First Drive: 2022 Audi RS 3
The third-generation sedan is a blinder that puts a new-found emphasis on in-car technologies and better handling
With crossovers representing such as large part of the current market, it’s refreshing to test a new high-performance sedan. The third-generation Audi RS 3 takes what was a fine drive and tweaks it in all areas. While the latest model is sharper looking, faster, and it has slightly more power, this time around the RS 3 puts a clear emphasis on handling and in-car technologies.
One of the keys to any RS model is the engine. While the patented in-line turbo-five and its distinct sound is the same basic unit as used before, it has been tweaked to broaden the powerband and increase the output. It now twists out 401 horsepower (up 7 hp) and 369 pound-feet of torque (up 15 lb-ft). The key is the latter is now available anywhere between 2,250 and 5,600 rpm, so it pulls harder through the all-important mid-range.
The engine drives a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission with normal, sport, and manual modes and Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. In this case, quattro splits the power based on the drive mode selected. In efficiency, it is a front-driver until more traction is needed; the more dynamic modes balance the delivery of power front-to-back. The combo brings a run to 100 kilometres an hour in 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h — 290 km/h when the RS Dynamic package and ceramic brakes are aboard.
The drive modes cover the bases. Frankly, Efficiency is for those times when the gas warning light comes on, and while Comfort is well-suited to the city, Auto is the better choice — it picks the most appropriate mode based on driver input. Dynamic mode is for the fun times. It cranks everything up to deliver the very best the RS 3 has to offer. The plus is the variable exhaust system produces its most mellifluous tones when Dynamic mode is selected — the bark and burble is wonderful at full chat!
One of the handling highlights is a first in the form of the new “torque splitter” rear axle setup. The previous differential and multi-plate clutch have gone in favour of two electronically-controlled clutch packs — one for each of the rear half-shafts. When pushing hard, the torque splitter increases the drive sent to the outside rear wheel in a corner and, as it’s constantly assessing things, the power is delivered to the correct wheel in a timely fashion — it takes just 180-milliseconds to switch from one wheel to the other. This action significantly reduces understeer and the amount of steering input required.
The RS Performance mode brings a beautifully neutral drive — it seems to make the RS 3 feel physically smaller. On the racetrack, it let this driver brake later heading into a corner and it was much faster when hauling out of it. The combination makes the RS 3 feel tighter and more alive, and it’s even more so than Dynamic, which is saying something. The reason is it makes optimal use of the torque splitter — it quells oversteer as well as taming understeer.
The twist is the torque splitter setup has a full-on drift mode. The “RS Torque Rear” mode sends all of the power to one rear wheel — up to 1,291 pound-feet when the gearing is factored in. This allows the tail to be flicked out and held there until the driver’s nerve quits, or they over cook it! This makes the RS 3 a seriously mean drift machine. Of course, there’s a launch control mode for good measure!
The test cars were all equipped with the optional RS sport suspension plus. It adds adaptive dampers that continuously change the damping according to driver input and the drive mode selected. The comfort, balanced or sport modes deliver the desired characteristics. The manic RS 3 also has a 25-millimetres lower ride height than the mortal A3. In the end, the suspension is comfortable in comfort and overtly sporty in sport.