We drove a $67,000 Audi RS3 to see if it's ready to take on the best from BMW and Mercedes — here's the verdict

Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderOur Audi RS3 test car.
  • The Audi RS3 is one of the latest offerings from the German luxury brand’s Audi Sport performance division.
  • Audi Sport is cashing in on its racing success with a series of performance models wearing the “R” and “RS” designation.
  • The RS3 is based on Audi’s subcompact A3 sedan, and it’s the most affordable way to get your hands on a new Audi Sport model in the United States.
  • It’s a direct rival for the BMW M2 and the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45.
  • The 2018 Audi RS3 starts at $US54,900 and is powered by a 400-horsepower, 2.5-litre, turbocharged five-cylinder engine.

Mercedes-Benz has AMG.BMW has its M cars. Porsche has, well, Porsche.

All of the aforementioned represent the pinnacle of German performance motoring. But there’s another member of this club that, until recently, had taken a lower-profile approach to things: Audi Sport.

In the modern era of motorsports, there are few organisations that have had as much success as Audi Sport, from the heights of the World Rally Championships and the iconic Audi Quattro to the gruelling 24 hours of the Le Mans endurance sports-car race. At Le Mans, Audi’s racing prototypes lost just twice during a 15-year stretch between 2000 and 2014.

In spite of its on-the-track dominance, Audi Sport hasn’t become the marketing juggernaut like its fellow German performance brands. This is especially the case in the realm of production cars, where AMG, M Sport, and Porsche are household names.

Read more: The Kia Stinger is Business Insider’s 2018 Car of the Year.

“We spent so much on the authenticity of Audi Sport and the racing of Audi Sport that we forgot to commercialize Audi Sport and take advantage of the success we’ve had,” Scott Keogh, former president of Audi of America, told us in a 2016 interview. “Our competitors have done a smart job of putting more focus into turning out more M cars and AMGs.”

A couple of years ago, Audi decided to finally cash in on its racing success through a new line of Audi Sport-produced, high-performance models bearing the “R” and “RS” monikers.

In the United States, the most affordable way to get your hands on one of Audi Sport’s hot rod RS cars is the Audi RS3. We were fortunate enough to spend a week with the Teutonic speedster earlier this year.

The 2018 Audi RS3 2.5T quattro S tronic sedan starts at $US54,900 in the US. With options, our test car, dressed in a flashy Catalunya Red metallic paint job, left the showroom with an as-tested price of $US66,775.

Here’s a closer look at the Audi RS3 sedan:

The Audi RS3 debuted for the 2017 model year and is based on the brand’s successful …

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… A3 sedan.


It’s also a step up from the mid-grade Audi S3 sedan, which was a finalist for Business Insider’s 2015 Car of the Year Award.


Read our Audi S3 review here »

With a starting price of under $US55,000, the RS3 is the most affordable way to gain entry into Audi Sport’s lineup that includes the mighty RS 7 and …


… The R8 supercar.

Hollis Johnson

In the marketplace, its rivals include BMW’s delightful M2 and …

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

… the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45.


While its rivals from BMW and Mercedes are decidedly road-going specialists, the Audi’s rally DNA shines through its quattro all-wheel-drive system and …


… the turbocharged, five-cylinder engine lurking under the hood. More on the engine a bit later.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Lookswise, the RS3 is a handsome little beast.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It maintains most of the A3 sedan’s aesthetics but adds a few performance-minded flourishes like the 19-inch titanium-finish wheels and matte-aluminium Singleframe front grille.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The subtle decklid spoiler and dual, black-tipped sport exhausts are also nice performance touches.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The RS3 is a truly compact affair at just 176.3 inches long. That’s 2.5 inches shorter than a Ford Focus sedan.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The interior is one of my favourites. Like the A3 on which it is based, the RS3’s cabin is a masterclass in minimalist chic. It’s simple yet sophisticated.


The cabin is also impeccably put-together, with fine, diamond-stitch Nappa leather and elegant metal accents. Audi doesn’t let its RS3’s sporting nature diminish comfort and luxury for its occupants.


In front of the driver is an Alcantara and leather sports steering wheel. Beyond it is a 12.3-inch LCD digital instrument cluster.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The screen is home to Audi’s award-winning, reconfigurable virtual cockpit system.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The center stack is dominated by a seven-inch TFT screen running Audi’s MMI infotainment system.


Audi’s MMI is arguably the best infotainment system we’ve ever encountered. It’s an opinion we’ve held for the past few years. Even though the screen size is far from industry-leading, MMI is attractively rendered, highly intuitive to use, and packed with features.

The system is controlled using a center console-mounted rotary dial complete with a touchpad and handwriting-recognition technology.


The screen can also be retracted at the push of a button.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The RS3 is also loaded with a host of available luxury, safety, and tech features.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

They include adaptive cruise control; active lane assist; full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration; 4G LTE connectivity; panoramic sunroof; and a 14-speaker, 705- watt Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Out back, there’s 10 cubic feet of cargo space. It’s sufficient space for groceries and a couple of suitcases.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Audi RS3 is powered by a 2.5-litre, 400-horsepower, turbocharged five-cylinder engine. It’s mated to Audi’s seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and the brand’s signature quattro all-wheel-drive system.


In the US, the standard A3 is powered by a 2.0-litre, 220-horsepower, turbocharged inline-four cylinder, while the racier S3 gets a 292-horsepower version of the same engine. Both models are also available with the quattro all-wheel drive and a six-speed S tronic transmission.

According to Audi, the RS3 can make the run from 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds with an artificially limited top speed of 155 mph. The top speed limiter can be raised to 174 mph if you option the $US4,800 Dynamic plus package.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Dynamic plus package also comes with ceramic front brakes and a special RS-tuned sports suspension in place of the standard magnetic ride system.

So, what’s it like to drive?

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Audi RS3 is truly impressive. Its steering is quick and communicative, while its chassis and suspension are tuned to deliver sports-car-like stiffness without the dreaded bone-jarring ride.

The RS3 is quick and nimble around corners. Apart from some minor understeer, it feels perfectly balanced at all times.

The free-revving turbo-five cylinder delivers instantaneous power across its broad power band. The engine reaches its peak torque of 354 pounds-feet at just 1,700 RPMs and maintains this output all the way up to 5,850 RPMs.

Paired with the quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the RS3 launches off the line like a crazed animal seeing the red mist. Acceleration is immediate, and power delivery holds steady as the RS3 works its way through the gears.

Our verdict.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Audi RS3 is simply astounding. It’s brilliant not just as a performance machine, but also as a compact luxury sedan. It’s both a predatory animal lurking in the tall grasses, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, and a warm comforting friend.

We were blown away by the S3’s style, comfort, and performance back in 2015. With the RS3, Audi and Audi Sport have simply taken thing to the next level.

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