The latest Audi RS3 Sportback is a class act. The 2.5-litre engine takes centre stage, arguably belting out its sonorous tune for one last time. We indulge in its five-cylinder swansong…

Climbing into the new RS3 Sportback, dialling in the driver’s pew to the preferred setting, and wrapping your palms around the steering wheel before pressing the engine start/stop button elicits two contradictory emotions: happiness and a sense of sadness, the thought that this is arguably the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine’s swansong as Audi is, and it’s no secret, fast moving towards a full-on electric future.

RS3 Sportback

A few years ago, the Ingolstadt-based brand announced that it had stopped the development of its internal combustion powertrains. Yes, the five-pot powering the RS3 and high-revving V10 mid-ships the R8 are fortunately still breathing, singing their sonorous soundtracks, but these renowned power units will soon be unplugged, making way for the swoosh of electric motors. (The German marque recently revealed the limited-edition R8 Coupé V10 GT RWD as a final goodbye to its mid-engined supercar.) 

However, press the engine start/stop button of either of these Audi Sport models, and the sense of sadness soon disappears. And that’s precisely what happened when I pressed the red-outlined button, and the engine erupted. The sadness was replaced with joy. 

RS3 Sportback

Although facing an impending death, the RS3 Sportback felt alive, its turbocharger taking a deep breath as I set off on the picturesque Franschhoek Pass. The new-generation RS3’s 2.5-litre produces the same power as its forebear (294 kW). However, Audi has handed the engine 20 Nm more torque for the latest iteration. Available from 2 250 r/min, the five-pot now transfers 500 Nm to all four corners via Audi’s well-known seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which, in the new model, has shorter gear ratios for quicker shift times. And it felt rapid. 

Around the bends, the RS3 Sportback’s chassis felt taut, reigning in body lean impeccably. The steering was pin-sharp, which, accompanied by the quattro all-wheel-drive, made cornering a joy. The rubber felt glued to the road. 

RS3 Sportback

On another note, the leather-trimmed tiller felt good in the palms; the analogue buttons are neatly laid out, making it a cinch to operate the configurable digital driver’s display, skip songs and adjust the Bang & Olufson sound system’s volume. During the drive, my girlfriend insisted we listen to Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights. Although I’m not a fan, I’ll admit that some of Taylor’s new tunes didn’t sound bad, especially the one featuring one of my favourite artists Lana Del Rey. But that said, this is not a review of Midnights. And I kept my ears tuned in to the exhaust note. The RS3 sounded sublime. And it was the sound that made fellow motorists and pedestrians notice it most. 

Let me explain; the press unit was dressed in (R14 500) ‘Daytona Gray Pearlescent’ paintwork, which made it look seemingly “undercover”. Some might prefer the “sleeper” look, though, considering this is an RS model, I would have liked it in a brighter hue (Audi offers the RS3 in no-cost vibrant colours such as ‘Kyalami Green’, ‘Turbo Blue’, ‘Tango Red’ metallic and ‘Python Yellow’ metallic). But each to their own. And, admittedly, the press car did look good. The (standard-fitment) 19-inch, 10-spoke ’Platinum Gray’ alloys gave the RS3 Sportback a more sophisticated look. 

A pair of (standard-fitment) LED matrix headlamps flank the prominent front grille. These items feature a ‘dynamic light design’, an, ahem, highlight of the package. The items found on the RS3 Sportback (and its sedan sibling) put on a unique lighting show. When unlocking the car, the left-hand units display “R”, then “S”, and then “3” before changing to a chequered flag motif. 

The interior is what you’d expect from Audi. It felt solid and is neatly laid out. It was welcomed that, where some manufacturers have turned to touch buttons for climate control, the RS3’s controls are analogue. The flagship A3 features sports seats trimmed in (R18 200) Nappa leather featuring red honeycomb stitching. It’s a comfortable place to be sat in, whether flying over Franschhoek Pass or driving around town. 

At a glance

Audi RS3 Sportback 

The new RS3 feels sophisticated when you want it to be and dynamic when the road gets twisty. There’s a neat balance between comfort and performance. Pressing the engine start/stop button, the engine switched off, and the sense of sadness returned. Well then, better keep driving. 

  • Price: R1 215 000
  • Engine: 2.5 L, 5-cyl, turbopetrol
  • Transmission: 7-spd dual-clutch
  • Driven wheels: 4
  • Power: 294 kW @ 5 600-7 000 r/min
  • Torque: 500 Nm @ 2 250-5 600 r/min
  • 0-100 km/h: 3.8 seconds
  • Top speed: 250 km/h (opt. 290 km/h)
  • Fuel consumption: 9.0 L/100 km
  • CO2: 206 g/km

Be sure to keep an eye on our YouTube channel for an in-depth video review of the new RS3 Sportback … Coming soon!