Audi RS3 Sportback road test
AMIDST the Tasmanian highlands, the barren trees looked almost apocalyptic.
The wild environs were in fact the perfect location for the latest release from luxury carmaker Audi. No, the countryside hadn't received a dose of Volkswagen-derived diesel emissions, the outlook was bereft of colour after the back of winter.
But warming things up was a hot new hatch. The Audi RS3 Sportback has stormed Down Under to steal the mantle of Australia's most powerful in this segment.
And starting at $78,900, it is also the most affordable RS model within the Audi stable.
Extra athleticism comes via sports seats and a chunky flat-bottom steering wheel, along with various other internal trinkets which sex this model up compared to the standard A3.
You can opt for some other go-fast bits, like red coloured inlays within the air vents, and $4500 carbon fibre seats which weigh 7kg less than the standard offerings, but be prepared to damage the bottom line further.
It's a well designed cabin, meeting modern expectations without overcoming users with buttons. You do need to master the central toggles and dial to operate the sat nav, stereo and drive modes.
The RS3's performance can be shared with friends ... there is enough space to handle four adults as long as those in the front don't take too much real estate.
On the road
Sticky, capable and quick. Audi has developed a compact rocketship.
Within the blink of an eye, you can rip to highway speeds, the award winning turbocharged five-cylinder propelling the hatch with unyielding acceleration results.
Reaching the national speed limit is done with consummate ease, and the driver needs to keep a watchful eye on the pace.
About the only indication of speed is the tyre rumble on coarse chip surfaces, but this is a sports car, so you can't expect luxurious ride quality. The RS3 does a good job of soaking up the bumps, with a noticeable difference between comfort and dynamic modes, and those not willing to trade a plush ride for cornering prowess would be better suited to the S3 or standard A3.
Given Audi's esteemed rally heritage it comes as no surprise this performance hatch can handle a bend - aided by the famed quattro all-wheel drive underpinnings.
You can really attack the twisties, with brutal stopping power coming from the eight-piston front brakes, and slingshot your way out of corners to a wonderful exhaust soundtrack.
The seven-speed box will happily rev to the redline and does an impressive job of swapping cogs when required, which makes the steering wheel paddles more of a novelty.
What do you get?
Kit incorporates five-arm 19-inch alloys, sports seats with lumbar support, sat nav, leather and alcantara wrapped three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel, CD stereo with digital radio, full Bluetooth phone and audio integration, plus dual zone air con.
Typical of the premium realm you can option-up the RS3 with some extra gear, although it doesn't take much to push the bottom line closer to $90k with some nice gear on offer.
Throw the RS performance package into the mix and you get alloys in high gloss black, Audi's magnetic ride, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, carbon inlays and red RS brake callipers for $6490.
Our trip, with a combination of highway and testing rural stretches, saw fuel consumption rise to about 10.5 litres/100km. That's not horrible considering the official figure is 8.1, and we did let our right-foot behaviour slip on occasions.
The boot can accommodate a couple of medium-sized suitcases, and the rear seats fold 60-40.
There is also a pair of cup holders front and back, spots for bottles in each door, and while there are nooks for phones and other devices in front of the shifter, the outlet for charging phones and other devices is in the console bin (and you need a special Audi cable to fit your device, there's no USB plug).
With RS front and rear bumpers, along with side swills and diffuser insert, dual oval pipes out the back and slick five-spoke alloys the RS3 is a standout.
Dynamic competence is an understatement.
The Audi RS3 is an extremely potent package which can cope with daily commuting and then a track day.
Its key rival, the Mercedes-AMG A45, offers more theatrics in terms of the exhaust soundtrack and raw performance, but the four-rings may well have the edge in the segment with extra cabin space and a more forgiving ride.
What matters most
What we liked: Capability in varying conditions, lovely noise high in the rev range.
What we'd like to see: USB ports, less tyre rumble - but now we're splitting hairs.
Warranty and servicing: Three years unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km.
Model: Audi RS3 Sportback.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive compact performance hatchback.
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 270kW @ 5550-6800rpm and peak torque of 465Nm @ 1625-5550rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Consumption: 8.1 litres/100km.
Performance 0-100kmh: 4.3 seconds, top speed 250kmh (can be optioned to 280kmh).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $78,900.