From the January 2018 issue
We’re losing the special engines. They don’t make sense. Used to be, when you bought a dedicated performance model, there was a whole different animal under the hood—a V-10 in a 5-series or a 7000-rpm 7.0-liter in a Corvette. Nowadays, you just slap on a supercharger or dial up the boost on your turbos and call it a day. The cars are faster, sure, but it’s hard to brag to your friends about your model-specific intake manifold. Remember when the M3 had a V-8? That was awesome.
By all rights, the RS3 should have a boosted-to-bejesus 2.0-liter inline-four, an uprated version of the powerplant that moves the Volkswagen Golf R. Audi could’ve done that. Given the low-volume nature of performance sedans, it would’ve been the rational route. But, to our great joy, the RS3 (along with its brother, the TT RS) has a very special engine—a 2.5-liter inline-five running 19.6 psi of boost. If you missed your chance to drive a Group B car, this is your ticket to the land of righteous off-kilter warble and four-wheel roostertails of dirt. The RS3 at full throttle sounds like a pod of enraged narwhals, and that’s a sound as rare as a pod of enraged narwhals. Because this Audi 2.5 is the only gas-powered five-cylinder left on the market. How’s that for special?
But the RS3 isn’t being different for difference’s sake. This aluminum-block five is a beast, spinning out a lag-free 400 horsepower and sledgehammering 354 pound-feet of torque from 1700 rpm all the way to 5850 rpm. Students of dyno charts know that horsepower peaks are usually just that, an apex followed by a drop. Not here. The RS3 has a horsepower plateau, maintaining that 400-hp output from 5850 rpm to 7000 rpm. Use that extra bandwidth to hold a higher gear midcorner, minimize shifting on a road course, or just extract a maximally gratifying blap from the optional sport exhaust when the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic rips into a higher gear. The point is, revving the RS3 to redline should be done often and with great enthusiasm.
The RS3 is a machine that sounds preposterous even in theory: “Imagine, if you will, the power of a C6 Corvette stuffed into a car that’s the size of the original A4 and makes noises like a 1985 Quattro coupe.” And yet, somehow, Audi built it.