2023 Audi RS 3 Road Test Review: Narrow road, barely paved, could be bears

2023 Audi RS 3 Road Test Review: Narrow road, barely paved, could be bears

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. ­– There were three possible routes ahead of me. One headed back in the direction I came, along the slow-moving coastal highway past a heavy construction zone where I already sat not moving for seemingly ever. No thanks. Option 2 kept going up the coast until turning inland toward a reasonably fun road I recently sampled, but we want to make it to Coppola Winery by 3 p.m. and we’d be about 45 minutes late if we took that. Option 3 was seemingly a straight shot from Sea Ranch on the coast to Coppola in Sonoma County that would theoretically get us there on time, according to Google. Great! Thing is, this route involving “Skaggs Springs Road” looked extremely squiggly and definitely not a major thoroughfare. Google can’t always tell the difference. Visions of being eaten by a bear after a tire blows on some unmaintained logging road flash in my head.

Ah, what the hell, at least I’d have some fun before becoming lunch.


The 2023 Audi RS 3 is a firecracker of a little car dripping in character, and if you’re going to find yourself on a tight, technical, one-and-a-halfish-lane road through a coastal redwood forest, there actually aren’t many that would be better. Let’s start with its size, which may be small by today’s standard, but most dimensions are virtually identical to the first Audi A4 (B5). That car still turns my head after 25 years and sprang from an era before sport sedans ballooned in size thanks to focus groups wishing for palatial back seats. In other words, the RS 3 feels just right behind the wheel. There’s no fat. It’s practical enough as a sedan, but it’s also not trying to be a Camry.

It happily danced around huge chunks of missing asphalt and whipped itself around narrow hairpins bookended by redwood trunks. Aiding in that whipping is the RS Torque Splitter: two electronically controlled multi-plate clutches, one for each of the rear driveshafts, which allows for fully variable torque distribution between the rear wheels. There are two settings for this. One that reduces understeer by sending torque to the outside wheel, otherwise known as torque vectoring, that we’re already familiar with in various Acuras and elsewhere. The other is dubbed RS Torque Rear, which sends more power rearward to induce controlled oversteer, otherwise known as a drift mode. My wife was in the car, I didn’t use that. The scary, narrow road through the empty forest was enough of an ask.

Yet, when the pavement proved sound enough, adding torque vectoring to such compact dimensions was a revelation. It feels much more natural and cohesive with the rest of the chassis, as opposed to using it to counteract some inherent flaw. This car is just definitively tossable.

Part of that is the RS-specific work done to that chassis, including springs, adaptive dampers, sway bar and a ride height lowered by 25 mm versus the standard A3. Summer tires wrap around 19-inch wheels. The resulting ride is well north of “firm,” and while perfectly acceptable to that point in the drive, the broken pavement on the earliest portion of Skaggs Springs Road was sending the needle past firm toward crashy and then comical.

“What have I done?” I started to ponder, looking down at the car’s navigation system, realizing it could actually get worse from here. Besides jarring impacts, I also had to worry about the tires. There hadn’t been cell service for many miles (hence the in-car nav versus Google Maps), but there were, I assume, bears.

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