The all-new 2018 Audi RS 3 has brought us to Salalah, in the Sultanate of Oman. A seemingly random location a first glance. However, the lure of the opportunity to test drive what has long been automotive forbidden fruit in the US and Canada, had us making the 15+ hour journey to the shores of the Arabian Sea.
The 2018 Audi RS 3 is built on the same MQB platform that anchors the recently introduced 2018 Audi TT RS. Not surprisingly both vehicles share the same power train, the wonderful new aluminum block, 5 cylinder engine, turbo-charged engine producing 400HP and 354 lb-ft f torque. A 7 speed dual clutch S-Tronic transmission is the transmission of choice and a continuously variable Quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard equipment.
The plan to bring the new RS 3 to North America is part of Audi Sport’s plan to bring the Audi’s performance brand to a larger share of Global buyers. In fact, Stephan Winkelman, CEO of the aforementioned Audi Sport, has advised that the company plans to increase sales of this latest RS 3 six fold over the previous generation.
With the RS 3 Sportback just unveiled at the 2017 Geneva Auto Show, the 2018 Audi RS 3 sedan coming to our shores, is a bit of sleeper visually. Five spoke alloy wheels, specific to RS models, Aluminum trimmed large front air vents, a black upturned rear deck spoiler and aluminum trimmed rear skirts that frame the larger exhaust pipes, provide clues of the vehicles pedigree if you aren’t close enough to see the subtle red RS 3 logos mounted on the front grill or next to the rear tail light.
Inside the cabin, manual adjustable, Audi RS diamond stitched black leather seats are standard, as is a suede and leather wrapped sports steering wheel. Power, contrasting leather seats are optional. Standard equipment also includes a Bang and Olufsen audio system, panoramic sunroof, Navigation with MMI and a 7 inch colour display that recedes into the dashboard. Other standard equipment includes Audi’s virtual cockpit with 12.3 inch LED driver’s instrument information centre, magnetic ride suspension with drive select, heated seats, LED front and rear lights (including headlights) as well as front and rear parking assists with a rear view camera.
After a quick briefing covering our available driving routes, my co-driver and I were off on a two hour trip through the centre of Salalah and then a blast along the coast line up into the mountains framing the Salalah city limits.
Having driven the 2018 Audi TT RS, the seductive rasp of the five cylinder’s exhaust note was instantly familiar and welcome. The exhaust note has been tuned by Audi as a sensory thrill to accent the elevated performance. Playing with the drive select feature, confirmed that a range of options from pleasure cruising in Comfort mode, to ripping up pavement in DSC Sport mode with its relaxed stability control, demonstrated the RS3 has a variety of driving modes to please just about everyone.
Testing the standard launch control feature, 0-100 kms/hr certainly felt like the 4.1 seconds rates this feat at.
Driving through nasty, tight switchbacks up into the Dhafor Mountains yielded a bit of a surprise. Audi’s have developed a reputation tied to their wonderful Quattro all-wheel -drive system, a system too efficient and purposeful that sometimes speed rarely produces that ragged edge driving that most performance drivers crave. This RS 3 is different. The tail-end of this compact premium sports sedan will dance and slide when you get the car set up properly. Looking further into this unexpected windfall, my co-driver realizes that all our RS 3’s have been fitted with optional staggered size tires. Yes one set of tires was larger than the other. Shockingly, its the front axle that was shod with the larger 255/30R19 tires. The rears were the standard 235/35R19 wheels and tires. This optional adjustment is a scant $400.
Talking with engineers provided more information. The Quattro system can shuttle up to 100% of the vehicle’s torque to either axle but will start off in front wheel drive to get off the line. The larger tires provide the extra traction that gets the RS 3 underway, thus allowing the system to quickly shuttle power back to the rear axle to enhance the sporting character of the RS 3.
After day of driving in the hills around Salalah, Oman, the event location seemed less random and actually an insightful choice. The roads in the Sultanate all appeared to be in excellent condition and the opportunity to experience driving in summer conditions during March, through serpentine mountain switchbacks, was a wining combination. There were some unique challenges however. On more than one occasion during our drive did we need to make urgent adjustments to avoid local obstacles, local camels that roam freely around the countryside. Adrenaline rush aside it was all pretty amusing.