I’ve been circling the challenging road circuit at Spring Mountain Motor Resort outside Las Vegas for more than a dozen laps. Yet, I still don’t feel like I am exploiting the full potential of the compact premium sports sedan I’m piloting. So, I push even harder – past my usual comfort zone.
My foot goes to the floor coming off a fast right-hander, and I keep it planted. The speedometer creeps well past 100 mph as I enter the long sweeper, but my foot stays in it. A sharp 90-degree turn looms, so I mash the brakes and allow the carbon-fiber rotors to bleed speed and settle the nose quickly.
Without hesitation, I crank the steering wheel over while pinning the accelerator back to the floor. The car rockets ahead unfettered. Each of its Pirelli R-compound tires tenaciously grips the asphalt. The four-door circles the banked bowl – pulling a face-twisting 1.27 G’s of lateral force – before launching out the other side towards the slalom.
There’s no squealing. No sliding. And no drama. It’s apparent – and a bit frustrating – that I still haven’t found the all-new 2022 Audi RS 3’s limit.
With its enthusiast-tuned ‘RS’ models, Audi consistently hits home runs, and the all-new 2022 Audi RS 3 is no exception. The RS 3, positioned as the performance-tuned halo model above the standard A3 and sporty S3, blends luxury, technology, innovation, and high performance in a premium compact sedan. It’s a unique mix, and its strengths allow Audi to own the segment – as of today, the RS 3 has no direct competitors.
Unlike the A3 and S3, which use different variants of the automaker’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the RS 3 boasts a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder powerplant. While an inline-5 is an unusual engine configuration, Audi has been perfecting and polishing it for 46 years – it holds countless wins in some of the world’s most grueling motorsports races. Under the hood of the 2022 RS 3, it is tuned to deliver 401 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque (a slight bump in power over its predecessor). The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch ‘S tronic’ automated gearbox that sends power to all four wheels through Audi’s famed ‘quattro’ permanent all-wheel-drive system.
Making the RS 3 a real stand-out is its RS Torque Splitter rear differential. Unlike most differentials that simply split power left and right, the innovative RS Torque Splitter offers fully variable torque vectoring. It accomplishes this via an electronically controlled multi-disc clutch on each rear driveshaft. Simply expressed, the quattro system can smoothly send power to the front or rear axle with performance-adapted algorithms. Plus, the software has been tuned to allow the RS Torque Splitter to send 100 percent of available power to the rear axle – effectively turning the Audi RS 3 into a rear-wheel-drive vehicle.
Complementing the trick rear differential is standard RS Sport Suspension with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). This successor to Audi’s popular magnetic ride system provides continuous and individual adjustment based on the vehicle’s needs or the operator-controlled mode selections. Audi Drive Select is tasked with commanding those 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 goodies include upgraded brakes with 14.8” iron rotors on the front axle (with 6-piston calipers) and 12.2” in the rear (with single-piston calipers). In addition, Audi is offering an optional carbon-ceramic brake upgrade that fits 15” ceramic rotors on the front axle – it reduces overall weight by a whopping 22 pounds.
The RS 3 is differentiated by a more aggressive exterior that doesn’t hide its performance mission – this is not the sleeper in Audi’s A3 lineup. There are unique front and rear bumpers, a roof with a contrasting finish, and flared wheel arches. The matrix-design LED headlights feature an all-new 3×5 LED pixel display directly beneath that displays the model number and a checkered flag when greeting the driver – it’s a cool feature. Audi is also offering exterior colors that are unique to the model.
The interior hasn’t been overlooked either, as the RS 3 is beautifully appointed with an upgraded interior that is downright gorgeous. The highlights include Fine Nappa leather front sport seats with RS embossing (and unique RS-specific honeycomb stitching) and an RS Sport leather steering wheel. And for driving enthusiasts, Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) has been enhanced with an RS monitor to display G-forces, tire pressures, tire temperatures, coolant, engine oil, and transmission oil temperatures.
I’ve always been a fan of the inline-5 as 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’d never know the engine is packing 401 horsepower during everyday driving. The powerplant is relatively quiet, and its temperament is subdued – a continuous reassuring growl only notes its existence as the engine stays on the lower side of the tachometer. At full boil, the inline-5 comes alive. It emits a raucous intake sound at wide-open throttle accompanied by a warble-like exhaust note that will turn heads. The din is deep and soothing (far from a wail) that gets louder and more intense as the engine approaches the redline.
Around town, the RS 3 impressively hides its true colors. With Drive Select in COMFORT or AUTO, the transmission shifts nearly imperceptibly. The gearbox works hard to ensure that the engine doesn’t rev much over 3,000 rpm (likely chasing fuel economy). Audi has programmed quattro to bias torque towards 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 always on tap if needed, but it takes a moment for the boost to build and the S tronic to drop a few gears to optimize the powertrain. Nonetheless, downshifts are seamless, and highway cruising is relaxed – expect to get about 30 mpg on the open road.
Choose DYNAMIC mode for a more enthusiastic on-road experience. Audi’s quattro is sending as much torque as possible to the rear axle, which gives the sedan some other rear-wheel-drive dynamics. 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 fun.
Yet RS PERFORMANCE (and configurable RS INDIVIDUAL) is what the RS 3 is frankly all about. This configuration puts all the vehicle’s systems in ‘battle ready’ mode. Torque is again focused to the rear, but the electronics are tuned to nearly eliminate dreaded understeer and twitchy oversteer for the fastest possible velocity around a corner. The dampers are firm, throttle response immediate, and the gearbox is aggressive in shifting up/down and holding gears.
The RS 3 is nose heavy (what do you expect when all of the mass of the transverse inline-5 is hung ahead of the front axle?), but you’d never know from the driver’s seat as the sedan feels completely neutral while being merrily tossed around a track. The Audi is surprisingly capable and wickedly quick. (On that note, I found my fastest laps by utilizing the incredible front end grip to turn in assertively and then rely on quattro and the RS Torque Splitter rear differential to put the power down properly and sustain the g-loading on the chassis.)
And there’s a final mode that is called RS TORQUE REAR. This configuration sends 100 percent of available power to the rear axle. While I don’t consider this mode the fastest way around a track (why ask the wheels with the least amount of weight on them to handle 401 horsepower?), it does allow the RS 3 to oversteer with a stab of the accelerator – just like it’s competing in a Formula Drift event. Fun, but more of a spectacle than a useful driving mode.
In terms of actual performance numbers, the new RS 3 delivers. Utilizing launch control, the RS 3 will sprint to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds – it’s exotic car quick. And the top speed (when equipped with the Dynamic Plus package) is 180 mph – it’s exotic car fast, too.
It’s hard not to like the RS 3. The subcompact sedan does most everything a passionate driving enthusiast could ask for, and it does it with style and refinement (valets will even tell you it has cachet). And while it slots just above the S3 in Audi’s model hierarchy, its real-world positioning is a leap above – this A3 offshoot is a whole different ballgame.
The base price of the all-new 2022 Audi RS 3 is about $60,000 (figure about $74,000 by the time you have it adequately optioned). That amount of money 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 car enthusiast’s dilemma of playing dual roles as a classy and proper daily driver with genuine podium-capable weekend racing talent. And if you are thinking the Audi RS 3 is too costly, ask yourself this: “How much am I willing to pay for a compact luxury sports sedan that is capable of embarrassing Corvettes and Porsches at a weekend track event?”