Ingolstadt calls it a ‘quantum leap’ for agile driving—and it’s not kidding

Fans of the four rings who’ve been waiting in line for a peek at the next generation of performance in Audi’s smallest sedan will be pleased to learn that engineers in Germany haven’t taken their foot off the accelerator. Promising top-tier acceleration and speed, the next RS 3 will be Audi’s first vehicle to feature the RS Torque Splitter, which distributes drive torque between the rear wheels in a fully variable manner.
And, yes, this this machine still rocks the delightful 2.5L five-cylinder engine. Only now, it’s good for 400 PS (395 hp) and 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque. Look for a sprint from zero to 100 km/h in a face-altering 3.8 seconds, before heading on to a top speed of 290 km/h when properly equipped. Audi is touting those figures as record numbers in the segment, by the way.
Chief amongst changes for the new model? A nifty new Torque Splitter, which plays with a pair of brand-new drive modes specific to the RS 3. Meic Diessner, who works in chassis development at Audi, walked us through some of the specifics.
First up is RS Performance mode. Via video, he showed us how it is accessed via the car’s centre touchscreen. It is designed for getting the bet lap time possible out of an RS3, particularly when paired with the car’s available Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R semi-slicks, offered for the first time on this machine, by the way. Nevertheless, a demonstration of the RS Performance mode was carried out on standard rubber, ostensibly to show that all RS3 customers can take advantage of this drive mode (though remarks about Trofeo R supply-chain challenges went unmentioned).
A new ‘traffic light’-style launch control counts down to green, flinging the RS 3 towards the horizon. With Diessner at the wheel, he explains this mode is intended to provide a distinct lack of over- and understeer, producing a neutral driving dynamic in which the car goes exactly in the direction it is pointed. Sawing his way through a couple of aggressive s-corners, Diessner notes the lack of understeer during transitions — and did he just get some air in that part of the track?
Ramping up the fun factor, if not lap times, is the RS Torque Rear mode. In it, a warning pops up in the RS 3’s infotainment screen admonishing hotshoes not to use this mode on public streets. The flat-brim crowd will refer to this as “drift mode,” of course. Diessner says it permits the system to deliver 1,750 Nm (almost 1,300 lb-ft) to the left or right rear wheel. Note this is wheel torque, not engine torque, a distinction we explained while examining a certain new all-electric truck. Meic demonstrates Torque Rear during our online session by going for a spin.
Except he doesn’t spin at all. Keeping his foot buried in the loud pedal, the new RS3 in Torque Rear mode permitted a great deal more oversteer through the same tight s-bends he navigated during the first demonstration, in which he RS Performance mode was used. Hanging out the RS3’s tail during a sweeping right-hander, he shows the level of control of which the car is capable in the right hands. Unwinding the wheel puts things back on the straight and narrow – until the next turn, of course.
In essence, it’d seem like RS Performance and RS Traction Rear permit a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — one offers the precision of neither understeer nor oversteer to put the power down for a quick and controlled lap time, while the other turns the driver into a drifting god making a name for themselves on YouTube. Back in the studio, Diessner explained that RS Performance mode is designed for the track but can be used on the road. Achtung, baby.
But what about that Torque Splitter? Unlike the current rear axle differential and the previous multiple-disc clutch package on the rear axle, the torque splitter uses one electronically controlled multiple-disc clutch on each respective drive shaft. During dynamic driving, the torque splitter increases the drive torque to the outer rear wheel with the higher wheel load, which significantly reduces the tendency to understeer.
The car’s carbon shaft connects the 2.5L engine to this new Torque Splitter, sending power rearward in great big German heaps. Audi has done away with the Haldex unit this time around, with power now finding its way to that pair of clutches. Short shafts then funnel power out to each of the wheels. Control units suss out where power is needed from side-to-side on the rear axle, determinations that are made depending on driving conditions. The units on either side of the rear torque splitter can technically communicate with each other, creating a situation in which the left hand literally knows what the right hand is doing.
There will be conditions in which power coming to the rear will be sent to both clutches equally, says Diessner, but the system’s main party trick is its ability to send more torque to the left or right depending on cornering demands. In a right-hander, for example, it’ll send more power to the outside wheel to help turning into the bend. This is designed to not only provide the neutral handling characteristics mentioned earlier but also rein in the rear end while taking a turn at speed in wet conditions. This explains why Audi is promoting the system as giving the car both more agility and stability depending on conditions.
And, yes, Audi’s famous torque vectoring is apparently still part of the deal. The torque splitter is simply added on top of the vectoring in RS 3, Diessner said, with a modular drive dynamic controller permitting all this lovely German driving tech to work in harmony.
What does the new RS 3 pack in terms of styling ? What are some of its other features? Audi did permit the crew at Driving a virtual look at new sedan — but you know we’ve got to leave something in the tank. Be sure to check back on July 19 for full coverage of the upcoming Audi RS 3.