It takes just two letters and one number to stir the feelings of many car lovers…RS7, RS6, RS5, RS4, RS3. I think we’d all be happy with any of them, but unlike that myth about size meaning everything, the RS range is one that grows better as the numbers get smaller.

John tested the RS6 in 2020, and enjoyed it very much, but perhaps not as much as he was expecting. He then tested the RS5 in June last year and found it better overall than the RS6. I reviewed the RS4 in October 2020, and loved it, calling it “the best car I have driven this year”. I was gutted when I couldn’t get it across the line for any of the DriveLife Car Of The Year awards and still carry that grudge to this day. It is an amazingly forgiving and impressive car.

So – the RS3 Sportback. DriveLife went to the virtual international launch of this car, and very much got caught up in the atmosphere. There were lots of numbers thrown around, lots of car geek-speak about torque splitting rear differentials, and a whole lot of anticipation.

Let’s be honest, other than the torque splitter, there aren’t any huge changes in the RS3 for 2022, but for that I’m thankful; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. But could this be the last, pure RS3 that doesn’t have any electrical assistance? With Audi’s commitment to not develop any new Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars after 2025, that’s highly likely.

Audi RS in New Zealand

It’s been said many times that New Zealand drivers love their performance models and that RS model sales are bigger here per capita than any other country. 2021 saw a record 405 sales of Audi RS models in New Zealand. So yes, once again that puts our sales of RS models at the top of the world. For comparison, Switzerland and Hong Kong are second and third, at around 9% compared to New Zealand’s 23.1%. Since the first RS3 in 2011, there have been 398 sales of that model in New Zealand.

What about 2022? Audi New Zealand is expecting to sell 100 RS3 this year – supply permitting – says General Manager, Dean Sheed. “We expect the RS3 Sportback to be a key driver in ensuring we maintain this position in 2022,” he says. He adds that the RS3 Sportback already has 61 pre-orders.

2022 Audi RS3 Sportback – Initial Specs

The new model gets to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, 0.3 seconds quicker than the previous model, 0.2 seconds slower than the RS6, and 0.3 seconds faster than the RS4. At the rear of the car there’s an “RS Torque Splitter”, and the car now has RS-specific drive modes.

The 5-cylinder turbo motor still pumps out the same 294kW of power, and torque is slightly higher at 500Nm. The transmission is the same 7-speed S Tronic. Visually, there’s been upgrades to bring the car in line with the current Audi design philosophy, including functional air scoops in the front guards for the (bigger) brakes.

Audi’s big news for the RS3 Sportback is the move to a torque splitter at the rear, and it’s the first Audi model that comes standard with this feature. It replaces the rear axle differential and the previous multiple disc clutch package on the rear axle. Instead, an electronically controlled multiple-disc clutch is used on each of the drive shafts. This ensures that the right amount of torque is optimally distributed along the rear axle. During more dynamic driving, the torque splitter increases the drive torque to the outer rear wheel with the higher wheel load, which significantly reduces the tendency to understeer. The car can actually send all available torque to just one wheel if needed.

While overseas you can buy a sedan or Sportback RS3, New Zealand will only see the Sportback model. Audi NZ just doesn’t see the demand for the sedan, especially with the high interest in SUV vehicles. Luggage capacity has actually reduced in the new car, down from 335 to 282 litres.

The car is built on the A3 platform, is 25mm lower than the previous model and 10mm lower than the current S3. As is traditional for the RS3, the front track is wider than the rear, and the front tyres are wider than the rear. For the first time, ceramic brakes are an option on the RS3 Sportback.

There are active exhausts, and LED matrix headlights, including a function where the characters R, then S, then 3 and then a checkered flag appears when you start the car.

On the inside, there are options of green or red highlights for the leather seats and other trim, and these are no-cost options over the standard black.

The car has the normal Audi drive modes of Eco, Comfort and Dynamic, but there are also 2 bespoke driving modes:

·   RS Performance

·   RS Torque Rear

RS Torque Rear is essentially a drift mode, where the majority of drive is sent to the back wheels. RS Performance mode will see fewer turns lock to lock, faster upchanges, it will hold gears much longer, and maximum torque is reached at lower in the RPM range.

The RS3 is the first Audi to get the torque splitter and it will eventually filter to other RS models.

