Audi RS 3 LMS review: Snarling hound of Baskerville
IT'S hard not to have favourites when you test so many new cars, and in 2017 so far Audi's RS 3 Sedan has been a shining light.
Why? With 294kW and 480Nm, a 0-100kmh time of 4.1-seconds and a euphoric exhaust note, it delivered more thrills and ability - and with typical Audi style - than many performance cars costing twice the price.
Yep, the $85k RS 3 Sedan was about to go on my Christmas wish list. But then this landed. The Audi RS 3 LMS.
It's an Audi Sport factory racer ideal for entry-level motorsport and built to global TCR (Touring Car Racing) regulations.
It may cost more than double the road-going version, but your $200,000 buys a turn-key brute in the shape of a mini DTM (German Touring Cars) racer with its boxy carbon fibre wheel arches, ground-scraping front splitter and side skirts, slick tyres and mighty rear wing.
I'll be honest, I could leave this thing in the garage just to look at it and still consider it good value for money.
RACE V ROAD
So how does it differ to the road car? Thanks to strict TCR specification rules, it's a whole different animal.
The RS 3 LMS has to use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (the road car has a 2.5-litre five-cylinder), is less powerful (243kW/410Nm v 294kW/480Nm), slower to 100kmh (4.5s v 4.1s), is front wheel drive (road car is quattro all-paw), left-hand drive and misses out on smarts such as traction control and ABS.
Okay, you may be thinking "stick to the road car,” but wait. What you do get is fully adjustable suspension, a sequential six-speed racing transmission, multi-plate limited slip diff, steel tube roll cage, FIA-conformant fuel tank, racing safety cell, racing seat and fat 18x10-inch aluminium rims. It also has a svelte dry weight of just 1160kg.
Globally, Audi delivered 90 RS 3 LMS cars for the start of the 2017 season, and will make five per week for entry-level racers.
Rather fortunately, although Australia doesn't have a TCR Series (yet), Audi Australia has got hold of one to build awareness and interest. As luck would have it, they let me have a quick drive of it too.
HITTING THE TRACK
Last I checked I wasn't Peter Brock reincarnated, so I can only give an Average Joe account of the racing RS 3's abilities.
Happily, I can report it is one of the few race cars I've driven that didn't feel like it wanted to kill me. For the most it was well behaved, predictable and bloody good fun. Albeit quite hard work.
Test track was Hobart's Baskerville Raceway; a recently resurfaced undulating heaven of a circuit with some tricky turns and little run-off.
Be careful then. Cold slick tyres, no driver aids and there's only one of these valuable little Audi racers in Australia.
First, I had to look like nine-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Tom Kristensen, who scored seven of those titles wearing Audi overalls.
On went my (borrowed) Audi Sport race suit, full-face helmet, HANS device and racing gloves, and, quick release steering wheel removed, I clambered in through the roll cage scaffolding and on to the rock hard racing seat.
You feel a bit important as the race crew strap you in and begin delivering instructions (like "don't bend it”), but I couldn't get over how low you sit in this racing Audi.
I'm not short, but forward visibility wasn't great, and pinned in by a five-point harness and with HANS device on meant I was glued in position.
The clutch pedal is only needed when pulling away. After that you leave the third pedal alone and shift cogs using steering paddles while leaving the accelerator planted: power changes are allowed as the car is too smart to let itself explode. Much fun.
Once on song the four-cylinder's note invades the stripped cabin, but isn't brain-smashingly noisy with your head cocooned in the full-face helmet.
Acceleration is satisfyingly smooth and rapid without being neck-snapping, but so typical of race cars, what grabs you most is the braking power, razor-sharp turn in and cornering stability and grip (when tyres are warmed a bit).
It was strictly left-foot braking here - like a good race car should be - and you really have to stand on the pedal to feel the bite.
Flying into a tight left-hander at the end of Baskerville's straight there's very little suggestion of slowing until you ram the pedal to the metal floor, so you'd need a decent sized left quad muscle if you fancied endurance racing one of these things.
I'd been warned to keep it smooth - progressive turn in and gently on the throttle - to avoid unwanted rear-end breakaway (no driver aids here remember), and thankfully I was on my best behaviour and kept it on the grey stuff as a result.
The hardest aspect, as expected, was hitting the apex of each corner due to the low sitting position.
There were a few moments of blind faith as the car turned in sweetly and I was hoping we'd hit the right sort of spot. I cut it fine a couple of times, but using some kerb and lifting a wheel or two looks good for the photos after all.
ON THE WISH LIST
The speed, noise, slamming through the gears to set up for the corners...it's an intoxicating feeling.
And as the RS 3 LMS is a relatively small car, it feels playful, composed and pretty predictable. Although I'm sure when it wants to let go on those slick tyres you'd need a bit of talent to gather things up.
So I know it's only July, but Santa, if you're listening, I've got an Audi RS 3 LMS-sized stocking waiting in the garage. I promise to be good.
AT A GLANCE
Model: Audi RS 3 LMS.
Details: Four-door front-wheel-drive Touring car built to TCR regulations.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 243kW/410Nm.
Transmission: Sequential 6-speed or optional 6-speed double clutch S tronic with paddle shift, FWD.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 4.5-seconds, 240kmh top speed.
Structure: Reinforced steel body with weld-in steel safety cell.
Body: Carbon fibre, glass fibre and sheet steel.
Weight: 1285kg (including driver).
Price: Approx.$150,000 (club sport version) to approx. $200,000 (for TCR version with sequential transmission).