Audi RS3

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Take one look at the RS3, from its large front air intakes to its massive tailpipes, and you know it means serious business. With a 400-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder under the hood, it has the muscle to back up its menacing appearance. Its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic routes torque to all four wheels; we estimate it will hit 60 mph in less than 4.0 seconds. Sold in Europe as a hatchback—but coming here only as a sedan—the RS3 will go on sale in summer 2017.

An RS badge traditionally has been one that automakers keep in the furthest reaches of their lineup-nomenclature vaults, brought out for only the most special occasions. It has also frequently been denied to U.S. buyers, but the tide seems to be turning. Last year Ford finally brought one of its RS models stateside in the form of the Focus RS. And now we can cross another name off the diminishing list of RS cars we don’t get, with the imminent arrival of the new Audi RS3 sedan.

Other parts of the world have had two previous Audi RS3s, both of which were hatchbacks powered by turbocharged five-cylinder engines featuring a cast-iron block. The first was launched in 2011 as a limited-to-Europe special edition spun from the previous-generation S3. The second, which made its debut in 2015, basically transplanted the same powerplant into the current-generation hatch. But now this new sedan variant has coincided with a switch to the same aluminum-block turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five that we’ve already driven in the TT RS. U.S. sales of the 2017 RS3 sedan are set to start in the summer.

Four-Wheelin’

Like all transverse-engined Quattro models, the RS3 uses a clutch pack at the yoke of the rear differential to deliver torque at the back when required, although here it has unique software and a faster-acting high-pressure pump to help sharpen its responses and to make the car feel more rear-biased. This works, to an extent; while the first RS3 could have been a parade float at an understeer festival, this one feels much more agile and nimbler when asked to attack a twisting road. In part that’s because the new aluminum-block engine is 57 pounds lighter than the iron-block unit in the last car, a benefit multiplied when you consider that it sits ahead of the front axle. Also, the available reverse-staggered tires give a little more lateral grip to the front end than to the rear, further reducing the platform’s propensity for plowing.

But credit also should be given to how much work the rear end is prepared to do. We drove the RS3 in Oman, on roads that were frequently covered by either sand, a fine sheen of camel poop, or a combination of both. On lower-grip surfaces, the system could be felt sending torque rearward, never to the extent of making this Audi feel rear-driven but maximizing traction and trying hard to keep the car on course. With the stability control switched off, it’s even possible to persuade the RS3 into dinky little slides during aggressive cornering with full confidence that the drivetrain will pull the car straight.

 

The car we drove was fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes, likely to be an expensive option in the United States. More precisely, they’re part-carbon brakes: Audi has fitted carbon-ceramic rotors only to the front axle, with the rear still using conventional cast-iron rotors. These worked impressively well under hard use—sometimes in the face of wandering camels—and without any of the grinding or hesitation that often accompanies gentler stops with brakes of this type. In addition, the ride quality felt a good deal more compliant than that of the TT RS but with the large caveat that pretty much every inch of Oman’s road network seems to have been recently resurfaced. Adaptive dampers will be standard in the U.S., and these become noticeably stiffer in their Dynamic mode.

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