The sport sedan segment has dwindled quite a bit in the last decade. While we die-hards cherish these four-door deities, we are the exception, not the rule. Many sporty four-doors have been put out to pasture, replaced with fast but puzzling crossovers and SUVs.
Audi refuses to quit the sporty sedan scene. Amid an industry swinging toward electrification, Audi looked to its history for inspiration with the five-cylinder 2022 RS 3. Having just spent a day with it on track, I can confirm it’s a delight on a closed course, and a fitting swan song to piston power.
(Full Disclosure: Audi flew me to Pahrump, Nevada, for what felt like car-journalist sleep-away camp, driving, drifting and tracking Audi’s 2022 RS 3 at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club. The on-site chefs fed us exquisitely and catered to my food allergies deliciously. It was also discovered I could do a fairly good Creed impression.)
If you haven’t already read our First Drive of the RS 3, it’s a great place to get caught up on the engineering and features of this Audi. Here, I’ll take you through the more fun side of things: How it does on track.
My first behind-the-wheel experience in the Audi RS 3 was on the track at Spring Mountain, and I kept finding myself hoping out loud that no one could hear my exclamations. I squealed with delight whenever I nailed a corner — even though I kept telling myself to relax.
Of course, the objective here was to see how this track-ready sedan handles. At speed, in “Dynamic” drive mode, Quattro all-wheel drive kept my particular RS 3’s Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires glued to the pavement. It was actually rather difficult to break the car loose in turns. But where there’s will, there’s a way, and Audi has a neat feature to assist in that endeavor.
Here you want to pay attention to the RS Torque Splitter, new for Audi and the RS 3. The Torque Splitter, in a way, helps your all-wheel drive Audi perform a bit more like a rear-drive vehicle. It isn’t necessarily a “drift mode.” Rather, it uses an electronically controlled multi-disc clutch to apportion torque to the rear axle, with torque vectoring sending more power to the outside rear wheel in corners. The result: Easy drifts.
Throughout the track and drift demonstrations at Audi’s event, I found myself going a little faster, turning a little more aggressively. The RS 3 always felt firmly glued to the pavement, unless I wanted it to let go.
The desert provides an otherworldly backdrop for a spirited drive — even though it’s a place you’d never want to be stranded. After getting my racer temptations out of my system on-track, a two-hour desert highway drive in the RS 3 provided a nice, soothing, sightseeing ride, sprinkled with fun because who can help themselves?
Miles of desolate two-lane and twists through the mountains provided ample space to have fun. I made sure to toggle through the RS 3’s drive modes as I scoped out the arid surroundings. Dynamic is, as you’d guess, the sporty mode, with stiffer suspension, a playful throttle and more power sent to the rear axle. Auto mode is as normal and balanced as you can get. Comfort mode prioritizes power to the front axle, with smooth acceleration and softer suspension, no tail-out hooning here. Some may argue that Comfort mode could be more comfortable, but I’m here to disagree. As someone who daily drives a sporty sedan, I don’t want a performance-oriented four-door to drive like a mushy 1970s Cadillac, ever. If you buy an RS 3 (or any sport-minded sedan), you signed up for a firm ride. Period.
My only issue with the drive modes was how you access them. The button is on the dash, and as I’ve found with many vehicles, I have a difficult time reaching some dashboards: My legs are long enough that I need the seat further back, but my arms aren’t quite lanky enough to cover that distance. But with more than a day at the wheel, I’d get used to it.
At the end of Audi’s day of driving activities, the evening concluded with a night drifting session. If you’ve ever seen that Netflix show Hyperdrive, our drift course was reminiscent of what you’ve seen on that show, though, admittedly, not nearly as challenging. Lights flooded Spring Mountain’s skidpad, illuminating the course we had to drift through, which took the shape of the letters “RS.” To navigate it successfully, we had to floor it in first gear and turn hard to complete two donuts (the top of the “R”), then drift tail-out through a literal “S” curve. Wires marked the edges of the course — step too far out of line, and your Audi would hit the wire, killing the lights and broadcasting to all onlookers that you’d messed up.
While many of us were slightly hesitant to participate, hoping to avoid making a fool of ourselves in front of our colleagues, everyone eventually managed to put their ego aside and give it a shot. And I’m happy to say not one of us met our fate with the concrete barriers. The RS 3 wants you to have fun, encouraging you to push it while also ensuring you don’t spin wildly out of control, where you’d surely find yourself redacted from auto journalist cannon.
I stand by the notion that great things come in small packages. The RS 3, complete with its 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine, makes 401 horsepower, which is more than you’ll ever need on the road or track. The power is there, though, just in case you want a more dynamic driving experience, or for the track days we all keep telling ourselves we’ll sign up for this summer.
If you’re stuck between wanting something track-worthy and powerful, but needing a daily-driver-ready sedan, the RS 3 might just be your answer. With a $58,900 starting MSRP, it’s a somewhat attainable joyride — and a way to keep the internal-combustion sport sedan alive just a little bit longer.