When trying to pick the best Audi Sport model for 2023, we considered balance, performance, value, and heritage.
What is Audi Sport? And what is the best Audi Sport model here in 2023? Two questions I ask myself every time an Audi loaner arrives in my driveway for review. For the former, I’d argue an Audi Sport — aka Audi RS — can be corralled by three main categories.
- Enhanced design — wider hips, more aggressive lines
- Elevated performance — upgraded engines, suspensions, and tires
- Track toughness — extra cooling and braking
In short, take a standard Audi and make it faster, meaner, and robust enough to be driven harder for longer.
Plus red brake calipers!
When the 2022 Audi RS 3 debuted, AudiWorld tested it on track, around a drift course, and in the scorching heat of Death Valley. It was a marketing experience designed to demonstrate Audi’s halo compact sports sedan in several extreme environments. And, wow, we came away a little more than impressed.
But what’s it really like to LIVE with an Audi RS 3 in a city with imperfect roads? To run errands and pick up the kids? To mix and match the mundane in something capable of extraordinary?
For this experiment, Audi sent over the following…
The Base Performance Spec
Outfitted with the Technology Package, Black Optics Package, and Sport Exhaust, this particular RS 3 MSRPs for $65,400. Let’s call this option set the base performance spec. The one you’d want for the street. Turbo 5-cylinder engine making 401 horsepower. 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Audi quattro all-wheel-drive. RS torque splitter. Dynamic Chassis Control. Sporty leather seats. Steel brakes with red brake calipers. And performance tires.
It’s pretty much all most folks will need
However, if you have track days in mind, you could spend about $10,000 more to snag an RS 3 that adds the Dynamic Plus Package, Carbon Package, and Design Package. Same power with more premium materials, a faster top speed, and carbon ceramic brakes.
After a week of living with a street-spec Audi RS 3, I’d argue one doesn’t need to spend $75 grand to get a great RS 3 experience. In fact, the RS 3 wows even more in the real world than it does in carefully monitored off-street environments. It’s not just a track car with street tires. It’s a daily driver with track toughness that’s also reasonably affordable.
In short, as much as the RS 6 Avant will always have my heart, this base RS 3 may just be the best Audi Sport Model, and best all-around Audi, on sale here in 2023. Here are three reasons why:
Auto manufacturers love to tell the world they build track-ready street cars. This dates back to the days when there were more homologation requirements. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday, as they say. But most trackable street cars usually end up taking one of two paths. They’re either too track-focused, making on-road driving uncomfortable or even dangerous with the wrong tires. Or you get a street car that can hang out for a lap or two on a track before overheating and suffering brake fade.
The Audi RS 3, in contrast, is perfectly balanced between the two. In its comfort suspension and drive modes, you might as well be driving an Audi A3 or S3. It’s just a plush little compact sedan with sporty seats. And it makes driving around crumbling, pot-holey Los Angeles bearable.
Jump into the RS 3’s RS modes and everything changes. Quicker shifts. Tighter suspension. And shove-you-back-in-your-seat acceleration. To be fair, you probably do want better tires and the optional carbon ceramic brakes for frequent track day abuses. But I’ve seen these cars survive 100-degree weather while being beat-on by dozens of journalists. These cars were made to be driven with excitement in mind.
In addition to street/track balance, let’s talk about literal balance. The RS torque splitter and tunning involved are remarkable. You can set the car to have absolutely zero under or oversteer. Or you can set it to drift. And, yet, even with the rear end whipping around, everything feels, again, balanced. This amount of grip and cornering and power feels perfect for this chassis.
It’s truly a car that can be enjoyed on the street and in closed environments, and you could really use it to push one’s driving skills and racing acumen.
Cheapest and best don’t usually go together. But look at these stunning figures for the RS 3, as tested by MotorTrend —
- 401 horsepower
- 0-60 mph: 3.6-seconds
- Quarter Mile: 12.1 sec @ 113.9 mph
- 60-0 Braking: 108 ft
- 3,589 lbs
All in a vehicle that costs around $65 grand.
Now step up to the RS 5, which will typically specs out in the $80-90,000 range. It’s larger, which is lovely. And a little fancier. But the performance metrics are similar. Next to up to the 4.0L V8 trio — the RS 6 Avant, RS 7, and RS Q8. They’re a few tenths quicker and much nicer inside, but all cost well over $100,000. And lastly, the RS e-tron GT. Some folks have measured a sub-3-second 0-60 time, but most folks experience something closer to 3.3 or 3.6 seconds, in car that starts in the mid-$140s.
All of this to say is that the RS 3 maybe not be the best on paper. But in the real world, it hangs out with every other RS model while costing significantly less. And just like every other RS model, save for the RS e-tron GT which loses power over the life of its charge, you can beat the snot out of the RS 3 for hours and hours and hours and it’ll just keep on going.
Heritage & Drivetrain Uniqueness
Looking back at Audi performance and racing over the last 40 years, you’re likely to find a turbo 5-cylinder engine involved with many of the company’s greatest accomplishments. Here, in the 2022 Audi RS 3, we are likely seeing the very last Audi 5-banger before the company evolves into an all-electric automaker. In that sense, this 2.5L 5-cylinder feels historic. Like the final chapter of your favorite novel.
More important, it’s just a ripper of a motor that sounds unlike anything else on the market today.
Yes, even with the Sport Exhaust package, it’s a little too quiet for my subjective tastes. But, pedal to the floor, the RS 3 absolutely HOWLS invoking its Rallycross heritage and drawing out one’s inner child. In contrast, the other RS models feel a little more cookie-cutter. Yes, they’re often quicker and fancier. But without a bespoke engine, are they as unique? I’d argue they are not (even if I love them all for different reasons).
The RS 3 Sounds Great! (What’s the Catch?)
Of course, no vehicle is perfect. Especially when mixing subjective opinions with objective testing. And, when dealing with a luxury performance brand like Audi, one can’t expect to get the fanciest and fastest car from their most-affordable Audi Sport model. So, if the Audi engineers asked me how to perfect the RS 3, I would ask for —
- Less turbo lag off the line (the RS 3 doesn’t allow brake torquing in most modes)
- Ventilated front seats
- An extra inch of rear-seat legroom
- A louder sport exhaust
I would also note that the steel brakes, while offering a firmer pedal feel, are noisier and dirtier than the carbon ceramics. But overall it’s hard to find fault with this little rocket of a compact sports sedan. It’s just too darn fun.