Having just driven the fabled – but previously unknown on these shores – 2018 Audi RS3, we now know what all the fuss is about. This is the best small sports sedan selling for under $75,000 that we’ve driven recently, and easily bests the comparable models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar.
Coincidentally, in a report last month about the vehicles Saudi women are buying now that they can legally drive for the first time, we heard that one of the favored models is the RS3, which already has a reputation for being a drag-racing and drifting “bad boy” car favored by young Saudi men.
This is the first year the RS3 has actually been for sale in the United States. Previously this Audi was in a class that U.S. gearheads could argue about only in theory, like whether they would prefer to be racing against Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher.
Of course, a first glance will tell most drivers what Audi is shooting for, with the massive air intakes on either side of that controversial Audi grille on the front and the largest stock tailpipes of any car on the market today, and four 19-inch wheels with bright-red Brembo brakes peeking through the lightweight alloy spokes.
Under the hood, we find a turbocharged 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine pushing 400 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque through a 7-speed high-performance transmission to all four wheels, which – we are assured – allows the car to go from zero to 60 mph in a breathtaking 3.5 seconds.
We were pleased to find, despite the vehicle’s track-capable performance and born-to-race appearance, that the seats are comfortable and the fit and finish of the interior trim is up to Audi’s normal high standards for its luxury sedans.
The track-ready theme carries through to the flat-screen digital gauge cluster, which can be configured to display several different performance modes, depending on the type of driving to be done. The display screen is retractable, designed so that it wouldn’t block the driver’s view of upcoming apexes.
Looking at the window information sticker, it’s nice to note that all of these fast-company, sporty attributes come with a fuel efficiency rating of 22 mpg (19 city and 28 highway), though we doubt many owners will achieve those numbers.
Our test vehicle came with a base price of $54,500, but even with the attractive metallic blue paint, Technology Package, high-quality audio, safety systems and Dynamic Package with the high-performance wheels and tires, the price came in at a reasonable (considering the performance) cost of $62,500.
But how practical would this vehicle be for a young software engineer to drive on the many days between track-driving events? In our week of testing, we used it for everything except driving on a track: stop-and-go errand-running, drives to San Francisco and back and, with rear seats folded, our 13-bottle run to the local water store for reverse-osmosis H2O.
The RS3 could have even transported four people and their luggage to the airport, though the knees of the rear passengers would have been right up against the front seats. The only limits we found were that the height of the luggage compartment and low trunk opening meant we had to break open that tall package of Costco paper towels to fit it in the car.
This is a great, comfortable driving car. It’s too bad a day at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca wasn’t on the agenda. But every single run, whether on the back roads of Portola Valley, downtown or the freeway to San Francisco, was fun. There isn’t a better compliment we can pay it.