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Driven: Audi sticks boot into Benz with $85k RS3 sedan

Sports sedan: The five-cylinder engine under the bonnet of Audi’s new RS3 sedan is a newly developed aluminium-block design shared with the RS TT sportscar and upcoming RS3 Sportback.

More power at a lower price gives Audi’s first RS3 sedan bragging rights


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16 Jun 2017

AUDI Australia has returned serve on arch rival Mercedes-Benz by delivering its first Audi RS3 sedan with more performance at a cheaper price than its closest perceived competitor, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45.

Priced at $84,900 plus on-road costs, the wicked 294kW turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder quattro small sedan is $7315 more affordable than the $92,215 CLA 45 AMG with its benchmark 280kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine.

If an Audi RS3 sedan customer ticks the box for the $7300 performance pack that adds goodies such as fancier wheels, magnetic ride suspension, booming Bang & Olufsen audio system and carbon fibre interior trim, the price rises to $92,200 – just $15 under the Benz price. Coincidentally, of course.

Audi expects the new RS3 sedan to drag a higher proportion of first time RS owners to the brand than the RS3 Sportback hatch, perhaps using it as a stepping stone to larger RS models such as the RS4 and RS6.

The RS3 Sportback – until now the lone flagship of the A3 line – already accounts for one in four A3 sales, and Audi expects the sedan version to grow that from about 80 RS3 sales a month to about 100-110, with the split about 40 per cent sedan and 60 per cent Sportback.

The RS3 sedan will be joined later this year by the updated RS3 Sportback that is expected to be more expensive than the current $78,616 version but cheaper than the new sedan version.

That RS3 Sportback will gain the same new aluminium-block five-cylinder engine that is also shared with the newly released Audi TT RS.

The engine – replacing the acclaimed but heavier (by 26kg) and less powerful (by 24kW) iron-block five-cylinder unit in the current RS3 – is said to be the most powerful production five-cylinder engine in the world.

Also generating a class-leading 480Nm of torque – 15Nm more than the current engine and 5Nm more than the CLA 45 – the engine drives all four wheels through Audi’s proprietary quattro all-wheel-drive system, propelling the RS3 sedan from standstill to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds – about 0.4 seconds slower than the lighter TT RS but – importantly for bragging rights – 0.1s faster than the AMG CLA 45.

An electronically controlled, hydraulically operated clutch in the quattro drivetrain can vary the torque split between the front and rear axles by up to 100 per cent, depending on traction and driving style.

Top speed is the usual governed 250km/h on German cars, unless you ask your dealer nicely to release the electronic nanny, in which case it jumps to 280km/h.

Such drivers will also appreciate the exhaust flap that turns up the volume of the unique-sounding turbo five-cylinder engine that crackles and pops on overrun in Euro-turbo fashion.

Combined fuel economy for the RS3 sedan is 8.4 litres per 100km – a full 1L/100km inferior to the CLA 45.

Like its Benz rival, the RS3 sedan employs a seven-speed dual-clutch Sportronic transmission – in this case a new, lighter unit delivering faster shifts – and rides on five-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels that sit under slightly more flared mudguards that contribute to the muscular RS look.

Unusually in an era of extreme weight saving measures, all external panels are of steel except the bonnet, which is of aluminium. However, the Volkswagen Group’s hot-stamped modular MQB platform that underpins all A3s helps to deliver a reasonable 1515kg kerb weight.

Brakes are 370mm steel discs up the front and 310mm units at the rear, gripped by trademark red-painted eight-pot RS callipers. Connoisseurs with deep pockets will elect to fork out an extra $9500 for optional ceramic front discs, along with fatter front wheels and tyres.

Like the RS3 Sportback, the sedan employs a firm Audi Sport-tuned MacPherson strut front suspension and four-link rear set-up, dropping the RS3 25mm closer to the tarmac than the standard A3 sedan.

As previously mentioned, an active magnetic-ride alternative suspension (as used by Ferrari and Holden Special Vehicles, among others) is included in the optional performance pack if the driver wants finer body control in hard driving and softer ride in cruise mode.

Styling wise, the RS3 gets a bigger gloss black honeycomb grille for better cooling, the frame around the grille is emblazoned at the bottom with the “quattro” logo, and LED lights include sliver-thin daytime driving lights that wrap around the edges of the headlights at the front and spread in a double layer across the taillights.

The twin exhaust tailpipes exit through the rear gloss-black diffuser via black-finished oval tips. The boot lid gets a discrete lip spoiler.

Inside, leather sports seats are cloaked in soft leather (choice of black or silver) in a quilted pattern, while the chunky leather sports steering wheel has grips of suede-like Alcantara.

The glovebox and other trim items come in a metallic look, but a carbon-fibre alternative comes with the performance pack.

An optional styling package has contrast red stitching, red-ringed air vents and other sporty touches.

Instruments are now fully digital via a 12.3-inch screen offering three “views”, including an RS look with the tacho front and centre. Read outs for torque, tyre pressure and G-forces can be displayed.

Boot space is 315 litres with the folding rear seats up and 770L with them down, which is 15L and 20L less respectively than the standard A3 sedan’s boot because the 12-volt battery that resides under the bonnet of the standard car is parked under the floor of the boot of the RS3 for better weight balance.

Warranty is three years with unlimited kilometres.

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