The first 2000 miles in the RS3 have quite literally flown by and as I’ve now had the chance to drive the car on some great journeys and challenging roads I thought I’d share a few thoughts here. I’m still 100% happy with the car even static I still glance back for a final look when parked up and it makes me smile when I see it again after a long day in the office.
Crouching Engine, Hidden Gearbox
The dynamics on the move are of course far more interesting and a few recent runs up through Mid Wales gave me the chance to try out a few different types of road under varying conditions. Two things make this car an intoxicating experience – the engine and the gearbox.
Regardless of the road or circumstance the engine has either a wave of torque or the outright power to react intuitively – it’s almost telepathic, you ask and the engine responds. Most of this is made possible by the superb s-tronic box, maybe I’ve got a good one (and must be lucky because my Favia VRS also had a good one!)because I have yet to find a situation where the gearbox struggles or does something odd – maybe it just suits me, I’m a convert to semi auto and by choice will stick with it over manual in future. The idea that a manual is more engaging just seems crazy to me. S-tronic means I can keep both hands on the wheel and focus on the road, the reaction speed of the box, especially in Sport is way quicker than I could have changed down in a manual in any case. The extra mechanical shove added to each up shift in sport just adds to the feeling of going quickly, if feels right to have that little bit of extra ‘shunt’ as the cogs swap, I know it’s not really needed but it’s fun. The deep bwaarrppp sound from the exhaust is also a pleasure – I do find some amusement in timing the up shift to occur just as I pass another car – I like to think it’s like a mini sonic boom as that ‘sensible’ looking Audi flies past.
Overtaking all too easy
Where engine and gearbox really come together is under full bore acceleration - the uninterrupted stream of acceleration is addictive. It enables me to look for the overtaking gaps and be ready to take them, essential for making decent progress on A-roads these days. Being able to give full concentration to the road means 2, 3 and sometimes more cars can easily be despatched comfortably and without fuss. Overtaking really is too easy in this car, no holding in a lower gear for the right opportunity or feeling of a lack of power when that chance comes.
Fast sweeping mountain A-roads is where the RS3 is happiest. On a road like the A4059 it is truly devastating. The levels of grip, wet or dry, give utter confidence. Through the long sweeping corners over reasonable quality tarmac the car has such stability that any amount, even frankly unreasonable amounts, of power is useable. With the gearbox doing it’s thing I’m free to focus on keeping a smooth line. All this adds up to totally controlled deployment of power and in my book that’s a good thing.
Hairpins = Grins
Party piece time. Oh how I look forward to hairpins and tight corners. Having adapted to the need to brake a little harder with the lack of engine braking, diving down into tight corners is accompanied by the exhaust blipping, popping and banging like the rally cars I watched as kid. I find myself actually giggling out loud quite often. Turn in is remarkably accurate and the RS3 feels lighter than it is in this respect. Then, the party piece as General Maximus Decimus Meridius once said “On my command unleash hell” give the throttle everything, all four tyres bite hard and with the minimum of fuss you are launched down the road with ferocity usually only found at the fairground. Only the angry sounds from the exhaust are there to down out your laughing and the occasional squeal from a nervous passenger.
From the press reviews you’d get the impression that B and minor roads are not natural territory for the RS3, yet so far I’m finding this car has many hidden talents. The damping over crests is perfect and the ability to deal with changeable surfaces just inspires confidence. It’s important to get the turn in speed right on less than perfect roads, this is a car that reacts best to ‘slow(ish) in rocket out mentality. The brakes are more than adequate for any road situation (sure the weight/heat combination might be a factor on track) and pressing on has never been so easy. A totally unscientific test (though immense fun) put paid to the idea that a Clio RS is quicker and more fun to fire down this type of road - or “where did you go” as my friend put it after a friendly spirited 6am run through the local twisties.
Going in too fast
So what happens when you do go in too fast? I just had to find out the on limit behaviour. With the ESP on actually nothing much happens at all, sure you feel the power dip but the car holds line incredibly well. To get to understeer you really do have to go in way, way too quickly, even then I found the line will tighten immediately the power reduces. With the ESP off there is more adjustability to be had, you can use the throttle to adjust the line neatly. There are still a few tenths of a second when you are left wondering what the front tyres are going to do but once you get used to this there is more adjustability. Balance the throttle pick your apex and line through and the rear of the car begins to help, just a degree or two of adjustment but it’s enough to push the nose in and allow deployment of all that performance.
In the wet
Arguably the most fun of all is wet and greasy roads, lucky that because we get plenty of them in Wales. Incredibly it’s still possible to use all the available power out of the slower corners. Using more bad science imagine if you will a tight slow slip road joined at 20mph off an equally tight and tiny roundabout. RS3 in front, track spec’d Civic Type R complete with a trick slippy diff and latest sticky tyres, not really fair in the wet but hey, since when was the weather fair. The RS3 put every last ounce of power down, no tyre scrabble and without a hint of understeer. The CTR was, by contrast, a big mess of understeer, nose pushing well wide into the (clear) outer lane, and simply couldn’t get traction. Clearly I’m a much better driver (??!) so we tried this little experiment again having switched seats. Oh dear same result and driving ability ego shattered once again, seems it was all the clever electronics in the RS3 after all.
So the car does it all for you?
I like this kind of journalist quotes along with “steers like a computer game”. Yes the RS3 does a lot for you, especially the s-tronic box which is engineering voodoo. It might well steer like a computer game but then I like computer games rather a lot.
Does all that make the car less engaging? In my experience no, instead it simply means you can focus more on the road ahead, your line through the corner, the no time for hesitation overtaking gap and that subtle change in road surface ahead. All of which makes the RS3 safer, faster and more fun to just drive which is sort of the point isn’t it?