Pictures: Jason Woosey.
Pictures: Jason Woosey.
Johannesburg - Value for money is a relative concept. Think about it, R925 500 seems like a heck of a lot of money for an Audi A3, doesn’t it? But would you deem that excessive for a car that’s faster off the mark than BMW M4 GTS, Jaguar F-Type R AWD and Mercedes-AMG SL 65? Thought not.

Obviously this is no ordinary A3 as that burly body kit, 19” rims and RS badge on the bootlid attest to, and the latest RS3 sweetens the deal with an upgraded five-cylinder powerplant and the option of a sedan body for the first time.

The three-box four-door is just so much nicer to look at if you ask me, but if you’re still swayed by the extra versatility offered by the five-door Sportback, you’ll be able to buy the latest RS3 in that format from November.

Audi has given its growly 2.5-litre, five-cylinder TFSI turbopetrol engine a thorough reworking, and it’s now 26kg lighter as well as 24kW more powerful than before, with 294kW on tap at 5850rpm and 480Nm from 1700rpm.

Audi’s white coats have done considerable tinkering here to save weight and reduce friction, and they went as far as designing an aluminium crankcase, a hollow crankshaft and plasma-coated cylinder barrels, but what does that mean on the mean streets?

Strapped to our Vbox at Gerotek in Gauteng, and with the launch control sequence followed, our RS3 test car lept off the mark cleanly and undramatically, reaching 100km/h in an astounding 4.15 seconds and covering the quarter mile in 12.49 seconds.

As mentioned earlier, that makes it quicker to 100 than the BMW M4 GTS (4.20 seconds) as well as the Jaguar F-Type R AWD (4.19s), and even the Mercedes-AMG SL 65 (4.44).

There is some serious bang for buck on offer here and for the record it’s also quicker than its more direct rival, the BMW M2 (4.79s).

Thankfully the RS3’s fun factor is not limited to the g-forces. Audi’s engine acoustics are usually more soothing classical than rorty rock and roll, but Audi’s five-cylinder TFSI is a delightful exception.

Its exhaust also has adjustable flaps like any good performance car should and they can be adjusted via the Drive Select system.

You can also do this separately from the other vehicle parameters, so if you want some mechanical music on the way to work but you want an otherwise calm commute you can set the exhaust to Dynamic mode and keep the engine, gearbox, quattro etc in Comfort mode.

Ditto the suspension if you order the optional sports suspension ‘Plus’. Although the RS3 comes out the box with a sportier suspension set-up, you have to pay extra for the ‘plus’ version with adaptive damping.

Our car didn’t have this feature, and the ride was a bit on the firm side, but I found it tolerable over everyday surfaces.

That’s the price you pay for a sporty car without fancy stuff like air suspension and adaptive dampers.

Power goes to all four wheels through a quick-thinking seven-speed S tronic gearbox and RS-tuned permanent all-wheel-drive system, with more of a rear-drive bias than the quattro systems you find on tamer Audis.

Depending on the conditions and settings, its multi-plate clutch in the centre differential send between 50 and 100 percent of the drive force to the back wheels.

The RS3 handles very neatly as a result, and Audi is getting its steering act together too.

Our car felt amusingly direct and offered good feedback for an electric power steering system.

Prompt stopping power is provided by internally ventilated, perforated steel discs with huge eight-piston calipers up front, but buyers can also order carbon ceramic discs for even more slow to match the go.

That’s just the tip of the option book iceberg, and many of the interior nice-to-haves are also going to dig into your budget.

In fact, I could imagine the albeit-elegant interior being quite underwhelming if you bought a standard RS3, if such a thing even physically exists.

Sure, you do get a set of beefy-looking, Nappa-upholstered sports seats as part of the deal, but would there really be any great sense of occasion without the race-style RS sports seats with integrated headrests and diamond quilting?

Thankfully that option is just R9900.

And surely you’re not going to want it without the Virtual Cockpit, another R31 300 once you’ve added the MMI Navigation Plus that’s mandatory if you order the aforementioned digital instrumentation.

Even the exterior decorating can get quite pricey, with that lovely Nogaro blue and other similar pearl effect paints adding R34 000 to the bill.

Standard kit includes cruise control, dual-zone auto climate control, parking assist, Audi music interface and a flat-bottom multi-function steering wheel.

The RS3 sedan is relatively practical too, with tolerable rear legroom and a 425 litre boot, although rear headroom is limited.

Oh, and there’s no spare wheel.

VERDICT

It’s been a long time since I’ve come across a car for under a million rand that ticks so many of my boxes. It’s close as dammit to supercar quick, reasonably practical and really stylish inside and out. Especially out.

It’s an astoundingly brilliant all-rounder that deserves to be at the very top of your wish list if you’re shopping in this league.

FACTS: Audi RS3 Sedan Quattro

Engine: 2.5-litre, 5-cyl turbopetrol
Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 294kW @ 5850-7000rpm
Torque: 480Nm @ 1700-5850rpm
0-100km/h (tested Gauteng):4.15 seconds
Top speed (claimed):250km/h (280km/h limiter opt)
Price: R925 500
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

BMW M2 Coupe auto272kW/500NmR968 910
Mercedes-AMG CLA45 4Matic280kW/475NmR880 314
Volvo S60 T6 AWD Polestar270kW/470NmR779 526

WILDCARD

Ford Mustang 5.0 GT Fastback auto306kW/530NmR882 900

IOL Motoring