Fifth cylinder adds pop to tricky Audi


“When they can build an electric car that sounds like that, I might just buy one.”

The guy in the golf club car park had a point. Two points, in fact.

Firstly, electric cars don’t sound all that great. They actually don’t sound much at all, in most cases.

And secondly, the engine note referred to was coming from the Audi RS3’s massive, oval-shaped exhaust pipes.

It’s what music legend Neil Diamond once referred to as “beautiful noise”.

And there’s no doubt that the five-cylinder, 2.5-litre, turbocharged powerplant of the Audi RS3 is one of the best in the business. Not just for the sound (which is glorious) but also for the performance.

From its snarly, rough-edged, unvarnished idle to the crescendo it makes as the revs rise, and finally, the barking and popping when easing off the accelerator, it sounds special.

“Snap, crackle and pop,” reiterated the bloke in the carpark. “Can’t beat it.”

He’s not wrong.

When the inevitable happens and smooth, silent electric motors finally replace these automotive dinosaurs, a museum visit might be needed to experience the audible joys of internal combustion. But it will be a while before low-emissions and high-emotions are mentioned in the same sentence.

This latest, all-new iteration of the RS3 – the angriest, sharpest and most visceral edition of this little pocket rocket to date – recently arrived on Aussie shores after a long wait since the 2020 arrival of the fourth-generation A3 sedan upon which it is based.

S and RS versions have been part of the Audi weaponry since 1983 as the company aimed to match strides with sporty rival BMW and, more recently, Mercedes Benz.

The slightly less wild S3, with its four-cylinder, turbocharged 2-litre engine offers a satisfying 228kW and a 0-100km/h score just below five seconds.

That will cost about $75 grand, well below the RS3’s pricetag which sails perilously close to the $100-grand mark. The test car, with a $2600 sunroof and $2150 “RS design package” will cost $98,366 before tax.

As expected, it feels seriously special.

Its raspy 294kW and preposterous 500Nm (yes, in a 2.5-litre car). It will storm to the speed limit in 3.8 seconds, which traditionally has been the dividing line between fast cars and supercars.

Despite its slightly unassuming appearance, it is 100 per cent wolf – rapid enough to lower the flag on rivals like BMW’s twin-turbo, six-cylinder M2 and keep within touching distance of Mercedes’ insane A45S AMG.

Audi transfers all of that output to the ground in the most efficient way possible, via all four wheels and a seven-speed dual clutch automatic perfectly designed for the task.

Happily, this machine is capable of bringing all this momentum to a shuddering halt, thanks to massive brakes and sports suspension with damper control.

For the first time it also uses a “torque splitter” rear differential, allowing the driver more freedom to disable dynamic stability and traction control, presumably for those who want to spend at least some of their time at the racetrack.

The engine, transmission and chassis are able to be adjusted from Sport (tooth rattling) all the way down to Comfort (surprisingly refined). For those with lots of money to spend on new tyres there’s even a facility to neutralise the rear differential to allow the Audi to be used for drifting. No thanks.

This version of the RS3 has a noticeably split personality – from cranky little missile on the weekends and a much more mild-mannered, and considerably more comfortable device during the week.

Inside the RS3 is all Audi class and Germanic efficiency. The door handles and trims have been designed with slightly harsh, angular quality, with sharply angled lines and creases. But it’s mostly plain sailing elsewhere in this snug yet spacious little cockpit.

Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” delivers all manner of options and adjustments, bringing every possible bit of detail to a vivid screen right beneath the driver’s nose (and also on the head-up display).

When in sport mode, the graphics take on a baffling design that’s tough to understand.

It’s understated, but Audi has given small cues to the car’s sporting pedigree – from the singular cherry-red slats in each of the aircon outlets, and the same colour stitching adding a bit more pizzazz to the comfy, black supple leather sports pews for each of those in the front.

The RS3 uses the new, stubby little gearshifter that replaced the more traditional version in other models. As well as working without fuss it also clears out a bit of additional space on the centre console, where the start button resides.

The Audi’s exterior keeps things relatively low key, save for the glorious 19-inch wheels (which barely conceal those massive brake discs and red brake calipers); as well as the subtle air scoop just behind the front wheel-arches.

Oh yes, and about that noise.

Well, it can be cranked up to full voice by choosing the dynamic setup for the suspension and the engine mapping and throttle similarly selected. There’s an “RS” button on the steering wheel which does much the same thing, albeit all with one or two presses.

It’s a gloriously unpolished engine note, that fifth cylinder adding bark and squark from the exhausts.

The RS3 is seriously quick. Freakishly so, when considered alongside the pedigree of the other cars capable of reaching the speed limit in under four seconds.

Audi’s design language has always bordered on the sporty side with its crisp lines and short overhangs. This car pushes that a step or two and cleverly straddles the line between turning heads and trying too hard.

And that sounds just fine.

AUDI RS3 SEDAN

* HOW BIG? Like all small cars, the A3 has become larger with each iteration. The RS3 enjoys ample leg room for four adults, despite its low-slung lines.

* HOW FAST? Zero to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds is quite a blast.

* HOW THIRSTY? Audi says it will sip 8.3L/100km, which is impressive in a car this sharp.

* HOW MUCH? Prices start from $93,891 plus on road charges. Not cheap, but not bad.



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