Audi sent me deep into America's wooly hat to sample its latest Quattro drive hardware on ice. They also let me dip my toe into the RS3, implicitly to make its case for import to America. Bait taken. Let's roll.
I took the RS3 Sportback—which goes on sale this quarter in Europe—for a burn on the icy highways surrounding the Mécaglisse complex, a mini track and winter driving school in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, Quebec, then had a talk with a few engineers on the scene. Leaving aside potential pricing (imagine 40-50K US samolians) and other practical considerations, and the frustrating lack of a manual transmission, here's why Audi needs to bring the RS3 to the US. (Let's be clear: right now, the company has no plans to do so.)
10.) We're desperate for more 300+ horsepower hatchbacks. Deprivation from this genre has rendered many of our people drooling, onanistic goons. More exposure will mean less romanticizing loudly on fan forums.
9.) Premium small cars need a spokesmodel. We need more high-end hot hatches to change our perceptional relationship between size and value, or someday we'll all be driving performance-chipped diesel pickups, which is a fine thing to do, but only under the strict supervision of a blond poledancer named "Breeze."
8.) The A3 will soon be getting long in the tooth. With the current A3 scheduled to hang around the US for several years more, the model line needs some fire to keep us interested. And our attention spans are kind of oh look I totally need one of those 3D TVs.
7.) VW/Audi needs an upgrade path for GTI owners hitting pre-middle-age. How would you feel if you made the regional management team and didn't have a move upward from the Volkswagen Golf R? You would feel like a complete schmuck, that's how.
6.) The compromises aren't so bad. Like all transverse-engined Audi models, the air is thick with compromise—front-drive biased instead of rear (the RS3's Haldex AWD system lacks the torque vectoring features of the RS5's sport rear diff) and a stronger mecho-genetic link with Volkswagen products. But quattro GmbH engineers kept such issues low in the mix with great overall driving dynamics. And say what you will, but the 7-speed, dual-clutch S tronic transmission is good stuff.
5.) The steering. It's surprisingly good—direct and talkative. We need to know more things (especially Audis) that steer like that, not just go-karts and drunks headed toward a Denny's booth.
4.) The sound. Four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines don't have as much vocal character as the boosted inline five (especially when the exhaust flap kicks open in Sport mode). It's like Ving Rhames manning the PA system at A&P. And although the deep burble on overrun is engineered, it sounds like motorsports, not agriculture—like so many cars these days.
3.) Audi interior. Flat-bottom, alcantara-clad steering wheel? Check. Attractive gauges? Check. RS badges? Check. Revell-kit plastics? Nope.
2.) Launch control.
1.) Engine. The 340-hp 2.5-liter, single-turbocharged five—same as in the Audi TT RS—means output of 137 horsepower per liter. That's sportbike territory. And if you keep your size nines off the floorboards, you might even get the posted 25.85 mpg average.