The Audi RS3 Sportback is tomorrow’s classic today
It may be one of the last of the ICE genre, but cars like the Audi RS3 Sportback represent the pinnacle of a century’s evolution – and a compelling reminder of just how far electric vehicles have yet to evolve. .
Sports cars look set to continue to boost brand image for the foreseeable future. With electric vehicles still in their infancy – certainly in mass market terms – the defining characteristic of most high-end machines is power, and lots of power. The knock-on effect of batteries giving everyday automobiles supercar-like levels of acceleration is that “traditional” cars are somewhat lacking.
Even the most spirited sports cars can barely match the stats of a mid-range electric vehicle. Instead of breakneck speed, the final days of burning become a celebration of the sound and fury of burning hydrocarbons in the most elaborate way possible.
Audi RS3 Sportback
Audi’s high-performance ‘RS’ designation took the species from petrol to EV, losing none of the acceleration boost but nearly all of its analog savagery in the process. For now, there are still several RS trad models on the market, with power levels still pushed to dizzying excesses.
These are the last days of Rome for the traditional fuel car; powertrain engineers who can’t or won’t make the switch to battery-powered have been doing everything they can to see what they can do.
The smallest Audi RS is this one, the RS3, available as both a sedan and a compact ‘Sportback’ station wagon. The relentless scaling means the RS3 isn’t exactly ‘small’ – it just isn’t ‘big’ by the standards set by the SUV era. It still carries a lot of baggage, however.
Small cars will always make better machines to drive, regardless of the horsepower amounts. You have more space on the road, more awareness of your surroundings and a more immediate connection between steering, chassis and wheels.
Headline numbers here are more than respectable – a sub-four second sprint to 62mph, around 400PS and 500Nm of torque (the amount of power sent to the wheels – it can also be cleverly applied to a single rear wheel for ‘controlled drifts on roads closed,” according to Audi documentation).
As opponents point out, electric vehicles might be able to perform similar feats, but they can’t do it over and over and over again like a traditional internal combustion engine. The batteries get too hot. They are exhausted. Unfortunately, this argument is almost entirely irrelevant in everyday use, given the increasingly limited possibilities to deploy extreme performance.
It may not beat an off-line EV, but the RS3 still excels over its successors in its handling and overall dynamic feel. Audi has traditionally built sports cars with precise, responsive steering and extremely harsh suspension, very often at the expense of comfort. The RS3 is no different, but at 1,570kg it is significantly lighter than Audi’s (current) smallest EV, the Q4 e-tron, which weighs around 2,135kg.
Batteries are the obvious culprit and it’s still an impossible task for engineers to completely hide all that extra weight. The Q4 does its best, but the RS3 is a compelling reminder of just how far EVs have yet to evolve, rushing around corners and conjuring up a convincing EV-like thrust from its 2.5-litre, 5-cylinder engine.
The upshot of all this is that Audi always seems to be better at making gas-powered cars than electric ones. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the e-tron, or the e-tron Sportback, or the e-tron Q4, or the e-tron GT, the company’s strengths are channeled even better by traditional technology. For the moment.
Audi’s future focuses almost entirely on electric vehicles, with generous lateral ordering of autonomous driving (see recent concepts like the Audi Skysphere). However, we’re going to be stuck with internal combustion engines for a few more decades at least. For most of this time, gasoline-powered vehicles will only be available second-hand – second-class automotive citizens in a zero-emissions world. But given that they represent the pinnacle of a century’s evolution, out-of-print models like the Audi RS3 are inevitably destined to become a future classic. §