2022 Audi RS3 Sportback – Torque Spliiter

2022 Audi RS3 Sportback – First Drive

And now, Audi New Zealand has finally got a car we can (sort of) test drive. The problem is, it’s direct from Germany, so left-hand drive, a pre-production car and our allocated time was just an hour or so. Not long enough, but we’ll take what we can get. Depending on the roads we get to, it might be enough time to get a taster of how much better – or worse – the 2022 Audi RS3 is than the previous gen.

There’d be another change for today’s local launch. Instead of some motoring journalists sitting about drinking coffee while Audi gives us the low-down on the car through a PowerPoint presentation, I went to Auckland and simply got behind the wheel for a drive from the airport, and then sat with Dean Sheed, General Manager of Audi New Zealand, for some one-to-one time. After that, it’d be another short drive.

I jumped into the car at Auckland Airport and hit the road towards the city for a coffee with Dean. Straight off, there’s the engine sound. Even in Comfort mode there’s a decent, low-frequency burble coming from under the bonnet. You can almost feel the potential of this 400-horsepower 5-cylinder turbo motor just by listening to it. With plenty of traffic about, this isn’t a time to test out any performance capability of the car or any changes in the car’s behaviour from the previous model.

But it’s enough to get a taste, even on the way to coffee. Sticking the car in Eco mode it absolutely cruised, smoothly slicing through the lanes and with no effort or dramatics. It really is an easy car to drive smoothly, belying its 294kW engine. But come the Waterview Tunnel and it was time to stick the car into RS mode, and let the active exhausts do their thing – only up to the speed limit, of course. There is little else that sounds like a 294kW Audi 5-cylinder with its unique 1-2-4-5-3 firing order. The sound is bliss, and this was when we were simply cruising at 80km/h. What a sound.

2022 Audi RS3 Sportback – Dean Sheed, Audi New Zealand General Manager

All too soon, we got to Western Springs and time for a coffee with Dean, who I asked some RS3 questions, as well as some general things.

Is there global demand for the RS3?

Yes, lots of demand. But with New Zealand’s high demand for RS models, it’s important to us to get supply since it’s the entry point into the RS range.

Is it important that New Zealand is top for RS sales, worldwide?

Let’s just say that 23.1% of sales being RS models helped get the LHD RS3 here – and it’s not even going to Australia. So 100% yes – very important. We started quattro Drive Days a decade ago, and we were the first country to do Ice Drive days. We’ve had only one year out of 13 where we haven’t run the event. This all helps drive our RS sales and the importance of New Zealand in the global market.

Are you getting anyone who might have previously bought an RS ICE car moving to something like the e-tron GT RS?

Most days we see this. We see an RS6 or RS7 owner looking at the e-tron GT RS, even though some won’t change because of the body style difference.  But when we get the new e-tron S with its triple motors, we’ll see those RS6 or RS7 buyers moving, as well as owners of the RSQ7 or RSQ8, to the e-tron S.

Will the RS3 Sportback pull down RS4 sales?

No, but I do believe it will lower our RSQ3 and RSQ3 Sportback sales. The Q4 is still a year away and it will be the biggest selling Audi in New Zealand. So far it’s only been released in Europe. There will be a hot version that would appeal to RS 4/5/6 buyers.

When will those 61 preorders be fulfilled?

We’re aiming to see the first delivery of cars in mid to late March. But we need to be mindful of COVID and other issues around semiconductors.

2022 Audi RS3 Sportback – Second Drive

Time to head to the airport, luckily with some negotiation, it would be via the Scenic Drive in Titirangi. While we wouldn’t get far along the Scenic Drive, at least it would be a taste. The exhaust still leaves a big impression, especially in RS Performance mode where it sings the song of its people. Does the car sit flat? Very much, although we couldn’t really do a lot with it without taking it to a track. The Scenic Drive in Titirangi is not the place to test out the RS3’s handling, but first impressions are excellent, with great feedback from the wheel.

As you’d expect, performance is stupendous, with easy acceleration in any gear, and a lot more urgency in either Sport mode or RS Performance mode.

All too soon it was all over. All we can do now is wait until the ‘proper’ launch in March. We eagerly await more time behind the wheel of the 2022 Audi RS3 Sportback.

Audi RS3 Sportback – Price

$112,500 +ORC from March 2022

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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