2022 Audi RS3 First Drive Review: Still Crazy After All These Years
Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system has a mythical origin story highlighted by rally stardom and one infamous drive to the top of an Olympic ski jump. Today, though, Quattro is simply a byword for stability among crossover owners who suffer heart palpitations over the idea of driving on a slightly slick road.
The 2022 Audi RS3 is a reminder of what Quattro was and what it can be when keeping the car pointed straight stops being the point. Packing a trick rear axle that brings a hearty dose of rear-drive character to the hottest member of Audi’s sub-compact lineup, the new RS3 is arguably the most compelling entry in the segment, specifically because it doesn’t feel like anything else.
While we endeavor to rate every new vehicle we test, we can’t provide a rating on the 2022 Audi RS3 until official pricing and EPA fuel economy estimates are available. We’ll update this space once we have a final score.
|Quick Stats||2022 Audi RS3|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.5-liter I5|
|Output:||401 Horsepower / 369 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||3.8 Seconds|
|Top Speed:||180 MPH|
|Base Price:||$60,000 (est)|
Gallery: 2022 Audi RS3: First Drive
Slip Slidin’ Away
Admittedly, our first meeting with the RS3 was not a positive one as we departed our hotel outside Athens, Greece. In the hills northwest of the city, the Audi underwhelmed in corners despite its headlining feature, the RS Torque Splitter. Using two multi-disc clutches (one on each side), this collection of gizmos and gears provides the front-drive-based RS3 with rear-axle torque vectoring and a handling character that’s quite unlike what we’ve come to expect from nose-heavy, understeer-prone Audis.
As before, the RS3 sends up to 50 percent of its torque to the rear axle, but the Torque Splitter transfers that power laterally depending on the selected drive mode and input from a host of sensors. The rear tires share the love on straight roads, but once you attack a corner, the computers will shuffle up to 100 percent of that torque to the outside rear wheel. Audi says the Torque Splitter curbs understeer, leads to more precise responses to steering inputs, and improves acceleration on corner exit. We say that’s absolutely true… if you have the right set of tires.
On that first day, our tester wore factory low-rolling-resistance Pirelli PZero tires that completely underperformed Audi’s excellent chassis and tech. No amount of fiddling with drive modes or the behavior of the Torque Splitter improved the situation, and while we spent several hours on twisting tarmac, the RS3 felt vague, like entering a corner with too much speed would cause terminal understeer. At no point on that first day did we gain confidence in the car, instead worrying about how the front end would respond, even at moderate speeds. It was like driving on egg shells.
The next day dawned, our Kyalami Green RS3 wore a set of new Bridgestone Potenza Sport tires (also available from the factory), and all was right with the world. On a twisting, two-hour loop along the Greek coast, this car finally delivered the handling the PR folks and marketing materials promised. Our confidence swelled on the first corner, as the high-performance rubber provided far more front-end grip and allowed us to finally start analyzing the Torque Splitter’s behavior.
Put simply, the RS3 feels distinct from any previous RS product. It changes direction eagerly and feels far more neutral, especially in RS Performance, where the Torque Splitter is at the most aggressive. But it’s less about corner entry and more about mid-corner behavior, where the RS3 has a rear-drive feel that’s unique in the segment, especially when applying throttle.
You can sense the Torque Splitter working in a mechanical way, allowing the RS3 to slingshot out of corners with a taste of oversteer and none of the risk. This is an addictively balanced car, to the point that we began applying heavy throttle far earlier in the corner, trusting the trick rear would quash any understeer.
It’s easy to credit the Torque Splitter for this goodness, but Audi has done its homework in other ways. The progressive steering is precise and beautifully weighted for sporty driving, while the RS-specific suspension includes a wider track, revised shocks, a stiffened rear end, a lowered ride height (four-tenths of an inch lower than an S3), and more negative camber to improve the contact patch in hard cornering. There are also available adaptive dampers that balance firmness and compliance far better than last generation’s magnetic dampers.
You’ll forget about all that good engineering when you fire up the RS3’s standard drift mode, though. Our primitive brains know what good fun pirouetting a car about is, and Audi has made it easier than ever. Simply activate RS Torque Rear (the official name for drift mode) and even folks that have never slid a car on purpose can start ultra-controllable slides. To prove it, Audi set up a large pad for us to put our hamfistedness to the test. https://motorsport.tv/embed/C8H7x8EJ?edition=m1%2Fus&mstv_player_position=embed
In a six-minute session, we went from spinning out or failing to start a drift altogether to linking drifts on a figure-eight loop or drifting sideways in a big, beautiful circle, steering with the throttle to maintain the maneuver. The RS3 is brilliant on a twisting road, but nowhere does it make you feel more heroic than on a skidpad. It’s so good you won’t even care that drift modes are kind of gimmicky nonsense.
