Audi’s R8 division is under new management. The man taking charge? Stephan Winkelmann, the speed-chasing genius who ran Lamborghini for 11 years and saw the Italian firm through the creation of some of its best cars. Ever. We expect he’ll do similar things now. His first order of business has been to rebrand Audi’s high-performance division. Formerly known as Quattro, it will now be called Audi Sport.
The RS 3 is the first car launched under Winkelmann’s watchful eye.
To showcase its power, we went all the way to the open (though occasionally camel-jammed) roads of Oman, on the southeastern tip of the Arabian peninsula, before the rainy season. The sun-scorched sand was hot enough to burn your feet. The heat made the local camels surly. The beasts towered over Audi’s new entry-level RS model.
It may not look menacing with its subtly flared wheel arches and modest rear spoiler, but the RS 3 is blessed with 400 horsepower from an exotic five-cylinder turbocharged engine. That’s like giving a baby a bazooka. Not since Muggsy Bogues — a 5’3” NBA point guard — has something so small been so powerful. Nobody sees the RS 3 coming, not even the camels.
The rip-snort of its engine revving to 7,000 rpm wakes the animals out of their heat-soaked stupor. They trundle off, and we continue blasting across Oman’s beautiful, barren roads.
Technical highlights include an all-aluminium engine, a wider track with new suspension setup including magnetically adjustable dampers, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, and carbon-ceramic brakes. The latter are available for $5,800 if you absolutely must have supercar-level stopping power. These technologies have never been combined in a sub-compact car until now.
Despite being a responsible four-door sedan and having quattro — Audi’s unique all-wheel system — the RS 3 is as playful as a sports car. If you push it hard enough, it slides and dances around corners because its front tires are wider than the rears. Normally it’s the other way around with performance cars. Audi did this to kill the understeer, which has been a hallmark of past RS models. It worked. The RS 3 doesn’t feel like its predecessors; instead, it feels more alert and alive.
It’s a new beginning for RS, and for Audi Sport under Winkelmann’s leadership. Fitting, because the RS 3 feels like something that just woke up, ready for anything.