2023 Audi RS 3, BMW M2 Battle It Out for Small Performance Car Glory

2023 Audi RS 3 vs BMW M2

The brand new BMW M2 may be significantly more powerful, but it’s also less satisfying than the 2023 Audi RS 3.

These days, we live in what one could call the golden age of automotive performance, a time when one can buy all sorts of fast machines. This list covers the entire spectrum of vehicle types, whether we’re talking about traditional high-performance muscle cars and exotics all the way up to pickup trucks and large SUVs, and pretty much everything in between. Those seeking a small performance car with a bit of luxury also have some fantastic vehicles to choose from, with the 2023 Audi RS 3 and BMW M2 being among the best of the best, which is precisely why Throttle House pitted them against each other in a number of ways recently.

The BMW M2 has the benefit of being completely new, following a full redesign for the 2-Series on which it’s based. It’s powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six developing 453 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, which flows to the rear wheels via either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. Right off the bat, Throttle House notes that the manual “feels cumbersome” and the automatic “is dim-witted half the time,” which isn’t a good start.

2023 Audi RS 3 vs BMW M2

In the other lane, we have the 2023 Audi RS 3, which takes a different approach with its turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five that sends 401 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It tips the scales at around 3,600 pounds, however, which is notably less than the M2’s curb weight of just over 3,800 – quite interesting given the fact that the latter model doesn’t have to deal with the extra weight that AWD components add.

2023 Audi RS 3 vs BMW M2

TH notes that the 2023 Audi RS 3 is a “much more rewarding drive,” but aside from simple driving pleasure, what matters here is how the two stack up in terms of performance. To answer that question, we start out with a series of drag races, which the Audi kicks off with a win thanks to its massive traction advantage. In a roll race, the M2 uses its power advantage to motor ahead and take the win in that style of straight line test, though the car is clearly a bit more difficult to drive in that manner, too.

Out on the track, the RS3 managed a best lap time of 1:11.93, making it the 12th quickest car TH has tested to date, while the M2 wasn’t terribly far ahead at 1:11.19 – quite impressive given the fact that the Audi is down significantly in terms of output. At the end of the day, our hosts reveal that they would still buy the RS3 over the current-gen M2, which has seemingly taken a step back from generation-to-generation – bad news for BMW fans, indeed.

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770 HP Audi S8 Battles RS3-Swapped Golf R in Ultra-Close Drag Race

Modified Audi S8 vs Volkswagen Golf R Drag Race

This Audi S8 makes far more power than the Golf R, but it also weighs more, resulting in one of the closest matchups we’ve seen.

Drag racing is a fascinating sport for a variety of reasons, but to us, one of the best things about it is getting to watch very different machines battle it out in a straight line. While many sports match up competitors based on skill or capability, that isn’t always the. case in drag racing, at least in the “run what you brung” sort of situation. That’s exactly what took place in this latest showdown conducted by the YouTube channel Officially Gassed, which pits a pair of modified German vehicles – an Audi S8 and Volkswagen Golf R – against each other.

However, these two cars do share one thing in common that most wouldn’t expect – an engine, or at least an engine from the same manufacturer. That’s because the Golf R seen here is packing the same 2.5-liter inline-five cylinder engine as the Audi RS3, and in this guise, it’s been boosted to around 520 horsepower thanks to a tune and a few other goodies. It also utilizes the RS3’s gearbox and rear end, and weighs in at around 3,300 pounds.

Modified Audi S8 vs Volkswagen Golf R Drag Race

In the other corner, we have the Audi S8, which has received one big update for its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 as well, giving it a substantial 770 horsepower to play around with. Amazingly enough, this car needs nothing more than just a tune to achieve that mark, but as one might imagine, it’s quite a bit heavier than the Golf R, tipping the scales at around 4,400 pounds.

Modified Audi S8 vs Volkswagen Golf R Drag Race

The very first race between these two is conducted from a roll, and despite their many differences, it’s a shockingly close one, with the Golf R just barely taking the win. However, there was some controversy regarding the VW driver jumping early, and the next go-round, they seem to be too conservative, giving the S8 an easy win. Amazingly, the third race was so close that it’s impossible to call, so the team goes to the numbers to decide, which shows that the Audi was indeed quicker.

From a dig, the Audi S8 proves to be superior in the first-go round, though the second round produces another race that was essentially too close to call. Thus, the two line up for a third time yet again, and in another photo finish, the Golf R takes home the victory. After reviewing the footage later on, however, it appears that the S8 actually won the second match, but regardless, this is easily some of the best racing we’ve seen in a while, which means that we’re all winners for getting to watch it all take place.

