Flat out in the new 360bhp Audi RS3
More Nürburgring spy shots of another new Audi?
Yes, but this one is worth getting a bit excited about. Look closely at the pictures above: those slightly flared arches, that squatter, fatter stance, the twin exhaust pipes, fancy alloys and new suit.
It's the upcoming - and brand new - Audi RS3.
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You have my attention.
It all started on a cold, dark, rainy night, deep in Audi's skunkworks division a couple of years ago. Huddled together in a smoky room, Audi's finest RS minds were picking over the bones of the company's generation one RS3, its first foray into the small, explosive hot hatch world.
"The first things you look at," Quattro technical director Stephan Reil tells TG, "are all the issues on the first RS3 that were not 100 per cent." He's being frank: we bemoaned the first RS3's understeery nature, while customers didn't like the brakes. He knows this. "There was a brake issue, it's not a secret. Our customers also wanted the option of a sports exhaust on the first car, which we didn't offer," Stephan says.
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So, less understeer and better brakes. Oh, and some loud. With these post-it notes stuck to their foreheads, Audi punched in many calculations and simulations in its vast super-computer. Though many things needed to be worked out at this point, one thing was in the bank: the engine.
"There was only ever one answer to the question of bringing back the five-cylinder turbocharged engine," explains Stephan. That answer was ‘yes'.
"That engine differentiates us from all of our competitors. And the fan crowd of the five-cylinder is huge. It's such an emotional powerhouse," he adds.
Work needed to be done to make the five-pot EU6 compliant, but it's broadly the same one as before. The pistons have been changed, there's a new intake and injection system and work's been done on removing the flow resistance from intake through exhaust. It's also more powerful than before.
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"The previous car produced 340bhp. We now have more power," Stephan says with a smile. He wouldn't be pushed on how much more, but TG is putting good money on more than 360bhp. Much more than that and - as Stephan rightly points out - it'd start picking on cars not its own size. Like the RS4.
"I'm not a fan of power Top Trumps," he says emphatically, "because you'd need a bigger turbo which means more lag. I'd rather lose 10 or 15 horses and have a wider spread of torque and immediate response. That's more beneficial for the customer."
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OK, engine sorted. What happened next?
Oversteer. Well, not so much the pursuit of it, but the removal of all barriers leading towards it. Step forward, new Audi S3, which the engineers basically took to pieces and reworked.
"The MQB platform gives us a better base to start on than the previous car," explains Stephan. The platform's weight distribution is better and is inherently a lighter structure to start with. Even the battery has been moved to the boot, which helps. All in, the new RS3 is some 55kg lighter than before.
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The four-wheel-drive system is the new fifth-generation Haldex setup, but here with a new rear differential - a larger housing and gears - and new software to deal with the engine's vast swathe of torque.
"The RS3 should not behave like a rear-wheel-drive car," Stephan says, "but it's able to shift more torque to the rear earlier and faster."
A slidey RS3? Curious. What else is new?
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There's a new steering-hub assembly fitted to change the car's kinematics, there are new low-friction Sachs dampers developed specifically for this RS3, said to provide a more comfortable ride than before (also a first-gen RS3 bugbear), as well as larger compound brakes with RS4-spec calipers, a seven-speed DSG gearbox (there won't be a manual offering) and a new power-steering setup "known already from the Audi TT S".
The tyres are 235mm wide all round (on 19-inch alloys), with the option - like last time - of getting wider front tyres (255mm) for extra grip. "When you use the movement of the car, lift off and steer in, you can really play with it," Stephan assures us.
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We were denied a drive ourselves, what with this development prototype undergoing final testing ahead of its launch early next year. So step forward long-serving Audi development driver and 2003 Porsche Supercup champion Frank Stippler, on hand to give us a few passenger hot laps. Frank also happens to be an engineer. And was partly responsible for putting more than 8,000km of development work on this new RS3 at the Nürburgring. "There's not many like Frank who can give us expert feedback," Stephan says.
First impressions? The new RS3 is really, really bloody fast. The first-gen RS3 claimed to go from 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds. We once timed it at a faintly ridiculous 3.8 seconds. "This one is faster," Frank says.
It accelerates brutally, with little fuss off the line even in our Very Wet conditions, DSG snapping cleanly through the upshifts. Maximum torque comes arrives at just 1,650rpm, so there's power from the very bottom of the rev range.
And the noise. There's more than enough RS blood und thunder in the mid-range to remind you this thing is of proper rally pedigree; stick it in Dynamic mode and the noise feeds in much earlier, at just under 3,500rpm. It's loud, meaty and with a spiteful rasp when you reach the top. Nice.
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And the oversteer we were promised?
The thing was four-wheel-drifting everywhere. No lie. On every corner exit Frank would simply nail the throttle and the back would squirm free. The new RS3's willingness to kick its rear tyres out at every available opportunity was hugely admirable. And Frank wasn't even deliberately provoking it, he says.
"You see the engine response is nice?" Frank says. "And the grip... before it was just understeering everywhere, now it's slightly more to the rear. I much prefer it this way." All this while doing significant speeds on a wet Nürburgring and debriefing me. Racing drivers, eh?
The other overriding impression was of comfort. Sure the RS3 felt fast, and the exhaust chimed in to remind you this was no diesel A3, but the ride was noticeably better than the last RS3. "For a guy my age," reckons Frank, " this is the right solution. To have it smoother and not so stiff."
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The traction control has been rejigged to offer three modes: fully on, in ‘Sport' to allow a wider drift angle, and of course, fully off. There's even launch control, too, and Pirelli tyres with a specific compound to dovetail with the RS3's handling nuances.
TG reminds Stephan Reil of a conversation we had with him during the launch of the first RS3, when he told us RS stands for "long distance comfort with one eye on the race track". Was that still the case?
"Yes. Very few of our customers ever really go onto the race track," he confirmed.
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When can I buy one?
The RS3 is still undergoing final testing, so early part of next year is your best bet. It'll only be offered as a five-door, though Audi is considering the possibility of a four-door saloon RS3; a watered-down version of the delightfully bonkers Clubsport Quattro Concept we drove a while back.
Stephan also told us Audi sold over 5,000 first-generation RS3s. "That's more than double our forecast," said Stephan. "We're expecting more for this one."
We can't wait to have a go in one ourselves...