Look, when you take a superb little sedan like the new Audi A3 and shove in a massively turbocharged five-cylinder, you know exactly what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna get the 2022 Audi RS3, a ferocious four-door that packs a bigger punch than any other sedan its size.
We already know from track testing that it’ll change directions like a cat chasing a laser pointer, but we weren’t sure whether it’s also content to curl up in your lap and purr. That’s what I set out to learn over a week in the RS3 in the wintry Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
While the RS3 could’ve thrown comfort to the wind, it doesn’t. It deftly balances outrageous performance with everyday luxe in as small a package as they both come. No, it’s not the fanciest or biggest car you can get for the money, but it’s a more focused execution of what it does best than most performance cars today. And what it does best, of course, is celebrate the experience of the internal combustion engine at what may be its peak—with savagery and civility in equal measure.
2022 Audi RS3 Review Specs
- Base price (as tested): $59,995 ($64,845)
- Powertrain: 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder | 7-speed dual-clutch automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 401 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 2,250-5,600 rpm
- 0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds
- Top speed: 155 mph (180 with optional Dynamic Plus package)
- Curb weight: 3,649 pounds
- Cargo space: 8.3 cubic feet
- Quick take: This lovely little luxury sedan embodies the internal combustion engine at its pinnacle with outrageous rally car energy.
- Score: 9/10
The RS3 is Audi’s smallest, cheapest, high-performance RS model, being based on the subcompact A3 sedan. Don’t assume that means it’s impotent, though; under its hood is a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five, one of the only five-cylinder engines around today. In addition to a sound that otherwise belongs to a six-figure supercar, it makes 401 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. At least, that’s what Audi says, but I’m not sure I believe it—more on that later.
That power reaches the ground through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and an enhanced all-wheel-drive system. Its clutch-based rear limited-slip differential can send 100% of the torque to either side of the car, enabling drifts. It can also distribute the power evenly to catapult the RS3 from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. With the right options, it’ll top out at 180 mph.
Function-over-form design means the RS3’s enlarged grille provides enough cooling, but also that it looks like it’s been given a Glasgow Smile that dwarfs the headlights. It’s not ugly, but I wouldn’t call it pretty, and the rear is both on the bland side and not helped by the black cosmetics package. There’s better to be said about its side profile, which subtle aero elements fill out nicely while huge brakes are visible behind the handsomely spindly wheels.
In the year since I drove the A3 and S3, its interior’s luster has worn, and the highly angular space now strikes me as over-designed. The materials also hold up better at $40,000 than they do at $60,000-plus. Still, it has plenty of head- and legroom for a subcompact sedan, if not a ton of storage space. You can’t fit much more than a wallet in the center console bin. With heated and power-adjusted front seats, it’s not lacking equipment either, though I’m surprised to see an Audi this expensive without a heated steering wheel. Controls thereon adjust the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, which is accompanied by a 10.1-inch touchscreen.
Driving the Audi RS3
We already know how good the RS3 is on-track, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a road car—that’s where it’ll be driven most. That said, there’s no ignoring the fact that performance is the RS3’s ultimate appeal, or that Audi probably undersells how much the RS3 has.
While the power takes a moment to come on, with a touch of old-school turbo lag and what felt like over-damped throttle calibration, the RS3’s five cylinders awake with one of the most feral sounds a car under 100 grand can make. On my below-freezing test drive, it could spin its winter tires out of low-speed corners. That’s with traction control fully on, too. (I firmly believe the RS3 makes closer to 500 hp than 400, as there’s good evidence Audi seriously underrates its power.)
Shifts were snappy and barely noticeable, with the transmission favoring lower or higher gears depending on driving mode. While the pedals are on the touchy side in all drive modes, they aren’t irreconcilably so. Heavy braking would pitch the weight forward and ready the RS3 to reorient itself, the front rolling perceptibly with steering input to make clear where the weight lies.
The steering itself is a variable-ratio system that tightens up the more you crank the wheel, offering adequate weight and feedback the whole way. Toying around in slow corners, I could feel the torque vectoring drag the RS3 into apexes when I thought the tires had no more to give—a comforting buffer to have no matter the conditions.
