Ingolstadt, Germany - If you can’t say the words ‘five-cylinder Audi’ without calling to mind the awe-inspiring box-shaped Quattro that dominated rallying in the 1980s, you’re giving away your age.
But it’s also true that the new RS3 Sportback, set to debut at the Geneva motor show in March to take its place alongside the sedan version, revealed in Paris in September 2016, wears that mantle well. The smallest member of the RS family boasts Audi’s most powerful five-cylinder production engine yet - an all-aluminium 2.5-litre TFSI howler that’s 26kg lighter than the engine it replaces and rated for 294kW - 24kW more than its predecessor.
But perhaps more important is its quoted torque output: 480Nm all, all the way from 1700-5850rpm, thanks to variable valve timing and dual fuel-injection, into the intake manifold as well as directly into the combustion chambers.
That’s what Audi says is responsible for the RS3’s claimed 0-100 launch time of 4.1 seconds - although part of the credit should also go to its updated quattro system; after all, power is nothing if you can’t lay it down on the tar. Top speed, which is academic unless you live within driving distance of an autobahn, is electronically limited to 250km/h - or 280, on special request.
Transmission chores are handled by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and quattro permanent all-wheel drive, with an electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch distributing the drive torque variably between the axles. We’ve heard all that before - but the RS3 has a new trick up its quattro sleeve: The harder you drive it, and the sportier the setting on the drive select switch, the more the split is biased towards the rear wheels.
That little cleverness is included in the standard-issue handling system, which offers three modes: Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. It also modulates the steering, shift points, throttle response, adjustable exhaust flaps and the optional optional RS sport suspension with adaptive damper control. Finally, the electronic stability control uses wheel-selective torque control to keep the RS3 pointed more or less in the direction it’s going, depending on the mode you’ve selected.
Running gear includes sports suspension - 25mm lower than on the A3 - as well as 20mm wider front track under flared wheel-arches all round, with 19 inch alloys wearing 235/35 low profiles over 310mm ventilated discs; carbon-ceramic front discs are an extra-cost option.
Signature styling cues
The new Sportback has all the signature RS styling cues - black honeycomb single-frame grille, a special front splitter blade that morphs into upright funnels at the end to emphasise the wider track, LED lighting as standard with matrix headlights as an option, angular skirts, a roof-edge spoiler and a special diffuser insert framing big oval tailpipes.
“Interior appointments”, as upmarket car salesmen used to call them, include standard sports seats in black nappa leather (RS-specific front seats with more contoured profiles and integrated head restraints are an extra-cost option), a flat-bottomed, leather-trimmed multifunction RS steering wheel, and a rotary/push-button control on the centre console with text search, voice control and optional touchscreen input.
The standard flight deck has two round master gauges (revs and speed) with white graphics and red needles on black faces, and a centre display that includes a boost pressure indicator, an oil thermometer and a lap timer. Or you can opt for Audi’s virtual cockpit, which also displays a simplified readout of the infotainment system data - until you switch to the special RS screen, which shifts the rev counter to the centre, with readouts on either side for torque, G-forces and tyre pressure. And when you’re in manual mode, a scale with a colour background acts as a shift warning.
New on the RS3 are cross traffic assist rear, which looks out for crossing vehicles when you’re pulling out of a parking space, and emergency assist, an addition to the traffic jam assist that keeps you a safe distance from the car in front in slow-moving traffic at up to 65km/h; if necessary this new feature will stop the car completely.
Online services include a Wi-Fi hotspot, Google Earth and Google Street View, Apple Car Play and Android Auto; you can transfer your diary from your phone to the car, send special destinations to the satnav system and stream music from the internet to the 705 watt Bang & Olufsen sound system - and you can charge your phone in the wireless Phone Box.
The RS3 Sportback will be released in South Africa during the third quarter of 2017; pricing, of course, will depend on what our yo-yo currency is doing at the time.