This is not merely some drift machine, though. Audi is adamant that the RS3 is track-capable and it’s offering the hardware (and a Nurburgring lap record) to back up that claim. Carbon-ceramic brakes are available and aside from their fade-free stopping power, they also trim 22 pounds of unsprung weight. Factory-mounted Pirelli PZero Trofeo R tires are an additional option and based on a brief track stint at a circuit outside Athens, provide unshakeable grip. We’ll talk plenty more about on-track dynamics once we get the RS3 on a more familiar circuit in 2022.
Something So Right
In the ongoing quest to curb emissions, automakers have been downsizing powerplants. But proving that there is some good left in our hellish timeline, Audi retained the last-generation RS3’s iconic turbocharged five-cylinder engine. Now packing 401 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque (up from 394 hp and 354 lb-ft), engineers also broadened the torque curve and made peak output available from 5,600 to 7,000 rpm. The sprint to 60 miles per hour takes a manufacturer-quoted 3.8 seconds, but to be blunt, Audi is full of it – the RS3 is much quicker than that. We wouldn’t be surprised if there was a half-second improvement in the real world.
Dig into the gas and the RS3’s pace feels endless. There’s virtually no turbo lag, with the free-revving engine offering peak twist from 2,250 to 5,600 rpm. That expansive torque curve means that at basically any engine speed and any gear, the RS3 is willing to play. But to get the most out of this engine, you’ll need to manipulate the transmission and new drive modes.
Dig into the gas and the RS3’s pace feels endless.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is once again on duty in the RS3 and it’s as good as ever. You can drive this car like a regular A3, leaving the gearbox to its own devices, but switch the stubby gear selector to Sport – or better yet, take the wheel-mounted paddles – to get the most from the experience. In fact, and while it borders on cliché, we’d say manual is the only way you should enjoy the RS3.
On the roads around Greece, we let the computers dole out precious few shifts. The transmission will hold its gear, but it rarely kicked down fast enough when approaching a corner, instead waiting for the driver to reapply the throttle at the apex to downshift. If you want engine braking to transfer weight forward so you can trailbrake into a corner, the automatic isn’t always willing to cooperate. Thankfully, the manual mode’s shift speed is impressive whether adding to or subtracting from the gear readout.
The new RS Performance and RS Individual drive modes join the usual suspects (Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic) and accessing them is easy as spinach pie. Just tap the RS button on the steering wheel to activate RS Performance. Tap it one more time to switch to the programmable RS Individual, and then a third time to go back to whichever of the standard modes you used last. This method isn’t as immediate as BMW’s M buttons or the twisty knob thingy you get on the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, but it will save you from diving into the 10.1-inch touchscreen too often.
Unsurprisingly, RS Performance is where the fun is at. It goes beyond the usual tweaks for the throttle, dampers, and shift intensity, raising the 2.5-liter engine’s idle speed, setting the Torque Splitter to the most aggressive of its three modes, and opening the variable exhaust’s flaps to let the most sound escape the oval pipes.
While we won’t harp on the greatness that is the Torque Splitter any more, RS Performance’s impact on the exhaust sound is hard to overstate. The RS3 makes some good noises if you’re toodling about, but wide-open throttle and RS Performance are a match made in heaven, as the open exhaust flaps enhance the howling note of the 2.5-liter engine. We’re particularly excited to test a US-market RS3, as Audi said our cars will be even louder than the European models we drove. Goody goody gum drops.
The Sound Of Silence
The RS3 is a high-performance sub-compact sedan, but like its predecessor, this is easily a car you could drive every day. The cabin is as attractive and premium feeling as the A3 we tested last week, with excellent fit and finish. Even the plasticky slab we complained about in the RS3’s sibling is better here, clad as it is in matte carbon fiber. The tech experience remains top notch, with a standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, and you’ll find heated seats and dual-zone climate control to keep you comfy.
Even the RS-specific bits don’t cost too much comfort. The sport seats provide ample lateral bolstering and impressive thigh support – they also wear gorgeous leather upholstery and adopt attractive splashes of color that perfectly match the exterior paint. Our Euro-spec tester’s flat-bottomed Alcantara steering wheel won’t make its way to the US and that’s a shame, but the standard wheel, wrapped in perforated leather, is a fine piece and will include capacitive grip detection for the standard host of active safety systems.
The 2022 Audi RS3 is a remarkably well-balanced performance car, and not just because of how it blends sportiness and livability.
But the real star of the show is the ride. The McPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension and available adaptive dampers provided surprising isolation and impressive stability despite the standard 19-inch wheels and the occasionally compromised road surface. In a single day, the RS3 can take you to a track many hours from home, turn in a scorching lap, and rip a smokey drift, and then it’ll still convince you to take the scenic route home.
Have A Good Time
The 2022 Audi RS3 is a remarkably well-balanced performance car, and not just because of how it blends sportiness and livability. The Torque Splitter’s ability to instill rear-drive dynamics into an all-wheel-drive car that’s based on a front-drive platform gives it not just multiple personalities, but abundant personality. While we’ll be waiting until summer of 2022 to see the RS3 on American shores, after dashing along the Greek coast, we’re confident it’s worth the wait.