Some people say Audi design has become boring; formulaic even. We think it’s simply that the German brand has got its design language so on the money that there’s nothing left for the moaners to whinge about any more.
Besides, if anyone were to say the new Audi RS3 Saloon looks boring – especially in its brand new Viper Green coat of paint – then, well, they’d deserve a polite slap around the chops. Because, well, just look at it: this RS3 is one feisty motor, full of attitude, which joins the current (second-gen) Sportback in the company’s Racing Sport line-up. To hear its twin exhausts roar and burble is a whole other pleasure.
We adored the RS3 Sportback, having spent a week with one in 2015. It was like a cocktail of kid racer desire and company executive salary muddled together into a shot glass. The Saloon version takes things in a marginally different direction: it adds yet more power to the mix, plus that more exec-style body style, so think of it as the shaken martini: sophisticated yet powerful enough to make your legs go all wobbly. And then some.
Audi RS3 Saloon review: Design
Dressed in green it’s impossible to ignore, too. Every time we stopped at off-road destinations to take pictures people would stop to take a look and ask questions. That doesn’t happen with just any ol’ car. No doubt part of that is down to the paint job.
It might not be an everyday colour, but finished in a more day-to-day blue, white or red the RS3 Saloon looks great. Catch it from the wrong angle, however, and its bulging front wheel arches do resemble a hamster that’s tucked away a couple of spare carrots, but it’s not an angle you’ll often see outside of photography.
Based on the A3 Saloon, the RS3 model cranks everything up to 11 compared to that car’s more conventional design, mirroring the facelift design of the second-gen facelift RS3 Sportback. That means it’s got sharp, P-shaped headlights that squint alongside its hexagonal honeycomb grille. It’s a bold and brilliant look.
While sharp lines dominate – such as the folds that lead down the side of the body – there are also softer lines to bring everything together, such as the bonnet lines which curl in towards the windscreen.
Being a Saloon, this RS3 looks a little less like it’s poised on its hind legs than the Sportback model. It’s more naturally proportioned to our eyes, despite not being the best-selling form that you’ll find on the UK’s hatchback-dominated roads.
Sure, people can say Audi is being boring with design, but line this up next to a BMW M2, Mercedes AMG A45 and Ford Focus RS and we know which one we’d snap up. Yup, the Audi. And not solely because it’s the most expensive (and fastest) of the lot.
Audi RS3 Saloon review: Powerhaus
Which takes us to the unavoidable part of this review: paring down the spec and getting to grips with just how much power this RS beast offers.
Under that bright green bonnet is a 5-cylinder, 2.5-litre engine, capable of delivering a maximum 400bhp. It can fire from stationary to 62mph/100kmph in just 4.1-seconds – making it faster than the first-generation Audi R8 (but not quite as mad-fast as the latest R8 V10). Yep, it’s fast – a full two tenths of a second more so than the Sportback, showing progression in the series.
It’s not the kind of power that’s just there to sound big, either. The RS3 Saloon really and truly delivers. Switch off traction control, plonk one foot firmly on the brake, then floor the accelerator and the car will hold 4,000rpm in its Launch Mode. Release the brake pedal and the rocket-launching power of this car will propel you down the road in a manner so fun that you’ll struggle not to laugh out loud in the sheer spectacle of it. It’s a racing car for the road.
As you can tell from our two-foot tale, the RS3 Saloon comes with an auto box. This 7-speed S-Tronic setup is gloriously smooth, making the connection between driver, car and road feel completely at one. There are also manual paddles mounted on the steering wheel, if you have the need to be extra quick on the changes.
Joining the power output are (optional) ceramic brakes that are so capable of bringing the RS3 to a standstill it’s a million miles from your normal day-to-day drive. If you’re anything but the most gentle on that brake pedal then you’ll feel it right in your neck. When cornering at speed, however, a firm press ahead of riding the corner and then back onto the gas produces lines (and G-force) that you’d struggle to eke out of any other Saloon.
Driving around the smooth, mountainous roads of Oman for this two day test was an ideal setting to explore the open road at speed. And when there were other slow-moving trucks on the road, the foot-to-the-floor power form the RS3 made our overtaking endeavours easy.
And for when things got too much, there’s cruise control and a Comfort engine setting to dull the otherwise considerable thrum that this sporty motor gives out.
Despite the RS3’s apparent day-to-day sensibility features, however, it’s impossible to start it up on the quiet: your neighbours are always going to know, no matter how far away you live from them. But if you want a car like this then, well, that’s only going to be something to be proud of.
Audi RS3 Saloon review: Interior and tech
Slinking down into the RS3 Saloon’s leather race-style seats makes for a comfortable place to be. It’s similar to the original Sportback, with some extra modernisation: there’s no turnkey here, for starters, with a keyless start/stop button bringing the Saloon more up to date, just like the Sportback facelift.
There’s heaps of tech on show, from the pop-up multimedia screen to the centre (it’s hidden when the engine is off), through to the Virtual Cockpit screen beyond the driver’s wheel to keep track of everything that matters.
Avoiding the distracting nature of a touchscreen, Audi’s MMI system (which we explore more in detail in this separate feature) sees everything handled from a centre rotational dial, which doubles-up as a press button to confirm selections and jogwheel to jump back/forward in various screens. It means your eyes can be kept firmly on the road ahead.
The Virtual Cockpit can present various features, whether the sat nav, G-force meter (oh how fun it is seeing how far that can be pushed – we hit 1.2G), engine data (power and torque percentages), media and phone. Jostling between these screens is handled via the steering wheel controls, using the up/down roller controls on both left and right sides. It keeps everything within easy reach, without complicating things.
There is a deeper menu which uses the main pop-up screen to navigate through, but once you’ve paired a phone, setup WiFi (if you have Audi Connect and a SIM on board the car), and so forth you won’t have loads of reason to go back into these deeper settings, leaving you free to turn up the tunes and hit the road. In this model we had the Audi sound system, but we suspect there will be higher-end options available at cost too.
The interior trim is of Audi’s typical high quality – we particularly like the accent trim on the circular air vents. The carbon door inserts, however, seem superfluous to us – an unnecessary addition to a car already dripping in attitude without such extras.
In short, there’s abundant tech on offer here, without going overboard, all of which controllable at your fingertips or within a low-down arm’s reach. The one and only thing we’d like is cooled seats in addition to the heated options, oh and a subwoofer to pair with the otherwise serious soundsystem (exact details may change when the RS3 Saloon goes on sale in late 2017 – until then it’s only possible to register your interest, rather than fully spec-up your dream car).
There’s no doubting that the RS3 Saloon has all the hallmarks of a petrolhead’s dreams. It’s ultra-powerful, with features like the 0-62mph in 4.1-seconds Launch Mode adding to the giddy-with-excitement feature.
Despite its racing credentials, however, it is almost oddly practical: there’s cruise control, it’s responsive under braking, you can pootle along casually, too, smug in the knowledge that no BMW or Merc on the road will be able to outsmart you for on-tap speed or agility.
Ok, so the roar of that 2.5-litre, 5-cylinder engine can’t be truly dumbed down, but why would you want to? Such sound is one of the sheer joys in owning a car such as this.
The Saloon model might not sell by the bucket load in the UK, especially with a price tag that’s likely to be upwards of £45k at base level (think £55k after throwing in the abundant tech package and more besides), but as lottery win cars go this joy machine is further up the desirability list than a BMW M2 or Merc AMG A45.
If you’ve got the money and want racecar fun for the roads then this Audi has to go on your shortlist. Certainly not one for everyone, but a head-turner that’ll attract way beyond just the kid racers of this world.