2023 Audi RS 3 Review: Just the Right Amount of Raucousness

audi rs 3 2022 02 exterior dynamic front angle scaled jpg 2022 Audi RS 3 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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Managing Editor Joe Bruzek’s 22 years of automotive experience doesn’t count the lifelong obsession that started as a kid admiring his dad’s 1964 Chevrolet Corvette — and continues to this day. Joe’s been an automotive journalist with Cars.com for 16 years, writing shopper-focused car reviews, news and research content. As Managing Editor, one of his favorite areas of focus is helping shoppers understand electric cars and how to determine whether going electric is right for them. In his free time, Joe maintains a love-hate relationship with his 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that he wishes would fix itself. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-bruzek-2699b41b/ Email Joe Bruzek

The verdict: With 401 horsepower and a trick all-wheel-drive system, the 2023 Audi RS 3 compact performance sedan drives with an exceeding amount of vigor and excitement.

Versus the competition: The Audi RS 3 is a little rough around the edges, but its performance chops are undeniable and its brutish behavior is part of its appeal.

Audi redesigned the RS 3 for the 2022 model year, bringing it leaps ahead by modernizing the sedan’s interior with new technology and styling. A new all-wheel-drive system changes the way the RS 3 behaves in spirited driving, and under the hood is a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that got only a slight power boost, yet remains a highlight of the RS 3 experience.

Ahead of this review, I hadn’t driven a 2017-20 RS 3, so a friend offered to let me drive his 2018 RS 3. To be honest, there wasn’t much I could responsibly glean comparing the driving experience of that car — with 60,000 miles and light modifications — to that of the new RS 3, but one thing was clear where the interior was concerned: The new RS 3 doesn’t feel like a single-generation jump over the 2018; it’s more like two. I drove a 2022 RS 3 for this review, but little has changed for 2023 (see the two model years compared).

Related: 2023 Audi A3, S3, RS 3 Enter New Year With Minimal Updates, New Base Price

Similar Power, Very Different All-Wheel Drive

audi rs 3 2022 39 interior center stack display scaled jpg 2022 Audi RS 3 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

I was most impressed by the RS 3 when diving into corners. The new RS 3’s torque-splitting rear axle overdrives the outside rear wheel in order to more eagerly point the car’s nose in the direction of the corner. This makes the RS 3 light on its feet and eager to round a bend, even if the light-effort steering doesn’t offer much confidence. (It doesn’t do a good job communicating what’s happening with the front tires’ grip.)

I didn’t fully experience the effect of the RS 3’s torque-splitting rear axle in a track setting, but the RS Torque Rear driving mode takes the torque that’s sent to the rear (up to 50%) and directs up to 100% of it to the outside wheel in a turn for tail-sliding drift fun. In this mode, the RS 3 reminded me of a Subaru BRZ or Toyota GR86, where a generous throttle blip at low speeds can bring the rear end out in a very controlled manner. It was impressive for an AWD sedan that weighs around 800 pounds more than those rear-wheel-drive coupes.

The RS 3 is also more raw and raucous than many of the modern sports cars that are derived from luxury cars. Many of these luxury sports cars block lively engine and powertrain noises for the sake of passenger comfort, but that’s not the case in the RS 3: The auditory feedback of engine, wind and tire noise connects you to the driving experience. Audi says the RS 3 accelerates from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and you’ll feel — and hear — the rush of acceleration via the engine’s whooshes and whistles; the RS 3 gives you a sense of its speed by the sounds it makes.

audi rs 3 2022 15 exterior taiilpipe scaled jpg 2022 Audi RS 3 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

One thing that could be louder, however, is the available $1,000 sport exhaust. Even at full song, it’s muted for what I’d expect from a performance exhaust. The Porsche 911’s and Chevrolet Corvette’s optional exhaust uncork much more volume, and even the Hyundai Elantra N has an angry-sounding, burbly exhaust note. The RS 3 has a pleasant, signature sound coming from its pipes, but for my tastes — and a cool grand — I’d like an extra few decibels of exhaust sound from that smooth five-cylinder.

What was also lively was how the redesigned RS 3 tracked at highway speeds; it kept me on my toes as it darted and followed grooves and imperfections in the road. Factory-recommended cold tire pressure for the Bridgestone Potenza Sport summer tires on my test car was 44 psi in the front and 36 psi in the back, but I dropped the fronts to 39 psi to see if it made a difference with tracking — as well as hopefully lessen the harsh impacts on bumps — and it did. This was below the front tires’ recommended pressure, but it resulted in the car no longer darting at highway speeds or crashing over road imperfections.

