Audi RS3 Sportback (2017 – 2020)

Models Covered

5dr family hatch (2.5 petrol [RS3])


This improved 400PS version of the second generation ‘Typ8v’-series Audi RS 3 sold between 2017 and 2020 featured the most powerful production five-cylinder engine in Ingolstadt’s history. Plus there was more technology, less weight, smarter looks and a more sophisticated interior. The result was a compact performance car that claimed class-leading status and aimed once more to rewrite the shopping rocket rulebook.

The History

Did anyone ever imagine back in 2017 that one day, a model of this size would offer what would once have been seen as supercar-style power? In this improved second generation Audi RS 3, that’s just what the market got: four wheel drive, formidable pulling power and 400PS.

This was more than any car of this kind had ever offered before, courtesy of an engine that really set this model apart in this segment. That wasn’t only because of its total output figure. Like V8s for AMG or straight sixes in BMW M cars, a tuned five cylinder unit is part of the DNA of a division which was once called ‘Quattro gmbh’ but which by 2017 was known as ‘Audi Sport’ – the Ingolstadt brand’s performance division. That of course was the configuration used for the classic Quattro coupe that first established Audi’s engineering credentials back in the Eighties and the brand returned to it when at the beginning of the century’s second decade, the time came to expand its RS performance model line-up.

Leading the charge in that regard was this car’s predecessor, the original first generation RS 3 Sportback of 2012. This model used its 2.5-litre five cylinder engine to become one of the very first hot hatches to break through the 300PS barrier, offering 341PS and what was then seen as quite shocking levels of performance. Customers loved it and Audi sold four times as many as it thought it was going to. Journalists though, didn’t, criticising the car’s soul-less dynamics, lifeless steering and general lack of agility. A model of this kind, they told Audi, had to be about more than just ultimate grip and prodigious speed. The ‘RS’ ‘Racing Sport’ badge deserved something better.

We got exactly that in 2015 with the original version of this second generation RS 3 model. This significantly improved second generation design stood a better chance in that regard though. For the second generation RS version of their TT sportscar launched in 2016, Audi Sport completely redeveloped their 2.5-litre five cylinder engine and the result was a switch to a significantly lighter aluminium block and a 33PS increase in power to 400PS. The obvious next move was to stick that powerplant in the RS 3, add a few styling tweaks and re-establish its class-leading credentials. That was the thinking that’s led to the creation of the model we’re looking at here, also available in Saloon guise as well as in the usual Sportback body style. It sold until the end of the ‘Typ8v’ A3 model line’s production life in 2020.

What You Get

If you’ve got it, you shouldn’t need to shout about it – or so Audi believes. Hence the subtlety of the changes made to Sportback and Saloon versions of this RS 3 in 2017 to differentiate them from their equally low-key S3 stablemates. As before, there was a choice of Sportback hatch or saloon body shapes. Behind the wheel, it's all in the details. The flat-bottomed leather and alcantara-trimmed RS sport leather steering wheel with its contrast stitching is of course bespoke. So are the stainless steel pedals, the RS gear lever and the illuminated RS door sill trims.

We really like the seats. They came in nappa leather-trimmed sports form as standard, but we’d want to find a car whose original owner had paid the extra for the brilliant winged, diamond-quilted Super Sports seats. They’re anatomically-shaped and perfectly position you to view another standard cockpit highlight, the all-digital Audi ‘Virtual Cockpit’.

What To Look For

The Audi RS3's 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is as tough as old boots and can shrug off big mileages. Look for accident damage repairs as the RS3 is so quick that an inexperienced driver can get into a lot of trouble fast. The alloy wheels are spectacularly prone to kerbing, so take scuffs and chips into account when negotiating on the vehicle. Check the condition of the front tyres as wear rates can be high. Check that the twin-clutch S-tronic sequential transmission engages all gears cleanly. One common problem appears to be a faulty Haldex clutch system pump, betrayed by a traction control light that keeps coming on.

On The Road

Four wheel drive compact performance models that sit in this high powered segment are primarily all about the clever ways they can transmit torque to the tarmac. Rivals to this Audi came up with all kinds of sophisticated solutions for this that the engineers behind this improved RS 3 chose not to emulate, so as with the earlier version of this design, you get the brand’s familiar Haldex clutch quattro 4WD system with its conventional open differential. Where the spec of this post-2016-era RS 3 does stand out though, is when it comes to the engine beating beneath the bonnet. Most rivals from this period use rather uncharismatic four cylinder powerplants, but with this RS model, Audi Sport gives you a gloriously emotive 2.5-litre five cylinder unit that now has a lightweight all-aluminium block and an unrivalled amount of grunt thanks to 400PS and 480Nm of torque. That’s enough to fire you from rest to 62mph in just 4.1s to the accompaniment of a glorious metallic howl on the way to a maximum that would see you hitting 174mph if the speed restrictor were removed.


And in summary? Well certainly, there are other compact high performance models in this segment from this era that might make your heart beat a little faster: the RS 3 still trades the last couple of percentage points of focus for genuine everyday utility. But it’s also true that while that might make it a couple of seconds slower around the Nurburgring, it also makes it a better car for the vast majority of customers. People who live in the real world. A very fast world indeed.