2018 Audi RS3 Review: WRX, Upgraded (w/Video)

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I recently wrote that the BMW M240i is a Subaru BRZ for grownups. I contend that the Audi RS3 is a similar corollary to the Subaru WRX. It is what a WRX tuner wishes to create but can’t because of the platform’s limitations. Here’s why:

Adding an extra cylinder makes for ferocious–not merely zippy–acceleration. A snorty–not tinny–sports exhaust grants real street cred. A snappy dual clutch outworks even the shortest-throw STI shifter and downright embarrasses the WRX’s “best-in-class” CVT. A Teutonic interior eliminates the NVH hallmark to the Japanese sedan and lets you bop to Wagner and not just Skrillex while bombing down the highway.

Audi’s MMI infotainment system is so much more functional and intuitive than Subie’s three-screen solution–even if it’s a little blingy. (But thank you for physical climate controls!) Add in a the fixed suspension and ceramic brakes that are part of the Dynamic Plus Package, and you have a track-ready ride adept at setting lap times as well as getting you to your orthodontics practice.

That glib allusion to price was intentional. A loaded Audi RS3 is double the price of a non-STI WRX. Do you get double the goods? I think so. Based on the above evaluation, I think there is only one category in which the WRX wins, and that is handling.

The WRX, despite its high stance and AWD system has surprisingly good turn in and rotation. The RS3 just underseers–even with the unorthodox stagger of its rubber. You can approach a turn much the way you do in a traditional RWD sports car. After entering the breaking zone and hunting the apex, you get the added pull provided by the front wheels. The added traction helps you maintain speed and glide right through.

Approach a corner the same way in an RS3, and you will be pulled off the pavement. A lot of drivers find fault with the car because of the understeeting issue and are underwhelmed as a result. However, auto journalists have taken up a frustrating refrain with Audi Sport that should not be taken as gospel; remember that this car is built on Golf architecture.

The trick is to change your strategy. With the RS3, you need to “granny” your way into the corner, shedding as much momentum as possible without stopping. Then you square-off the turn, basically ignoring the apex, and slam the right pedal. Thanks to Quattro, Tiptronic, and a nearly 400HP TFSI, this technique will launch you into the next straight like Falcon Heavy, making up for any time lost to pesky steering. There is virtually no chance of snap oversteer. There is virtually a guarantee of whiplash.

In the end, the 2018 Audi RS3 is the natural sequel to WRX ownership. (It’s too dissimilar to be considered an S3 on steroids, but that’s besides the point…) The badge and the lack of depreciation will force you to shop upmarket, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your budget and level of aversion toward seeking social status through auto ownership. The performance difference is clear if you are willing to adapt your driving style.

I’m a new enthusiast and not much of a purist regarding most things anyway, so I can say that the RS3 is one of my favorite sports sedan thanks to its balance of build-quality, refinement, simplicity, and speed. It isn’t really a luxury car, and it isn’t really a track car.

And that’s why it’s really great for many drivers looking to upgrade from what the WRX has to offer.

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