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Don’t judge RS3 just by its cover

DARREN MOODY takes the new Audi RS3 for a spin on Tasmania’s roads and the famed Baskerville racetrack and discovers it’s what lies beneath that really brings this vehicle into its own.

The new Audi RS3 sedan reminds me of a well-tailored Armani suit – smart, modern and perfectly fitted. But if you take a second look, you can see snippets of tight Lycra wrapped on bulging muscles, just begging to be released by ripping off that suit.

Previously the RS3 was a hatch-only affair, but the Audi Sport engineers have given the treatment to their compact sedan to provide an understated appearance with a fair hint of intent. Other giveaways of what lurks beneath that slick Armani suit are the massive 370mm eight-piston front brake calipers framed by standard 19" alloys, more bulge in all the guards to accommodate wider rubber and increased track, and a 25mm lower stance than your standard A3. Front and rear bumpers, single-frame gloss black grill, rear diffuser and small boot-lip spoiler, along with large oval-shaped twin exhaust pipes, all gel. Head and tail lights are standard LED.

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Inside are heavily bolstered diamond-stitched nappa leather sport seats with incorporated head rests and embossed RS logos. Standard dash and console inlays are titanium grey with aluminium. A fantastic leather and alcantara flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles and RS logo greets the driver, along with Audi's 12.3" virtual cockpit with a specific RS display. Audi still leads the way with interiors and the RS3 again sets the standard for others to aspire to.

Audi has recently been packing their high-end offerings with lashes of standard kit and the RS3 is no exception.  MMI Navigation plus with MMI Touch and 10GB HDD, Premium 180w, 10-speaker Audi sound system, Audi Connect with in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, digital radio, Audi parking system plus with rear-view camera, tyre pressure monitoring system and comprehensive safety assistance package  including active lane assist, side assist and rear cross-traffic assist are all included.

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Under the bonnet there's an all-new, all-aluminum 2.5L five-cylinder turbo engine delivering a staggering 294kW of earth-scorching power and 480Nm of torque from a low 1700 right through to 5850RPM. The all-new power plant, which is 26kg lighter than the previous five-cylinder, now has an alloy block, plasma-coated cylinder barrels, a hollow crankshaft, a large turbo charging at 1.35bar, intercooler offering 80% efficiency and a dual injection (port and direct) system, all contributing to the increased engine output.  Mated exclusively to a new seven-speed DSG auto, it's a combination that can blast you to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds via launch control. Then there's the unique sound the five-pot engine as it almost effortlessly screams towards the rev limiter. The RS Sport exhaust system is standard, which at high loads opens flaps to further accentuate the sound. It's also driver switchable so you can have it all the time. It's a sound show I never get sick of.

The lighter engine over the front axle provides a bit more balance and slightly less under-steer when pushed. Drive is via Audi's famed Quattro system that doesn't necessarily have a default setting, but is rear-wheel biased. The system is capable of moving all the drive to the rear and up to 50% to the front in less than the blink of an eye if conditions warrant. It's managed by RS-specific software that controls a hydraulically activated multi-plate clutch, which is mounted at the rear axle.

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The steering uses a progressive design that adapts its assistance according to vehicle speed, resulting in reduced driving input and effort. The rack ratio is also variable when more lock is applied.

Our test vehicle was fitted with the $5900 RS performance option that included Audi Magnetic Ride adaptive dampers that offer four settings – Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual – a 20mm wider front wheel/tyre combination, a 705 watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and Carbon inlays on the consul and door trims. I think this option would be a must-have.

A road loop via Cygnet allowed us to test the various settings and there was a clear difference between Comfort and Dynamic, which was useful given some of the road surfaces on that loop are pretty ordinary. Comfort mode was very livable and when Dynamic mode is selected, it firms up the ride and almost eliminates body roll, but probably not a setting you could live with every day.

After the on-road loop the assembled media were set upon Baskerville Raceway. Newly resealed, the tight confines and fresh tarmac were the perfect launching pad to explore the RS3 sedan's limits. The reduced weight over the front wheels is definitely noticeable. As you'd expect at 294kW in a compact sedan, you're never left wanting for power and the brakes provide prodigious stopping power. The seven-speed DSG auto-shifts in an instant, giving that familiar 'blatt' between shifts, and could be left to its own devices in sport mode, or select manual mode and shift via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Electronic stability control can be moved to sport mode to allow the driver a bit of latitude, or completely turned off for the more experienced drivers.RS3_1140.jpg

In addition to the RS performance package there are a number of styling packages, carbon ceramic brakes and Matrix LED headlights just to name a few. At $84,900 (plus on-road costs) the RS3 sedan offers you the opportunity to get into the supercar performance bracket for a fraction of the cost, while providing a livable mild-mannered day-to-day drive.

Getting your performance car on the track

For many of us with performance vehicles you never get to fully explore the vehicle's capabilities on public roads (nor should we try). There is a better and safer way to do this by joining your local sporting car club and The Hobart Sporting Car Club is a good place to start. For a small yearly membership fee you can get access to Baskerville on designated practice days for $80. You will need a safe and roadworthy vehicle fitted with a secured fire extinguisher.

You'll also need a helmet that meets the appropriate Australian Standard and a CAMS L2S licence, which you can apply for on the CAMS website, noting the requirement to disclose health issues and being a fit and proper person to hold a CAMS licence before it will be issued.

An advanced driver training course should also be considered prior to heading onto the track. You should also remember that it's likely your vehicle will not be covered by your insurance policy in the event of a crash, so driving within your and your vehicle's skills and capabilities should be a priority.