It also kept the front end responsive while drifting through fresh snow in a mall parking lot. I could nose around light poles with the rear out like Ken Block, mat the throttle, and feel the RS3 skitter forward as the turbo spooled up. Driven to its limits, the RS3 becomes a theater of performance that feels like it comes from the same lineage as Audi’s legendary Group B rally cars, with bewildering five-cylinder power, and enough grace to tie it all together. It’s an experience you don’t imagine a modern car can reproduce, but one the RS3 does admirably.
One thing worth noting, though, is that the RS3 has too much performance to experience on the street. I didn’t even bother trying to probe its limits, because they’d be consequential to overstep. You’re not going to find them outside of a track, and if you don’t do track days, the S3 is a more economical and similarly fun choice for the street. Not that the RS3 is an underwhelming road car, mind you.
The RS3 could've ridden like a rodeo bull if lazily tuned, with its stiffened front subframe, stronger suspension wishbones, 19-inch wheels, and reduced ride height. While the RS3 I tested lacked the optional adaptive damping, it maintained a supple ride despite those huge wheels. Its turning circle isn’t the smallest out there, but it wasn’t egregious, and visibility was manageable overall. Its front seats are well-bolstered and comfortable, while the second row has significant leg room and enough headroom for six-foot adults. Cabin noise is minimal, and mainly comes from the tires like the regular A3.
The Highs and Lows
The Audi RS3 is a rare combination of traits that few cars today match. It’s a subcompact with adult-appropriate back seats, an upscale interior, all-wheel drive, and 400-plus hp. Its onboard tech—from the optional 3D sound system to sign recognition and advanced driving assists—behaved as they should in a top-of-the-line subcompact.
This isn’t to say the RS3 doesn’t have room for improvement. Its throttle response could be more immediate and the steering heavier. Meanwhile, the styling isn’t especially sharp in my eyes, and its interior somewhat underwhelms at its price point. There’s also no manual transmission option.
Audi RS3 Features, Options, and Competition
Starting at $59,995, the RS3 tops Audi’s subcompact model range, and is equipped accordingly. A standard panoramic sunroof casts light into an interior with Nappa leather over heated, power-adjusted front seats, tri-zone climate control, and a wireless phone charger.
The options list is headlined by carbon-ceramic brakes that save 22 pounds, a sport exhaust system, and adaptive damping. "Matrix" pixel headlights increase visibility, while the ADAS can be upgraded with rear cross-traffic and blind-spot assists. A technology package introduces that Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, a head-up display, and sign recognition. As tested, the Kemora Gray Metallic car you see here costs $64,845.
The closest the RS3 has to direct competition is the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 and the BMW M2. Right off the bat, the CLA is down on horsepower and one cylinder while the two-door M2 isn’t nearly as practical as this four-door Audi. Granted, both have bigger trunks and tighter turning circles, while the Mercedes is a few grand cheaper and the BMW offers a manual transmission. That said, they’re both slower and somehow get worse gas mileage.
Small though the RS3 may be, a pure-ICE, AWD performance sedan isn’t something you buy to ease your conscience. On the bright side, the factory that makes it in Ingolstadt, Germany isn’t a coal-fired dinosaur; it’s been powered completely by renewables since 2012. The cars it makes are shipped via carbon-free rail, and Audi performs some wastewater treatment on-site.
Like its closest rivals, the 2022 Audi RS3 gets subpar fuel economy. It still gets the best mileage among them though, at 23 mpg combined and up to 29 highway. The AMG alternative manages a marginally lower 28 highway, while the BMW M2 is a distant third.
Value and Verdict
Lively yet livable, with a unique soundtrack and the spirit of the nastiest rally cars in history, the 2022 Audi RS3 is a truly sparkling sports sedan. It’s in its element whether on the road, in the mud, or on a track—though it bears saying the S3 is nearly as good, especially if you don’t plan to track it.
Nevertheless, there’s no other car like the 2022 Audi RS3 on sale today, and there may never be again. Five-cylinder engines like the RS3’s are on the brink of extinction, and the RS3 seems to know (and mourn) that fact. It turns what’s already an excellent sedan into an outstanding one, worthy of accompanying the combustion engine into the sunset. It’s too soon to say whether this RS3 is the last of its kind, but if it is, it’d be a high note to end on.
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