First Drive: 2017 Audi RS 3 Sedan

First Drive: 2017 Audi RS 3 Sedan
 

Everyone loves a story of the little guy winning. Like Million Dollar Baby, 8 Mile and that biblical one where the giant gets hit in the face with a rock.

We enjoy these victories vicariously, and they warm the cockles of our jaded hearts. There is a similar feeling when it comes to small cars with big performance aspirations — plucky tykes in the hot-hatchback niche of the B-segment category, for example. We love them for their ability to nip at the heels of their mightier peers.

We are not for a second trying to paint the 2017 Audi RS 3 sedan as something of a cheap entry into the league of fast cars.

But when it bested its own claimed acceleration time during our stint at Midvaal Raceway in Meyerton, Gauteng, last week, our mouths were left agape.

Which, one imagines, is how drivers of machines costing substantially more might react after picking a fight with this potent three-box Teuton.

The RS 3 Sportback has a basic price of R895 500, although Audi is asking R30 000 more for the saloon version. Not a small sum of money any way you cut it.

Although consider, for a second, that the likes of the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C63 and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde each cost well over R1-million. So, if what you want is a slightly more affordable car that sets the asphalt ablaze from one set of traffic lights to another, take a good, hard look at the new sedan.

Audi claims a sprint time of 4.1sec, 0.2sec faster than the 2015 car. We fastened our neat Garmin GLO telemetry device to the windscreen, knowing the sprint would be rapid, but not expecting it to match the manufacturer’s claims — Highveld altitudes and all that.

We hit the Dynamic setting on the Audi Drive Select dial, disengaged the two-stage electronic stability programme, tipped the S-tronic shifter down to S-mode and settled a foot on either pedal. The tachometer settled at around 3 500rpm and a promising buzz spat from the four tailpipes.

With virtually no loss of traction, the car thrust off the line — thanks Quattro. That first run was dispatched in four seconds flat. The worst we achieved was 4.4-seconds, when I decided to swap cogs via the steering-mounted shifter paddles. Yes, the weakest link in that arrangement was me.

Even with the inevitable heat-soak after repeated launches, the Audi never went above the fours. Speed is pegged at 250km/h but, for a fee, Audi will add another 30km/h.

When we had finished the sprinting part of our serious journalistic undertaking, we headed off the drag strip to explore the RS 3 sedan’s dynamic competencies.

The last time we steered an Audi RS 3, it was the Sportback variant, during a three-car comparison at Red Star Raceway in Mpumalanga. Perhaps it was to be expected, but Sportback was outclassed by the composure and athleticism of a certain rear-wheel drive rival.

One doubts the outcome would be different in a rematch. We still think tougher anchors would not go amiss. Carbon ceramics are optional, while perforated steel discs are standard fare.

Audi has tried to add another layer of nimbleness to things by reducing weight. Nose-heaviness was alleviated by shaving 26kg off the engine. Plasma-coated cylinder barrels, smaller crankshaft bearings and an aluminium crankcase, instead of graphite, were among the measures taken.

Of course, no review of a hot five-cylinder Audi would be complete without some misty-eyed acknowledgement of the glorious engine sounds.

This turbocharged 2 480cc unit, with its cylindrical quintet, makes a more characterful noise than any of its peers. It is a seven-time consecutive winner in its category of the engine of the year awards, after all. A hollow victory, maybe, since there are not many formats of this kind in contention.

The regular Audi A3 in sedan guise is universally attractive. But with all the sporting intentions projected by the RS moniker, one would have appreciated a bit more in the looks department.

Swelling those quarter panels might have done the trick. And while we are picking nits, there is the usual German car issue of optional extras: our test unit had a final price of R1 021 550.

Some items were downright ridiculous. Audi charges R4 180 if you want the brake callipers painted red. And R9000 for sportier front seats. Surely these items ought to be standard? Add another R9 050 if you want some of the exterior trim painted black and R1 1150 for carbon inlays. In fairness, shoppers in the category will not be taken aback by such charges — it is the same story at BMW Motorsport and Mercedes-AMG.

The Audi RS 3 sedan has plenty going for it. Notably, blistering acceleration, the assurance of four-wheel drive and commendable practicality. – Brenwin Naidu (Pictures: Waldo Swiegers)