Latest hatchback that changes all the rules
IT doesn't seem too long ago that any GTI hot hatchback packing more than 200bhp was viewed as a real heavy hitter. That was then but, as the 337bhp Audi RS3 Sportback demonstrates, the rules have changed.
Capable of demolishing the 0-60mph sprint in 4.4 seconds, this £40,000 superhatch establishes a new set of benchmarks. In 2011, it was launched with an initial UK production run of 500 units, all of which were quickly snapped up.
Now, a further limited run of 250 cars have been ear-marked for our shores. But would you want one?
It's not immediately easy to get a handle on quite how punchy the Audi RS3 is.
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Its 337bhp power output sounds plenty, but what does it mean in real life?
It translates to a power to weight ratio of 218bhp per tonne which is better than that of a Maserati GranTurismo or a BMW E46 M3 CS, neither of which carries the weight burden or traction advantage of driveshafts at each corner.
In other words, this is a very senior piece of kit. It notches off the sprint to 60mph in just 4.4 seconds on its way to an electronically limited top end of 155mph.
It uses a turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine that employs TFSI turbo charging and direct injection technology.
This award-winning engine was first seen in the TT RS and transmits a heaving 450Nm of torque to the road via a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission and, of course, quattro all-wheel-drive.
A sound flap in the exhaust branch intensifies the sound even further when the driver presses the Sport button, which also sharpens the throttle response.
Maximum torque is readily available across a broad plateau from 1,600 to 5,300rpm, which means that you'll rarely be caught off boost.
Even if you are, a dab or two on the wheel-mounted shift paddles will rapidly deliver maximum attack.
A widened track, bigger brakes and tyres, retuned ESP stability control and a sharpened suspension setup that rides 25mm lower distinguish the RS3 from a standard Sportback.
The great thing about Audi RS models is that despite packing a punch that would make Iron Mike appear a bit of a powder puff, they're not ludicrously overt.
Those in the know will spot the aluminium mirror housings, the subtle brightwork, rear diffuser and the hunkered down stance.
Yes, there are 19-in alloy wheels and burbling exhausts but the RS3 doesn't wear the sort of wings, monster wheel arch bulges and grille-pocked bonnets that appear on most fast hatchbacks. In that regard it's relatively low key.
There's a lot to be said for excess capability and the Audi RS3 has that in spades. On the face of it, a 337bhp hatchback may appear to be a case of overkill but the RS3 is so well executed and so subtle in its outlook that while it might avoid the lurid headlines, it will doubtless attract a very well-informed and well-moneyed clientele.
With savage overtaking ability, all-weather capability and a practical side that will endear it to many, the RS3 represents an ideal alternative for those who have outgrown powerful sports coupes.
Like the TT-RS before it, the RS3 trades the last couple of percentage points of focus for genuine everyday utility.
While this might make it a couple of seconds slower around the Nurburgring, it makes it a better car for the vast majority of customers.
Audi once again proves that even at this extreme end of the market, degrees of nuance count for a great deal.