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Automobile

First Drive: Audi RS3

I find driving road cars on racetracks very interesting. Actually, I love driving road cars on racetracks. Although it’s fun and good to know how a vehicle behaves at the limit, running on a track provides little real-world driving information about the car in question. That said, I always do my best to cover both nutball and grandma driving.

My first impression of the 2018 Audi RS3 came when I jumped into one on pit lane at the Lime Rock Park racetrack. I found myself sandwiched between two other RS3s. We were ready to do a lead-follow session around the track since most of the journalists present had never seen the track before, let alone driven on it. I have raced at Lime Rock numerous times over the years and it can certainly catch you out if you get carried away, so starting with a lead-follow session was a good idea.

The three of us in RS3s were to follow an Audi R8 V10 Plus driven by Stephan Reil, Audi’s head of technical development. Thoughts of this not being a fair fight started to percolate in my mind. I quickly jolted myself back to reality — we’re testing cars for Automobile here, Pilgrim; your next race is in Portugal, not here at Lime Rock, so leave the R8 alone. Yes, of course. How silly of me.

Here’s a bit of relevant information many enthusiasts already know: Most street cars, performance or otherwise, will understeer at the limit of grip in a turn. This is true for track and street. Companies dial in understeer on most street cars for safety reasons because it is easier to control. Just lift off the gas and the vehicle usually comes back in line.

In my experience, the setup for a street car on a track usually means doing whatever you can in order to keep it from understeering all the way to grandma’s house. This involves “cheating” the rear of the around corners, because generally, the front can’t get it done. I always want to be able to manipulate the rear of any car in order to enjoy the drive (street) or go faster (track).

We were up to speed in no time. Reil was not hanging around, and the RS3 was responding nicely. I used the lightest steering weight — Comfort mode — as I tend to have light hand inputs (no death grip). Our on-track cars had the optional 14.6-inch ceramic front brakes and larger 255/30 19-inch front tires. (The base setup is 235/35R-19s all around.) During our laps I would drop back from the vehicle in front in order to give myself enough room to push the car to the limit.

Immediately obvious from the first lap, the RS3’s chassis setup is consistent and compliant despite it being on the stiffest setup: Dynamic mode. I could comfortably rotate the car on corner entry without it feeling snappy. This ability to control the rotation and effectively eliminate understeer allowed me to carry serious corner speeds. In fact, after just a couple of laps I was confidently kicking out the rear end on every corner. I could even do this entering the very fast and bumpy downhill right-hander onto the front straight. The RS was happy to hold a nice slip angle (not drifting) and even allowed me to adjust the slip angle mid-turn if I needed to. I left the car in full Dynamic mode, and I did not switch off the stability control. After just three laps — that’s all we got — I can confidently state that the RS3 would be a good partner for making passengers either laugh their butts off or throw up in pretty short order. It’s that much fun.