The Audi RS3 joins the growing list of cars in SA to form an exclusive super-hatch club. We spent a week with Audi's 270kW monster and discovered it's louder than the 'noon gun.'
Cape Town - In the market for a hot hatch? Well you have a smorgasbord of relatively practical high-performance vehicles to choose from in SA.
From the Volkswagen Golf GTI to the Focus ST, there's a mix of four-door, two-door, manual and automatic options.
But there's a sub-culture brewing among automaker's to push the limits of a hot hatch into another realm - enter the 'super hatches'.
2016: The year of the super hatch
The super hatch category has been brewing for the past 10 years or so but which current models are part of the royale rumble in 2016?
The updated AMG Mercedes-Benz A45 (280kW/475Nm) and Honda's new Civic Type R (228kW/400Nm) are keen for a fight along with the RS3 (270kW/465Nm).
Another model set to join the fight is the Ford Focus RS (257kW/350Nm), due to arrive locally in July 2016.
Back to the RS3
When the RS3, was launched at the end of 2015, it was briefly the world's most powerful hatchback, however Merc's recently-updated AMG A45 wrestled back that title.
Aud's second-generation RS3 is now in SA and has its sights set on the superhatch title. Based on the standard A3 Sportback, the RS3 uses the firm's famed Quattro all-wheel drive system and a swift seven-speed dual clutch gearbox that when driven in manual mode, will hold the gear rather than changing at the limiter.
To some the RS3 might look low and purposeful (it is) and to others, well it might seem unimaginative. The wheel-arches are filled perfectly with 19" alloys - 255/30 tyres at the front and 235/35 tyres at the rear.
Our test unit looked great in its Sepang Blue paint job and its practicality is aided by its five-door layout and large boot. Full LED headlights are an optional extra. A Quattro logo is emblazoned on the lower airdam, like a Maori tattoo.
Image gallery: 2015 Audi RS3 Sportback
For me, it possessed just enough presence to stand out on the road.
Step inside and the usual, exceptional build quality of Audi comes to the fore. Our test unit had the optional MMI navigation system and sports seats. Another option was the large sunroof. Its alcantara/leather steering wheel adds a sporty touch.
Is it design special enough? Yes, but by only by a smidgen compared to its rivals.
The highlight of the RS3, is its engine. The 2.5-litre turbocharged five-pot sounds like no other car I've driven. I swear it's louder than the McLaren 650S I piloted in 2015. Our test unit was fitted with the optional sports exhaust which made it sound unreal on the road. Its an R11 840 optional extra, and is worth every cent.
The five-cylinder engine, unique in this segment, delivers impressive numbers: 270kW from 5550-6800r/min and 465Nm from 1625-5550r/min. And it pulls with a ferocious surge, reaching 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.3 seconds. As usual, the 250km/h limit applies, however its muzzle can be removed (for a fee) to reach a staggering 280km/h.
What's it like to drive?
In short, the RS3 has impeccable grip and that's where the super hatch can make an ordinary driver look like a superstar behind the wheel.
Prior to setting off for a thrilling drive, I popped the Drive Select button into 'Dynamic' which adjusts the throttle, engine, exhaust and handling to its sportiest settings.
The revs rise a little and primes the RS3 to take on the road.
I drove around Cape Town's glorious mountain roads, and what struck me is how easy it is to drive. The suspension is comfortable in all modes, and the dynamic setting adds enough sporty character to tackle twisty roads with gusto.
Does it have character?
Well, the noise that emanates from its twin exhausts gives it dollops of street cred and its five-cylinder layout is unique in the segment. Some might consider it a "sleeper car", but we love that it feels turbocharged. Driving along the coast, it feels eager below 1600r/min but once boost hits (there's a boost dial below the rev counter) the swell of torque washes over you like Twitter trolls attempting to be legal experts - you can't escape it.
With a price of R710 000 sans options, the RS3 is the most expensive of the current SA super hatch fraternity. On paper, it might not seem like value for your hard-earned Rand. Consider that the RS3 has a waiting list of more than a hundred units and with a limited run for SA, it should retain its value.
In fact Audi SA told Wheels24: "We’ve sold 81 so far, with an order bank of 150 in the system right now."
Is Audi's RS3 the ultimate super hatch at the moment?
For the manner in which it blends real-world practicality with red-eye performance, then yes.
It's easy to live with and easy to drive fast, in fact, I'd go as far to say most people would have a hoot in it. It may not provide the raw, unadulterated experience in say, a Civic Type R, but after driving the Merc's latest AMG A45, I'll put my head on a block and say the Audi is the king of the superhatch kingdom for now.
Listen to the RS3's angry five-cylinder engine:
Editor, Sergio Davids' thoughts on the RS3:
Renault Megane RS, Ford Focus RS, Golf GTI... I love hot hatches. They’re the perfect mix of performance, practicality and affordability. When automakers dabble in the realm of the super hatch, justifying a steep price tag becomes all the more difficult.
A conversation I had during a test drive with a friend of mine, who owns a previous generation S3, sums up the Audi RS3 (and its target market):
Before the drive: "I just can’t justify spending R700 000 on a hatchback. How much more of a beast can it be compared to the S3? Audi is crazy if they think I’ll pay that much."
Post drive: “That was amazing! It... it’s unreal! I must have it.”
My mate, a financial consultant, has since attempted to purchase a 2016 Audi RS3 although he faces the same issue plaguing many fans – limited availability.
How it drives
The S3 is simply a sporty version of the A3 – more power, improved handling and overall a better driving experience. The addition of an RS-badge however transforms the popular hatch into a snarling, track-tuned beast completely at odds with its toned-down design.
Its acceleration is amazing, handling superb (courtesy of quattro), its agility is panther-like and it’s quite possibly one of the best super hatches in its class. And that’s in normal mode! Switch to Sport and it becomes a track-focused monster with stiffened dampers and steering.
The RS3 is a car for petrolheads, who will turn a blind-eye to its staggering cost and instead focus on its biggest selling point – it’s absolutely brilliant to drive!
• 19" alloy rims
• Sports suspension
• Xenon plus headlights headlights
• Audi drive select
• Audi music interface
• Audi sound system
• Bluetooth interface with audio streaming
• Parking System Plus
• Fine Nappa leather upholstery
• Front sport seats with RS embossing
• Light/rain sensor
• Aluminium look interior enhancements
• Front centre armrest
• RS3 Leather-trimmed, three-spoke flat bottom multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles
• Cruise control system
• Digital air conditioning
• LED interior lighting
The Audi RS3 Sportback is sold with a five-year or 100 000km Audi Freeway Plan.