known for oversteering cars at all. There are others who skillfully fulfill this cliché.

All of this sounds pretty good. It is! But it's not perfect. It's not immediately intuitive and you'll need to familiarize yourself with the car to get the most of it. It's also fairly quiet, even with the optional RS exhaust system - you'd think Audi would find at least one mode where the car was downright goofy with all the customizations. Dead loss. Additionally, the exhaust systems can be seen behind those oval exhaust bumper covers. I mean, c’mon Audi… You could do this better!

To the interior

The first thing I noticed when I got in the car were the comfy bucket seats. They support cornering on twisty roads very well and spread their usability even to long distance traveling on motorways. Beside that, I really adore their look. If the impressive chassis feels like a surprise win for the new RS3, unfortunately there are a few backwards steps, none more obvious than the interior design and quality. Last time around, the RS3’s interior broke new ground with its clean, minimalist design, motorized display and generally exceptional quality of both materials and build – not only has the new model not progressed in this department, it’s actually taken a few steps back.

The first issue is the design, which follows Audi’s current angular and complex style with lots of flat surfaces and sharp intersections. Whether you like the new look is one thing, but what brings the whole side down are the cheap materials that it’s made of. The dash top and doors are soft touch, but elements that constantly sit in your eyeline, like the driver’s air vents and things you encounter, such as the gear selector, look and feel flimsy and cheap.

I had some concerns about the visual design of the air vents in the dashboard because they are placed quite boldly and conspicuously. But I still find it quite plausible if you want to justify the arrangement with motor racing. Because in a racecar, the fresh air supply is aimed directly at the driver. Even if we are talking about a road vehicle here, this is still the sportiest of the Audi A3 series.

Coming back to the flat surfaces, the air conditioning settings and so on to be exact: The settings are now organized through a bar of knobs. Which I highly appreciate compared to the higher positioned cars in Audi’s product line-up above the RS3 where highly overengineered touch screens. Keeping away the second screen (well, actually the third beside the dashboard and central screen) not only keep costs down, but it also distracts you less. And surprisingly (not really), the knobs do their job perfectly, too.

Now what to buy

The new RS3 has become an extremely expensive car. Although Audi has refined the driving abilities and equipped the new RS3 with the latest technology, the drivetrain seems to slightly loose its unmistakable characteristics. It's a shame, because the new emission laws and noise regulations are forcing it to do so. And it is also unclear whether we will even get a successor model (apart from a facelift model). That's why this could be our last chance to keep the popular 5-cylinder engine alive.

To end this review, I wanted to thank Auto Kauth for another great collaboration and photo assignment. Make sure to check their inventory if you’re interested in buying a new Audi RS3. They’ve always got a bunch variably configurated of them in stock for reasonably fair prices and low mileage.

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