The 2018 Audi RS 3 marks the first time this high-performance sport sedan has been available in the United States. Places like Germany have enjoyed the RS 3 before now, where there are autobahns on which to explore its full speed potential. But Audi doesn’t send every one of its products across the Atlantic, so the 2018 RS 3 is cause for celebration.
In Audi’s pecking order of fast and wonderful, vehicles start with A (or Q or TT), go up to S, then max out at RS. By decoding the name, we can conclude this is the hottest version of the excellent A3 small premium sedan.
The RS 3 is not cheap, but it is fast, outgunning its rivals in the sprint from standstill to 60 mph. The 2018 BMW M2 (with the automatic transmission) and 2018 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 are both claimed to achieve it in 4.1 seconds. The RS 3 does it in 3.9 seconds. That speed comes from an unusual 5-cylinder engine (also found in the TT RS). It’s a nod to Audi’s motorsport heritage that also provides a distinct soundtrack through those oval exhaust tips.
What’s New for 2018?
The RS 3 is all-new for this model year.
What We Like
Speed; agility; styling; equipment
What We Don’t
Limited trunk and passenger space
The RS 3 has a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine making 400 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. This connects to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and all-wheel drive (as always, Audi calls it "quattro") is standard.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 19 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving. That’s using premium gasoline.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Audi RS 3 ($55,875) 5-seater small premium sport sedan comes in one well-stocked trim level with several options.
Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels wearing summer performance tires, full LED lighting, a panoramic sunroof, an adaptive suspension, variable-ratio steering, 8-piston front brake calipers with ventilated discs, ventilated rear-brake discs, a rear lip spoiler, keyless entry/ignition, rain-sensing wipers, self-dimming/heated/power-folding side mirrors, selectable driving modes (which adjust steering assistance, gear shift points, suspension settings and throttle responses), a flat-bottom, tilt-telescopic steering wheel covered in leather and Alcantara (simulated suede, but lighter, so it gets used in many actual racing cars), dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front sport seats with 8-way manual adjustment (including extendable thigh support) and 4-way power lumbar adjustment, Nappa leather upholstery, ambient LED cabin lighting, stainless steel pedals, parking sensors front and rear, forward-collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, a self-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, a 7-in infotainment screen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, a 10-speaker audio system, a CD/MP3 player, HD Radio, satellite radio, an SD card slot and a USB port.
A Technology package adds the Virtual Cockpit configurable 12.3-in driver’s information display, navigation with a touchpad controller featuring handwriting recognition, Wi-Fi and a 705-watt/14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system.
The Driver Assistance package brings adaptive cruise control with stop/go, automatic high beams and active lane-keeping assistance.
For more extreme tastes, the Dynamic Plus package has a fixed sport suspension, ceramic front brake discs, a carbon-fiber engine cover and a top speed raised from 155 to 174 mph.
Trunk space measures just 10 cu ft., not great even for a compact sedan. Anyone carrying longer items on a regular basis, such as golf bags, should make sure they fit properly (or give up golf and go driving instead). The rear seats can split and fold in 40/40/20 fashion.
The RS 3 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock brakes and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee, full-length side curtain). Side airbags for the rear seats are optional.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash-tested the RS 3. However, the regular A3 has a top 5-star overall score from NHTSA, and the IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick+.
Behind the Wheel
The RS 3 comes with materials and design on a level with larger luxury sedans. That’s part of the joy of being an Audi. The sporty flat-bottom steering wheel is an outward sign of the handling prowess under the skin. The front sport seats, meanwhile, provide support and sufficient comfort for hour after hour of quick corners. Rear passenger space, if it matters, is tight.
So much of the RS 3’s hardware — from the engine, variable-ratio steering and adaptive suspension to the all-wheel-drive system and brake setup — is dedicated to fast and sure progress. It all works incredibly well, forming a complete package that’s absolutely compelling.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 BMW M2 — Only available as a coupe, and rear passenger space is cramped. But 365 hp, an inline-six engine and rear-wheel drive are extremely tempting.
2018 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 — The 375-hp AMG-tuned version of the CLA-Class sedan is wonderfully fast and capable (all-wheel drive is standard), but its sloping roof means less rear headroom than in the RS 3.
Used Mercedes-Benz E 63/E 63 S AMG — To go appreciably bigger and better than the RS 3 means looking at a twin-turbo V8 making 550 or 577 hp propelling a superb previous-generation E-Class premium midsize sedan. Check out the Mercedes-Benz certified pre-owned (CPO) program.
The Technology and Driver Assistance packages are highly recommended. If the RS 3 fires your rockets, we won’t dissuade you, but the regular suspension is probably the better call for day-to-day use.