I drove around the tough Spring Mountain Motor Resort road course outside of Las Vegas for more than a dozen laps. Yet I still don’t feel like I’m tapping into the full potential of the premium compact sports sedan I’m driving. So I push even harder – beyond my usual comfort zone.
My foot hits the ground after a quick right turn and I keep it planted. The speedometer slips well past 100 mph when I enter the long sweeper, but my foot stays there. A sharp 90-degree turn looms, so I slam the brakes and let the carbon-fiber rotors lose speed and set the nose quickly.
Without hesitation, I turn the steering wheel while pinning the accelerator to the floor. The car drives unhindered. Each of its Pirelli R-compound tires grips the asphalt tenaciously. The four-door circles around the angled bowl – pulling a lateral force of 1.27 G of twisting from the face – before launching to the other side towards the slalom.
There is no creaking. No slippage. And no drama. It’s obvious – and a little frustrating – that I still haven’t found the limit of the all-new 2022 Audi RS 3.
With its enthusiast-friendly “RS” models, Audi is constantly hitting the racetracks, and the all-new 2022 Audi RS 3 is no exception. The RS 3, positioned as the performance halo model above the standard A3 and sporty S3, combines luxury, technology, innovation and high performance in a premium compact sedan. It’s a unique blend, and its strengths allow Audi to own the segment – to date, the RS 3 has no direct competitors.
Unlike the A3 and S3, which use different variations of the automaker’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the RS 3 features a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine. While an inline-5 is an unusual engine configuration, Audi has been perfecting and tweaking it for 46 years – it holds countless victories in some of the most grueling motorsport races in the world. Under the hood of the 2022 RS 3, it’s tuned to deliver 401 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque (a slight power boost over its predecessor). The engine is mated to an automated 7-speed ‘S tronic’ dual-clutch gearbox that sends power to all four wheels via Audi’s renowned ‘quattro’ permanent all-wheel-drive system.
The RS Torque Splitter rear differential makes the RS 3 a real star. Unlike most differentials that simply divide power left and right, the innovative RS Torque Splitter provides fully variable torque vectoring. It accomplishes this via an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch on each rear driveshaft. Simply put, the quattro system can smoothly transmit power to the front or rear axle with performance-tuned algorithms. In addition, the software has been tuned to allow the RS torque splitter to send 100 percent of the available power to the rear axle, thus turning the Audi RS 3 into a rear-wheel-drive vehicle.
The clever rear differential is complemented by the standard RS sports suspension with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). This successor to Audi’s popular magnetic drive system offers stepless, individual adjustment based on vehicle needs or operator-controlled mode selections. Audi Drive Select is responsible for commanding these modes, and on the RS 3 it has been expanded to include Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, RS Individual, RS Performance and RS Torque Rear.
Other mechanical benefits include upgraded brakes with 14.8-inch iron rotors in the front axle (with 6-piston calipers) and 12.2-inch in the rear (with single-piston calipers). Additionally, Audi offers an optional carbon-ceramic brake upgrade that fits the 15-inch ceramic rotors on the front axle – this cuts overall weight by a whopping 22 pounds.
The RS 3 differentiates itself with a more aggressive exterior that doesn’t hide its performance mission – it’s not the sleeper of Audi’s A3 range. There are unique front and rear bumpers, a roof with a contrast finish and flared wheel arches. The matrix-design LED headlights feature an all-new 3×5 pixel LED display directly below that displays the model number and a checkered flag when greeting the driver – that’s a nice feature. Audi also offers model-specific exterior colors.
The interior hasn’t been overlooked either, as the RS 3 is beautifully appointed with an upgraded interior that is downright stunning. Highlights include sports front seats in fine Nappa leather with RS embossing (and RS-specific honeycomb stitching) and an RS Sport leather steering wheel. And for the driving enthusiasts, Audi’s Multimedia Interface (MMI) has been enhanced with an RS monitor to display G-forces, tire pressure, tire temperature, coolant, engine oil and transmission oil temperatures.
