2022 Audi RS3 First Drive Review: More Is Better

Sometimes, less is more. The updated 2022 Audi RS3 weighs a bit less, and that’s always a good thing when it comes to improving performance. Other times, though, more is more. The new RS3 sedan also wins by addition: More torque and more control over its distribution.

Under the RS3’s nose, Audi found an extra 15 lb-ft of torque and one extra pony hiding out in the ECU of the turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five  401 hp and 369 lb-ft. Hardly monumental increases, but the previous RS3 wasn’t lacking for power.

What it was lacking was an ideal means of exploiting that power. The old RS3’s Haldex differential and brake-based torque vectoring systems did their best, and they made the car a little ball of fun, but they were imperfect technical solutions. This time out, Audi’s RS department went all the way and designed a proper torque-vectoring rear axle. Dubbed Torque Splitter, it adds variable lockup clutch packs to each axle half shaft, allowing the computer to fully regulate the amount of power going to either rear wheel.

Up to 50 percent of the engine’s power can be shunted rearwards by the center differential, and of that, up to 100 percent can be sent to either rear wheel. Unlike a passive design, there’s no waiting for a wheel to slip before power is transferred across the rear axle. The computer can send all the power to either side any time it feels the need, and don’t think it won’t.

The RS3 Is Better at the Track, But Its Tires Are in Trouble

In an effort to further amplify the new system’s capabilities, the RS team has introduced a new “RS Torque Rear” selectable driving mode which sends as much power to the outside rear wheel as possible. In other words, the new RS3 has a drift mode. Audi hasn’t gotten back to us on whether it was a pedantic engineer or a gun shy lawyer that came up with RS Torque Rear, but just know it’s a long way of saying you can blow the rear tires off this car in under five minutes if you want to.

Not only that, but you can look like Audi’s new pal Ken Block when you’re doing it. Big drifts require a very deliberate effort, also known as flooring it with the wheel cranked. Do that, keep your foot planted, and throw in a little counter-steer and you can execute smokey, lurid drifts until you literally shred the tires off the rims.. Because holding the drift requires so much throttle, it’s very easy to control with the throttle pedal.

The RS3’s trick new Torque Splitter diff is hardly just for goofing off and destroying expensive rubber, however. Throw the car in another of its new modes, RS Performance, and it’ll overdrive the outside rear wheel coming off every corner at the track. By sending more than enough power rearward and deactivating stability control at the same time, this mode can seriously brighten up your track days by forcing the RS3 to rotate harder on corner exit (just remember, the absence of stability control is on you to manage). Brake early, get the car down to the apex as quickly as possible, then stand on the throttle and let the rear end push it out of the corner. If it’s a particularly tight corner and you’re getting a little too much rotation, just back off the throttle slightly to correct.

Really, the only way to get the dreaded Audi understeer with this car is to try to carry too much speed into the corner. Corner weighting will tell us for sure, but we doubt the RS3’s weight distribution has changed much from the old car’s 58-percent forward bias. As such, even with RS Performance activated, you’ll want to treat it like a front-driver and brake in a straight line, then worry about getting around the corner.

A More Than Capable Road Runner

This advice is as valid on the road as it is on the track. There, the Dynamic driving mode is more appropriate, paired with the stability control’s “Sport” setting. Don’t leave the stability control full on, as it’ll clip the rear torque distribution at the slightest hint of rotation. ESC Sport gives you just enough leeway to tear up a winding road without any interference, taking full advantage of the rear axle’s ability to rotate the car just a little bit exiting a corner.

Doing so gives the RS3 so much more personality than before. Though the setup is still inherently neutral, you can now provoke playfulness at will. Any time you want, the car will loosen up and give you a thrill.

Helping to make it all possible is a strong front axle that grips and goes at all times. The steering responds immediately, though truth be told, Audi could make the ratio even quicker for the really tight hairpins without compromising much in everyday driving. While the steering feel itself isn’t anything special, you get enough feedback from it and the rest of the car to have a good sense of what each tire is doing at all times.

Equally strong up front are the RS3’s brakes. Audi offers a carbon-ceramic setup, but the standard steelies are plenty good for road driving and cheaper to replace after a couple of brutal track sessions. Air deflectors on the lower front control arms feed them the cooling air they need to maintain their bite, and no amount of road driving will phase them. On track, the carbon units maintained their stopping power even when the brakes started smoking, though the pedal did get longer and a bit spongy when they did.

Add together that inherent stability, strong brakes, responsive steering, and the ability to overdrive it just enough to spice things up any time you want and you’ve got one killer little sports sedan.

The RS3 Can Also Daily Drive

It’s not half bad as a plain old sedan, either. The 2022 Audi RS3’s adaptive magnetorheological shocks are a bit stiff for day-to-day commuting, but you can live with them, especially when you consider how good they are at keeping the tires planted under duress. Switch over to the Comfort drive mode, and the engine is far more linear and less jumpy in its power delivery. Let off its chain, the engine exhibits some initial  turbo lag, followed by a surge that begins between 2,500 and 3,000 RPM. Things don’t really get interesting, though, until you hit 4,000 RPM and experience the full sound and fury of Audi’s wonderfully oddball inline five. In Dynamic and RS Performance modes, you’ll want to keep the revs up and stay in the sweet spot, but in Comfort there’s no need to as the throttle response evens out to the point where you can just drive it like a normal car. We just recommend you put it in the mode you actually want when you want itt, as its Auto driving mode always feels a step behind.

Given that it’s based on a loaded version of an A3 sedan means the RS3 does all manner of normal car things well, too. For example, you get Audi’s latest touchscreen infotainment system, Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, and a full suite of active and passive safety systems as standard equipment.

Its sport seats are even a solid compromise between support for the racetrack and comfort for the commute.

How Much For All the RS3’s New Stuff?

It all comes at a cost, however, one that Audi isn’t prepared to announce just yet. We’re betting the base price will climb slightly to reflect the new hardware, but that it’ll still come in under $60,000. We think fuel economy will change even less despite the addition of a new Efficiency mode, so though it hasn’t been rated by the EPA yet, the old model’s 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined should prove instructive.

We’ll have firmer pricing and fuel economy numbers for you closer to the RS3’s expected on-sale date in May or June of 2022, depending on how the industry chip shortage issues continue to play out. As always, we’ll also deliver our trademark instrumented test results, where we expect the car to handily beat Audi’s 3.8-second zero-to-60 mph estimate given that the old car did it in 3.6 seconds in our testing.

Until then, know that the 2022 Audi RS3 is worth the wait. Thanks to a few choice upgrades, it’s scrappier than ever and now it has even more personality to back up what was its already impressive capability. Forget what you know about Audi performance sedans, this one’s not messing around.

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