Every so often, a car like the 2019 Audi RS 3 arrives that can only be described with one word: sweet.
This subcompact sedan comes in a sweet size with sweet (if sometimes alarming) performance, sweet handling and even sweeter tactile feedback.
But whoa. The tester came with a $66,590 price tag. It doesn’t make it any less sweet but it sure activates a person’s pause button — and maybe for salivating but income-challenged intenders, the stop button.
Fortunately, there are some less expensive choices. In keeping with current German luxury-car philosophy, there always are pinnacle high-performance models to augment the regular lineup — as if any of these small Audi sedans could be considered regular.
Think Mercedes-AMG and BMW M Series. These are the ultra-performing and expensive top-liners for those marques. At Audi, such machines come from the Sport Division and the RS 3 is one of those creatures.
It is based on the Audi A3, a subcompact sedan, which itself is not what any enthusiast would consider mundane. Usually, subcompact denotes small, economical and low-priced. Not here. The A3 comes with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque and a price tag of $35,150 to $44,100, depending on the trim level.
Not believing that will satisfy some Audi-philes, the Sport division raises the ante with the S3, which also has the 2.0-liter four-banger but which pumps out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Prices range from $43,850 to $49,350. Both the A3 and S3 use Audi’s six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting, called the S tronic, and quattro all-wheel drive.
Climbing all the way to the summit, we find the subject here — the RS 3, which goes up one cylinder to five and displacement to 2.5 liters. Also turbocharged, it hammers out 394 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enabling the tiny, 3,593-lb RS 3 to sprint to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 174 mph. And that’s a governed, or limited, speed. It could go faster on a track with proper racing equipment.
All of this nestles in a low-slung, four-door sedan with 19-inch wheels, menacing dual exhaust pipes and ceramic racing brakes, but otherwise doesn’t exactly scream ultra high performance. Uninformed onlookers might see nothing more than a streamlined Toyota Corolla. The RS 3 is just 14 feet 9 inches long with a passenger volume of 87 cubic feet and a tiny trunk of 10 cubic feet.
But the design is clever enough to accommodate four passengers comfortably with adequate but not generous head or knee room in back. The rear doors swing wide so entry and exit are easy. There’s a seatbelt for a fifth passenger in the middle but it’s a fiction. The space is impossible for anything but a two-foot tall capuchin monkey.
Inside design validates Audi’s reputation for classy, understated elegance with fine materials. The only jarring note is the so-called sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof. In thrall to a current cliché in some luxury cars, the RS 3’s sunshade is made of a cheesecloth-like perforated cloth material, which admits hot sunlight and looks cheap next to the neighboring carbon-fiber and alcantara trim. Sunshades should be opaque.
The appeal of the RS 3 lies in the sweet driving experience. Settle into the driver’s seat, light up the engine and touch a button to choose from driving modes labeled Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. For an all-out run, you want to select Dynamic, which holds the shift points to higher revs to keep the engine on the boil for instant acceleration.
The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, calibrated to shift up and down in milliseconds, always ready for the driver’s next whim. But it would be silly to stay in the Dynamic mode in highway cruising because there would be a cost in fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 19/28/22 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. In easy, around-town cruising, Comfort works, well, comfortably.
Don’t expect a floating, limousine-like ride. Almost nobody does that anymore. The Audi RS is, first and foremost, a sports car in sedan guise with the steering and suspension system biased toward precise handling and control. So, avoid the potholes if you can and enjoy the tactile feedback as you carve corners, win stoplight drag races and shoot holes in heavy traffic.
Or simply cruise serenely and enjoy the scenery.
- Model: 2019 Audi RS 3 2.5 T Quattro S tronic four-door sedan.
- Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged; 394 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,593 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg. Premium recommended.
- Base price, including destination charge: $57,195.
- Price as tested: $66,590.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Photos (c) Audi