This post is a direct follow up to my previous “Ownership Report - Audi RS3 Long Term Review from a Daily Driver” post, linked. Almost exactly 23 months months after purchasing the RS3, it was returned, and I decided to move in a different direction. This post has my final thoughts after (nearly) two years of daily driving and why I decided against getting another one.
To address the elephant in the room, the car was repurchased by the manufacturer. I never had any reliability issues or outright major problems with the car, but a few factors compounded and ultimately resulted in Audi doing what I feel was the right thing. I believe some of these factors were isolated to my vehicle, and would have no issues recommending the RS3 to the right buyer. Ultimately, the repurchase presented me with the opportunity to go a different direction after owning the RS3 for two years without any depreciation or interest. I did have the option to move into a brand new 2019 RS3, so this post is mainly focused on why I opted not to. As stated, I do feel Audi of America did the right thing with my case, so I am not going to discuss the issues, since in my mind it made me more confident and likely to recommend an Audi in the future, since they stand behind their vehicles. I learned a lot about current production vehicles and my personal preferences in the process, the following is those findings.
Why I didn’t get another one:
I should also clear the air that unlike many of the click-bait, YouTuber, serial flipper types, I don’t cycle through cars frequently. In this instance, getting another RS3 or completing the vehicle surrender, as I did were both good options, but I sort of felt that I had spent a good amount of time owning this vehicle and I had an opportunity to address my greatest critique of the vehicle and get something less… easy.
My greatest critique could also be viewed as an incredible strength of the RS3, and that is that around town, under normal, boring, daily driving conditions, it just wasn’t very engaging. It was too easy to drive, too comfortable. This Jekyll and Hyde duality is very much a feature or great part of the RS3, that it can be super comfortable, quiet, and easy to drive when you need it, and ridiculously fast when you want it. I am fully aware this criticism comes down to how you drive it as well, but that’s somewhat my point; unless you race from stoplight to stoplight, driving around town like a maniac, it’s simply too easy to drive, too comfortable, too well mannered, too automatic and digital. Again, none of these things are necessarily a negative, but unless you’re routinely stretching its legs, I somewhat feel that I might as well be driving a Jetta getting another 8-10 mpg and savings thousands in the process.
This is where I feel like a manual transmission shines; it keeps you engaged, keeps your attention, allows you to still be driving, even if you’re staying within the speed limit. The 7-speed dual clutch transmission from the Audi was quite good, and if you’re not concerned about what I just described, you will likely be very happy. However, if ditching the third pedal is a hesitation for you, even when sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, than it’s something to strongly consider and level with yourself on.
The car also feels very digital. This is both good and bad: Audi’s tech might be one of the better ones in the game and it’s certainly one of the best in this class, with great, adaptive, and fairly bountiful tech features with the MMI system. The lighter, less connected steering, computers, and drive programs and how they respond, the actual driving aspects, are more digital in a less positive way. I do think this car absolutely makes a better driver out of most, but if you’d actually like to be a better driver, and know how you’re doing just that, all of onboard computers can be limiting (at some point).
Turn in was decent in this car, but I was also coming from a GTI, and while searching for its replacement I was fortunate enough to spend some time in a Boxter with a fair amount of suspension work done, and I got to better appreciate just how good steering and turn in can be, and how fun it can make driving, especially from a car with 150 less horsepower! In dynamic steering settings, the RS3 was decent and fairly predictable, but I still would have liked it to be heavier and more connected or less floaty feeling. Compared to an A3 or even just the comfort setting, it’s gobs better, but not great compared to a car that would be considered to handle “well”.
What did I get instead?
After 18 years of only owning turbocharged four and five cylinder engines in front and all wheel drive cars, I went with a rear wheel drive V8; a 2011 (E90) M3 to be exact. Although I liked how under the radar the RS3 is visually, I have always appreciated the bulging fenders of the M3, and the E90 seems to strike a pretty good balance aesthetically without being as overt as the next generation F80. More importantly, the E90 is considered by many to be the last “analog” M3, and the only with a V8. I actually test drove an F80 M3 before I bought the RS3, and remember it also feeling very digital, very tech forward, and slightly unbalanced. BMW’s cabins and controls have always been unique, but one of the things that sticks with me from that test drive was the cluttered and somewhat overwhelming amount and layout of the controls. The E90 generation is slightly lower tech and less cluttered, particularly without Navigation/iDrive, as is the case with this one, resulting in the cleaner lines of the “single hump” dash.
I had also considered a B7 Audi RS4, as mentioned in my RS3 review, but after speaking with a trusted friend that has owned both E9x and the RS4, he urged me to go the E90 route stating it always felt more “special” and certainly more nimble and lighter than the RS4. I only drove an RS4 for about 20 minutes, so I’m not going to claim that from memory, but I can see how that would hold true. Although Audi generally does interiors better, I also preferred the idea of getting a 2011 M3 over a 2008 RS4, just from a daily driver / piece of mind perspective (I know full well mileage and ownership history matter far more, but still…). After that, I really struggled on what else to even consider. There simply aren’t many sporty sedans with a manual transmission offered, at any price point.
