Out of the box the multiple award winning EA855 turbocharged five-cylinder motor that powers the Audi RS3 boasts a decent 400hp from 5,850 to 7,000rpm, with 480Nm of torque between 1,700 and 5,850rpm.
That however, is a very conservative set of numbers that pegs the RS3 in its super hot sehatch segment against the A45 AMG, and this charismatic motor with its glorious warbling soundtrack is a fine blank canvas for the tuners, who are falling over each other to unleash its full potential.
So just how much power can be reliably extracted from this motor? If you are shooting for the moon with no requirement for the engine to go 100,000 miles then the ultimate RS3 has to be the car built by the two brothers who run Malaka MotorSports in California.
They have managed to more than double the output of the RS3 motor, with over 800hp on the dyno and 670hp at the wheels! On the drag strip their car recorded a totally mental 9.82 second quarter mile time, with a 233km/h terminal speed, making it the fastest RS3 on the planet.
However, what you have to realise is that you are not going to get this level of power just by strapping on a bigger turbo and turning the boost dial past 11. Well, not unless you want to picking up pieces of the motor embedded in the scenery! This was a total re-engineering job that included a specially machined cylinder-head shipped in from the UK, steel billet crankshaft, and a multitude of other custom components engineered to state-of-the-art motorsport specifications.
In comparison the tuning carried out by ABT Sportsline on the other side of the Atlantic is very tame. As Audi’s motorsport partner, ABT’s aftermarket tuning mission is to simply unlock some of the headroom inherent in a showroom stock Audi RS3, which has to remain practical and reliable everyday transport.
This plug and play conversion is designed for fitting by ABT dealers all over the world, and the customer has peace of mind that it not only carries full German TUV approval, but also a comprehensive ABT warranty as an adjunct to Audi’s full vehicle warranty.
ABT offers three levels of engine upgrade. The first is a plug-and-play ECU only conversion with ABT’s AEC controller linked to the factory ECU and the engine with the supplied wiring harness. By intercepting the signals from the engine sensors the ABT control unit modifies the ignition, fuelling and boost mapping to provide an additional 86hp.
The next step up the ABT ladder is the Power S conversion that adds the customer's choice of one hardware component - sport rear exhaust, sport catalytic converter, or larger intercooler - to the ABT ECU. The resulting backpressure reduction makes for a 100hp boost in output. The final stage is the ABT Power R engine conversion that combines two hardware upgrades from the above list for a power bump of up to 130hp.
The test car was fitted with the larger intercooler and sport exhaust, resulting in 500hp and 570Nm of torque for a spritely 3.7 second 0-100km/h charge and 300km/h top speed. These numbers will wipe the smile off the faces of many supercar drivers, especially as most such cars lack the advantage of quattro to help them launch cleanly and consistently away from the lights.
In practical terms your first choice from the list should be the larger intercooler as it significantly lowers the charge air temperature, allowing the engine to make full use of the increased boost pressure while keeping operating temperatures down.
The debate over the sport cat or rear silencer is less clear-cut. A good sports catalyst as used by ABT is a 200-cell metal unit with backpressure reduction that might be worth up to 10hp. Modern OE silencers as fitted to the RS3 are very efficient, so you will be lucky to gain more than a few extra horses with the new rear back box.
However, the rear silencer is what the world sees and also what delivers the engine soundtrack to your ears. With its dual 102mm diameter pipes in black chrome finish on each side, the ABT exhaust looks the business, and on a pound for pound basis it is also cheaper than the sports catalyst, which contains precious metals. So on balance it makes the most sense to pair the sport silencer with the ECU and larger intercooler.
If the Q-car philosophy appeals to you then the engine conversion alone will be a big upset on the autobahn or indeed in your local traffic light Grand Prix. One thing is for sure though, whether you opt for the stealth or bling look, having the 380 x 35mm big brake upgrade behind the front wheels is a good idea.
While the RS3 may be called a Sportback it is still a relatively Plain Jane design, so we were not surprised to learn that many ABT customers opt for the body styling, wheel/tyre and suspension upgrades as well for the show to match the go.
The standard ABT aerodynamic styling additions for the RS3 consist of a front lip, grille, and rear skirt add-ons with exhaust cut-outs, all in shiny black. As an option you can also have the distinctive ABT hallmark front wing grilles, also painted in shiny black.
You have a choice of 19 or 20-inch diameter footwear to fill out the wheel arches. If you are a lower unsprung weight junkie and also like to do trackdays then the superlight 9.0J x 19-inch (ET40) ABT ER-F19 forged wheels weighing just 7.7kg each are the right choice. Wrapped in 235/35ZR19 rubber, their only downside is a list price of nearly 10,000 euro a set.
The larger 8.5J x 20-inch FR20 cast wheels with 235/30ZR20 tyres do not do the unsprung weight or ride any favours, but look cooler when you are just cruising. The cars looks and handling are maximised by the 30mm lower sport spring kit calibrated to work with the OE active dampers, with uprated anti-roll bars an additional option. The more enthusiastic driver can opt for ABT’s fully adjustable sport suspension kit, with independent bounce, rebound and height control.
The RS3 cabin is a bit plain, especially in black. The ABT treatment helps here with carbon-fibre seatback shells, RS3 and ABT logos sewn onto the re-trimmed leather seats, carbon-fibre/leather steering wheel, and carbon-fibre dashboard trim inserts. Other ABT cabin trim pieces are the floor mats, doorsill inserts, gearshift knob, and entrance lights with the ABT logo.
However, enthusiasts buy the RS3 to drive fast and relish the snappy character and silk ripping soundtrack of its 2.5 litre turbo five. This is where the extra 100hp and 90Nm of torque make a spectacular difference, lifting the RS3 to a much higher performance plane.
As we noted before the quattro 4WD system allows you to use all the grunt of the standard car, but as the power is distributed to all four contact patches, the extra output imposes very little additional demand on traction off the line or on the move. Thus, the ABT RS3 is simply faster with none of the grip and stability issues that affect a single axle driven car of similar weight and power output.
On the autobahn there is not much that can keep up with the ABT RS3 on the fly. In fact when we were running in tandem with the RS5-R, the larger and heavier Coupe struggled to keep up with the Sportback in some speed ranges since it has more mass to move despite its larger and more powerful engine. Gearing also plays a role here and the Vmax of the RS5-R is pegged at 280km/h, a good 20km/h less than the RS3.
The Audi RS3 is a practical alternative for someone who would like a TT but needs a family car. The ABT Power R conversion changes that equation, and the ABT RS3 is a practical alternative for someone who would like a supercar but needs a family car.