Game, set, and match. The mega-hot hatch segment now has a new king. Everyone, meet the 362bhp Audi RS3. The second-generation RS3 takes the crown from the 355bhp A45 AMG, which took its crown from the 316bhp M135i. There’s a civil war in Germany and it’s being fought with fast, practical, family hatchbacks. We’ve seen this kind of crazy horsepower race before in the late 90s/early 00s when BMW launched a 400bhp M5. Audi responded with a 420bhp RS6 and then AMG came along with a 500bhp supercharged E55. Granted, these 300+bhp hot hatches aren’t quite in the same league but they’re arguably just as impressive.
Fans of the A45 can still rejoice in the fact that it still holds the record for being most powerful four-cylinder car on sale at the moment. The RS3 carries on the 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine (EA855) from the first generation car. As mentioned before the headline numbers are 362bhp and 465NM of torque. That’s enough to get the RS3 from 0-100 km/h in a staggering 4.3 seconds (or the same as a Porsche 911 GTS). And here we were thinking the A45’s 4.6 second and M135i’s 5.1 second times were impressive. Top speed is limited to 250 though you can option a performance pack to get it up to 280 km/h. Thanks to the new MQB platform on which the A3/S3/RS3 is based on, it weighs 55kg less than its predecessor tipping the scales at 1520kg.
Of course the RS3 comes with Audi’s world-famous quattro all-wheel drive system. It even says so very proudly on the front grille. Changes have been made to the quattro system, the big news is the use of a multi-plate clutch with software developed to enable the RS3 to send anywhere between half to all of its power to the rear wheels. What’s that about the M135i? The RS3 is mated to a 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission complete with launch control. As you do. Other performance changes include a wider front track, 25mm lower RS sports suspension, magnetic adaptive damping, 370mm front brakes, 310mm rear brakes, and 19-inch wheels to hide them.
The cosmetic changes of the RS3 are just as impressive as the technical ones. It’s a huge improvement over the last one yet is suitably subtle, like every other great RS cars. There’s the obligatory honeycomb mesh grille, flared wheel arches, aluminium wing mirrors, a large spoiler, a rear diffusers with twin exhausts, and deeper side sills. My favourite part is the new bumper which comes angry-smiley air intakes with gorgeous aluminium blades. Inside the RS3 retains the A3’s interior but with a racy bit, which means classy, simple, and beautifully made. There’s carbon, alcantara and lots of aluminium.
A sedan version is sure to follow soon to take on the CLA45. Funnily enough, Mercedes have announced the A45 will get a power hike come facelift time in 2016. Ford’s upcoming Focus RS should also give the mega hot hatch segment a bit of shake when it’s released in 2015. And let’s not forget BMW. The M135i is only an M Performance car and not a full-fat M Division product. Fingers crossed a proper 1M successor is in the works to slide into battle against these Teutonic titans. The RS3 should land on NZ shores around mid-2015.