Old RS 3 Vs. New RS 3

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The new car’s interior is a substantial upgrade over the previous RS 3, with a more upscale feel from aluminized trim that stretches the width of the dashboard, plus a modernized control layout and a now-standard 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. Perhaps the biggest change is the center touchscreen, which is now integrated into the dashboard; the previous RS 3 had a seriously old-school-Audi retractable screen. The new screen isn’t distracting like the old one, which was propped on top of the dashboard, and it offers increased definition and more features. The previous RS 3 included controls, switches and dials that were reminiscent of Audis all the way back to the mid-2000s, so the new setup is a marked improvement.

The 2018 RS 3 I drove had all-season tires and smaller-than-factory 18-inch-diameter wheels. My 2022 test car had summer rubber and 19-inch wheels, so making handling comparisons between the two is difficult. The 2018 RS 3 also had minor engine intake and exhaust modifications, but the powertrain programming was untouched. The greatest difference I observed was how much more responsive and snappy the redesigned RS 3 felt compared with the 2018 version; throttle response is heightened, and automatic downshifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission are more eager.

Both cars exhibited inconsistent shift speed and firmness when using the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. Even in their most heightened sport drive modes, both the 2018 and 2022 RS 3 sometimes suffered a lazy delay between hitting the shift paddle and the shift actually taking place, yet at other times they would snap into the next gear right away. The inconsistency was a turnoff compared with the always responsive dual-clutch experience in a 2020-or-newer Corvette or any modern Porsche, or even compared with a non-dual-clutch transmission like the BMW M340i’s conventional (yet exceptional) eight-speed automatic. The RS 3’s transmission also reminded me why I so enjoy performance electric vehicles like the Tesla Model 3: There’s no step-gear transmission to muck up the experience, so any press of the accelerator results in near-instant acceleration.

Interior Quality and Roominess

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While there’s a clear leap in quality on the inside versus the old RS 3, you won’t find the kind of richness in padding and materials that you would in a BMW M340i, Genesis G70 or Audi S4. These cars are a class up in terms of size and interior appointments versus the A3, upon which the RS 3 is based, and that’s simply something owners will have to exchange for the RS 3’s unique performance.

The multimedia and control systems function via a touch-sensitive volume knob and a track-changing button on the center console that works decently in place of a physical dial. I like that the motion is similar to a rotating dial versus some touch-sensitive sliders or tap-to-activate buttons that don’t work as naturally. There remain physical buttons for the climate system, which is nice, and new standard features include wireless Apple CarPlay Android Auto and wireless charging. They’re great upgrades for everyday livability.

Those hoping the RS 3 sedan can be a family hauler shouldn’t count the car’s extra two doors as an “in” if they still have smaller children in bulky child-safety seats. In our car-seat testing, the related A3 had compromised front-seat comfort when rear-facing convertible and infant seats were installed. I carted my 2-year-old around in a rear-facing convertible and my 5-year-old in a forward-facing convertible, and while we all fit, even an hourlong drive stretched everyone’s comfort in the cramped cockpit; both my wife and I had to move our seats up to give the kids some breathing room. Even so, the RS 3 is still a better option for family duty than any two-door or two-seat competitor. For adults, the backseat is certainly passable for occasional use.

Thankfully, everyone was distracted from the cramped quarters by how much they enjoyed the personality this car oozes. My daughters yelled “Hit it!” from the backseat when they wanted to hear the engine and feel the acceleration, and at one point, when I suggested taking our SUV to the grocery store instead of the RS 3, my youngest was in tears, pointing at the Audi in the driveway: “No! This one!” I feel ya, buddy.

Trunk Space

audi rs 3 2022 60 interior cargo scaled jpg 2022 Audi RS 3 | Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek

The RS 3’s 13.4 cubic feet of Cars.com-measured cargo room is in line with other small sedans. It was enough for a bulky single-seat stroller and a diaper bag. It’s identical to the cargo space in a Genesis G70 sedan (13.4 cubic feet) and a tad smaller than the Cadillac CT4-V sedan’s (13.7 cubic feet).

For the Money

Pricing for the 2023 RS 3 starts at $61,995 (all prices include destination). My 2022 test car was equipped with the RS Technology Package, RS Sport Exhaust, Black Optic Plus Package, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. For 2023, thus equipped, that car would be $66,845.

There aren’t a lot of hardcore little sedans in this price range. The Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S Coupe (the four-door kind of “coupe”) is perhaps the most direct competitor, but I also think the BMW M340i deserves a look. It’s slightly larger and has more daily-driver-friendly interior dimensions — but if track days are in your future, know that it doesn’t feel as able as the RS 3.

The RS 3 is a definite improvement over the previous generation. Its raucousness is unapologetic, and it does what it needs to in order to go fast without worrying about being a luxury car. If you’re not carving corners, you may not pick up the differences, but you’ll definitely appreciate how much more modern the RS 3 is when living with it every day.

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