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Should Audi Rethink How They Position Their RS Models and Follow the Porsche Philosophy?

RS modelsPorsche and Audi offer RS models. Both companies are under the Volkswagen umbrella. They both have a long and distinguished motorsports history. But the top-shelf RS models from each brand take drastically different approaches. The Audi RS models are extremely quick and powerful. They are wonderful cars that many people aspire to own. We love them here at Audi World. But RS means racing sport. RACING. Look at the Porsche RS models. The GT4 RS and the 911 GT3 RS. These are essentially race cars. The 911 GT3 RS has a drag reduction system borrowed from F1 for Pete’s sake. These cars are raw and wonderful and probably a bit too extreme to work as daily drivers.

The Audi RS models are different. First of all, there are a lot of them. RS 3, RS 5, RS 6, RS 7, RS e-tron GT, and RS Q8. They are powerful and quick, but none of these can be considered hardcore track weapons. Audi is not Porsche. They have different missions, and price points. But they do have a lot in common. And should Audi borrow the Porsche philosophy when it comes to producing RS models? Perhaps. You can’t argue with the market. Look at the prices of any Porsche RS in history. They are depreciation proof. And in fact, are typically worth well more years later than when they were new. The Audi RS models are desirable but don’t have that kind of market. I was offered an allocation on a new 911 GT3 RS, for $200,000 OVER sticker. No Audi commands that.

Audi GTS Models

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Audi RS3: Proof That Modern Performance is Easy to Drive Fast!

Audi RS3

Even with an unexperienced, speed-hating driver behind the wheel, the Audi RS3 is still quicker than some modern exotics.

We truly live in the golden age of automotive performance, a world where everything – even minivans and economy cars – are quicker than many so-called performance-focused vehicles sold just a few years ago. Performance has certainly come a long way in a very short period of time, which is rather heartbreaking when we compare our heroes of yesterday to the incredible hi-po machines of today. However, there is one good thing about modern performance vehicles like the Audi RS3 – they’re so darn capable and easy to drive that anyone can achieve maximum acceleration in one, as is proven by this recent video from Car Magazine.

After spending some time in the new Audi RS3, it became immediately evident to Car that this is a vehicle anyone can drive, and it certainly doesn’t take much skill to achieve the best quarter-mile time possible, thanks in part to its genius electronic aids and quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Its turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine also cranks out plenty of juice – 401 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough for a 3.3-second romp to 60 and an 11.8 second quarter-mile in optimal conditions.

Audi RS3

On this particular day, conditions weren’t exactly optimal – rather, the weather in South Africa is rather dreary and cool, but that doesn’t really matter for a car like the Audi RS3, which offers up plenty of traction thanks to its Quattro all-wheel-drive system. But the real question here is, how will the car perform when it’s being launched by a 70-year-old woman that isn’t really a fan of driving fast? The answer, it seems, is pretty darn well.

Our elderly driver manages to rip off a 12.8-second quarter-mile pass on a less than ideal surface in not-great weather conditions, which is truly impressive for a number of reasons – not just the fact that she isn’t exactly a seasoned race car driver or even an enthusiast. Rather, what’s truly impressive about the RS3 is that this time is virtually identical to the one posted by the Lamborghini Murciélago, an exotic supercar that isn’t nearly as utilitarian, affordable, or comfortable as the RS3 – and that, friends, is what we like to call progress.

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3 Reasons a Base RS 3 is the Best Audi Sport Model in 2023

3 Reasons a Base Audi RS 3 is the Best Audi Sport Model

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!

Audi RS 3 brakes

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…

3 Reasons a Base Audi RS 3 is the Best Audi Sport Model in 2023

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.

RS 3 logo

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:


Audi RS 3 in python yellow

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.

RS 3

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.


audi rs 3 in python yellow side view

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.

Audi RS 3 interior

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

audi rs 3 rear

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?)

3 Reasons a Base Audi RS 3 is the Best Audi Sport Model in 2023 -- Audi RS 3 3/4 front view

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.

Best Audi Sport Model – Audi RS 3 Image Gallery

Father. Writer. Photographer. Auto enthusiast.
Current Stable: 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302, 2013 Cadillac ATS-4 3.6, LS3-Swapped 1992 Buick Roadmaster Wagon, 1987 Mercury Cougar XR-7, and usually a Press Loaner.