I have always been a fan of the inline-5 because its exhaust note is unique and distinctive. At idle, the engine is a bit smoother than an inline-4 with a slightly more sophisticated idle. You would never know the engine puts out 401 horsepower during daily driving. The powertrain is relatively quiet and its temperament is subdued – a continuous reassuring growl only signals its existence as the engine remains on the underside of the tachometer. At full boil, the inline-5 springs to life. It emits a throaty intake sound at full throttle accompanied by a chirping-like exhaust note that will turn heads. The din is deep and soothing (far from a moan) that gets louder and more intense as the engine nears redline.
In town, the RS 3 impressively hides its true colors. With Drive Select in COMFORT or AUTO, the transmission changes almost imperceptibly. The gearbox works hard to make sure the engine doesn’t rev much over 3000 rpm (probably chasing fuel economy). Audi has programmed quattro to direct torque to the front axle (COMFORT) or a balanced front/rear split (AUTO). The ride is “comfortably firm”, which means sporty without being abusive. Passing power is still available if needed, but it takes a while for the boost to build and the S tronic to drop a few gears to optimize the powertrain. Nonetheless, downshifts are seamless and highway driving is relaxed – expect to get around 30 mpg on the open road.
Choose DYNAMIC mode for a more enthusiastic on-road experience. Audi’s quattro sends as much torque as possible to the rear axle, giving the sedan another rear-drive dynamic. The suspension is firmer and the throttle and gearbox are more responsive. As a result, the RS 3 is much livelier and more eager – consider it caffeinated. It’s funny.
Still, RS PERFORMANCE (and configurable RS INDIVIDUAL) is what the RS 3 is frankly. This configuration puts all vehicle systems in “combat ready” mode. Torque is concentrated rearward again, but the electronics are tuned to nearly eliminate the dreaded understeer and jittery oversteer for the fastest possible speed through a corner. The shocks are firm, throttle response is immediate, and the gearbox is aggressive in getting up/down and maintaining gears.
The RS 3 is nose-heavy (what do you expect when all the mass of the transverse inline-5 is suspended in front of the front axle?), but you’d never know that from the driver’s seat because the sedan feels completely neutral while cheerfully thrown around a track. The Audi is surprisingly capable and incredibly quick. (On that note, I found my fastest laps using the amazing front grip to turn confidently, then relying on quattro and the RS Torque Splitter rear differential to put the power in properly and keep the g-load on the chassis .)
And there is a last mode called RS TORQUE REAR. This configuration sends 100% of the available power to the rear axle. While I don’t consider this mode to be the fastest way to hit a track (why ask the lighter wheels to handle 401 horsepower?), it does allow the RS 3 to oversteer with just a flick of the throttle – just like he was racing in a Formula Drift event. Fun, but more of a show than a useful driving mode.
In terms of real-world performance, the new RS 3 delivers. Using launch control, the RS 3 will sprint to 60mph in just 3.6 seconds – it’s a fast exotic car. And the top speed (when equipped with the Dynamic Plus package) is 180 mph – that’s the speed of an exotic car too.
It’s hard not to love the RS 3. The subcompact sedan does just about anything a driving enthusiast could ask for, and it does it with style and refinement (valets will even tell you it’s got some style). . And while it sits just above the S3 in Audi’s model hierarchy, its real-world positioning is a leap above – this A3 offshoot is a whole different ball game.
The base price of the all-new 2022 Audi RS 3 is around $60,000 (around $74,000 by the time you’ve properly optioned it). That amount of money was used to buy a comfortable four-door or a track-ready sports coupe, but not both. Well, until now.
The new RS 3 solves the dilemma for car enthusiasts of playing a dual role as a chic and suitable daily driver with a real weekend racing talent capable of reaching the podium. And if you think the Audi RS 3 is too expensive, ask yourself this: “How much am I willing to pay for a compact luxury sports sedan capable of embarrassing Corvettes and Porsches at a track event. the weekend ?”