Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Hottest hatch is very much the star

Hottest hatch is very much the star

THE consummate power hatchback is not like the proverbial London bus — you wait for one then two come along at once.

In the case of the Audi RS 3 hatchback you could wait a very long while for another car to come along as good as this high-performing model.

I am tempted to say that it is unique and that they just don’t make cars like this any more. But they do, thank goodness, and if you get a chance to drive one you will immediately notice the difference between the Audi RS 3 and any other hatch you might have experienced.

But first a little history — what is the RS 3 and where did it come from?

RS stands for Rennsport: German for “racing sport”. Audi S and RS models are a range of high-performance versions of certain car models. The first RS car appeared in 1994 with the Audi RS 2 Avant.

RS (and Audi’s S) models are designed, developed and produced in-house by Audi’s high performance private subsidiary company, Audi Sport GmbH.

The key to these RS cars lies in those two words “high performance”. But whereas high performance is still best practised on a racing circuit, these fast cars can be used on public roads.

At the wheel of the Audi RS 3 this week I have been mindful of one thing: taking extra care.

Which is no bad thing: sure, the performance is there in droves but it reminded me of my days riding motorcycles — you have to be doubly aware of what the machine you are in charge of is capable of achieving. Most of the quick motorcycles today can outstrip a car’s performance at the drop of a hat.

That said, you do not have to drive like a lunatic in the Audi RS 3 to prove anything. This is a sophisticated, finely engineered motor car with bags of character, comfort and ease of passage.

Anyone who tells you that driving a high performance car like the Audi RS 3 can’t be different from driving your average go-fast hatch has simply not driven one.

The RS 3’s in-line five-cylinder spark-ignition engine with petrol direct injection, exhaust turbocharger with intercooler, four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshaft (DOHC) engine works like a dream.

In power terms it generates 400PS — which is about 394bhp in old money, PS being the metric measure of an engine’s power output as opposed to old school mechanical measurement in brake horse power.

True, the technique of driving the RS 3 takes a bit of getting used to, but once you familiarise yourself with this car it is a joy to be behind the wheel.

When you fire it up the engine bursts into life with a throaty roar. You can take off quickly when the opportunity arises, notching up 62mph in an astounding 4.1 seconds (on the combined cycle the official figures say you can also achieve 34mpg).

When you need to rein in all this power belting through to the car’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive, you have a dual-circuit brake system with hydraulic brake assist, disc brakes at front and monobloc disc at the rear to pull you up on a penny. (For techies, the brake system is 19in with an eight-piston fixed caliper or 17in with a single-piston floating caliper.)

You get there — that is, up to speed and down again — by the expedient and smooth will of the excellent seven-speed S tronic direct-shift transmission.

This means you can drive the car in a normal auto-drive or engage the sport mode for even higher performance.

There were paddle gears on the steering wheel, which I made a lot of use of because then you can “join in” with the car in harnessing and using the engine’s guttural power to make you fly.

So you don’t buy this car to pootle around town. You don’t buy it, in my book, to prove anything intangible about your manhood or womanhood if that’s your thing.

The car — the Audi RS 3 — is very much the star here, and for those that think otherwise, to coin an outré modern phrase, this is not about you.

However, if you were about to shell out just north of £53,000 for the test car (including options, see factfile) then I suppose you are entitled to feel a little bit pleased with yourself as you drive around.

But what I have always liked best about Audi’s quick cars, as opposed to some other leading car brands, is epitomised by the RS 3. That is, this RS 3 was nothing if not understated in its looks. Long may that particular trait continue.

Even the test car’s wheels — highly stylish 19in five-arm-rotor design Audi Sport alloys in matt titanium-look, with diamond cut finish — were not over the top.

The Ara Blue crystal effect paintwork was classy up close but again a subtle finish.

Inside the Super Sport seats in Lunar silver fine nappa leather with granite grey stitching were a comfort both literally and practically when you were driving the car hard and putting it through its paces.

If you are the kind of person that likes a high performance hatch as your wheels of choice and can afford to indulge yourself, the Audi RS 3 is one to get the adrenaline flowing and put the driver satisfaction monitor on high.

RS 3 Sportback 2.5 TFSI quattro 400PS S tronic

Total cost of test car: £53,595

Colour: Ara Blue, crystal effect (£775)

Interior: Super Sport seats in Lunar silver Fine Nappa leather with Granite grey stitching (£795)

Options include:

19in five-arm-rotor design Audi Sport alloys in matt titanium-look, diamond cut finish (£695)

Privacy glass (£375)

Matrix LED headlights with LED rear lights and dynamic front and rear indicators (£895)

Comfort and Sound Pack (£995)

RS Sport exhaust system (£1,000)

RS Sport suspension with Audi Magnetic Ride (£995)

Matt aluminium Styling Pack (£800)

• Audi Phone Box with wireless charging (£325)

Motoring

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