The B8 and B8.5 Audi S4 was really the only other choice since I wanted to stay manual and it had the advantage of being newer than the B7 RS4. However, that body style has never been my favorite, though they can be done to look good, and I wasn’t wild about getting a car that was even more prone to oversteer and potentially even more disconnected or less aggressive in steering and handling. I was getting so neurotic during my searching I really started to question why I cared since I’m not racing the car and I can only “use” so much of the performance on a daily basis, but I’m glad I stuck to my guns. I maintain that you absolutely can appreciate solid handling, good turn in, and great steering feedback even when driving a tame commute. For similar or even more money than an E90 M3, I just struggled with irrationally rationalizing the S4.
I suppose I could go into a whole Purchasing Process on how and why I selected the one I did and the research behind it, and I may (be sure to leave a comment if you’re in favor), but I want to spend more time on what I’ve learned now that I’ve owned two somewhat opposite cars, particularly as it relates back to the RS3.
Was it the right choice?
Yes. I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to be in my situation of owning some great cars, and I certainly don’t regret my time with the RS3, but I do really like the E90, and feel it’s a better fit overall. With that said, it’s not perfect, and there are some things I miss from the RS3.
As oxymoronic as this may sound, I do miss the lack of technology from the RS3. But wait, hear me out, I don’t miss the Nav, the lap timer, etc., I miss bluetooth. Although the E90, and particularly the late 2011 E90’s were available with bluetooth calling and streaming, USB, and even app integration and texting, my particular example has a standard CD changer deck and an AUX jack. And I don’t even really miss the streaming or audio functions on a daily driving basis, but the phone, for when it’s needed would be nice. Coming from a car that read your texts aloud and had Apple Carplay available for the rare occasions I pulled my phone out and plugged it in, not being able to receive a phone call while driving isn’t ideal, but hey, it’s safer.
I also slightly miss that great, very unique engine and exhaust note, especially at startup with all the burbles. With that said, a high-revving, naturally aspirated V8 is certainly no slouch in the mechanical symphony department, but I do think I may need to add an X pipe or full exhaust to make it sing a little louder. Despite having 14 more horsepower than the RS3, I was actually worried the car would feel slower, and maybe less exciting, since the naturally aspirated power band can be more linear, and I wouldn’t always be ringing out the revs to the top of the tach. I’ve gone my whole life of waiting for the kick down and the boost to build before rocketing forward. To my pleasant surprise, this slight concern quickly disappeared as the engine has plenty of power and can still maneuver through traffic without constantly having to keep the revs high. I was pleasantly surprised by just how powerful it felt.
Maybe it’s due to living in the VW/Audi group for nine years, but I will say the controls always seem more intuitive, understandable, and well laid out, but after you get brought into the BMW know, so to speak, it all starts to make a bit more sense. The BMW interior is certainly not a bad place to be, and the driver-centric approach shows in things like the seating position and adjust-ability, where certain controls are placed, and what information is readily displayed, which I do appreciate. The M3 also has more interior space than the RS3 all around, though I do not have the luxury of a split fold rear seat, so bikes will need to go on the roof moving forward (though car seats won’t need to come out…).
Overall, despite the RS3 being more limited, more special, and more appreciated or recognized by the real enthusiasts, the M3 feels more special, with a greater presence and recognition by other car enthusiasts on the road. Most likely for the worse, I feel like I’ve already gotten more attention from other car people in one month with the M3 than I did in two years in the RS3, (despite the RS3 being faster in straight line or around town).
The RS3 is a great car for someone looking for a (still pretty) special sporty sedan, particularly one that flies well under the radar, and has plenty of creature comforts and technology. If you’re someone that doesn’t mind not having a manual transmission, and you’d give the slight edge to cabin quality and interior comforts over pure driving experience, the RS3 is absolutely for you. It’s wickedly fast and plenty capable, while foregoing that last 9th or 10th, 10th in favor of a more modern or refined interior. I realize I’m now into comparing interiors and technology from a car first introduced in 2008 to one introduced in 2017, but my underlying point is that the scale just tips slightly away from the “ultimate driving machine” in favor of “truth in engineering” when selecting the RS3.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and more nostalgic, or maybe it’s because I spend most of my day in front of a computer, but similarly to my affinity for mechanical watches, particularly those of the hand wound sort, driving the RS3 never fully felt like the day’s end retreat that a great car can. I was still very literally connected, presented with screens, and interacting with computers, and for me, that didn’t offer the respite I was seeking. Or maybe it’s because the end is very much near (here) for the manual transmission, the big V8, and even the combustible engine. And maybe it’s because I just want to hang on to that shred of mechanical soul to break up an otherwise digital day.
Whatever it is, I’ve moved to a more analog and mechanical car, and I don’t regret it.