The RS3 is the latest in a long line of Audis offering huge performance in ostensibly family-oriented models. Back in 1994, Audi launched a compact but very special estate car to the world. The RS2 Avant was the first Audi to wear the ‘Renn Sport’ badge.

Built by Porsche, under the same roof as the 959 supercar and Mercedes-Benz’s 500E super-saloon, it was one of the first performance wagons in the world.

Maybe it’s due to a lack of opportunity, or out of deference to the RS line’s founding father, but Audi has never built another car quite like the RS2.

The first RS4, a car of similar size, was disappointing; the second was available only as a saloon. Now, seemingly almost by accident – because it's a farewell to the humble A3, a car which has rarely excited keen drivers – Audi performance arm Quattro GmbH has developed a fast, compact pseudo-estate with unmissable similarities to the Audi that Porsche built.

There is less than 25bhp and 50kg of kerb weight separating the new RS3 Sportback and that RS2 Avant, yet Audi doesn’t mention the legendary old-timer once in the RS3’s marketing blurb. Which prompts the question: is this new car of insufficient calibre to deserve a mention on the same bill?

Top 5 Hot hatches

  • The Trophy-R is a track-focused 271bhp front-drive hot hatchback

    Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy-R

    1
  • Volkswagen Golf R
    The new Golf R is faster than any production Volkswagen before it

    Volkswagen Golf R

    2
  • This four-cylinder Focus feels lighter at the front than its five-pot predecessor

    Ford Focus ST

    3
  • Seat Leon Cupra
    The new Leon Cupra is offered with a choice of 261bhp or 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines

    Seat Leon Cupra

    4
  • Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
    The Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG features a 355bhp turbocharged engine

    Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Audi range

Driven this week

  • Car review
    26 March 2015
    Does Suzuki's new city runabout have what it takes to succeed?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    Collins Performance has given the Fiesta ST 270bhp and 265lb ft, but has our favourite fast Ford been ruined in the process?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    The Seat Leon X-Perience is the closest thing to an SUV that you can buy with a Seat badge for now, blending estate practicality with off-road ability
  • First Drive
    24 March 2015
    Diesel-powered Mazda supermini has gutsy performance, good cruising manners and great economy. A lumpy ride is the major disappointment.
  • Car review
    24 March 2015
    BMW's facelifted M135i has more power, sharper looks and new technology. The previous version was a belter, so is this new one just as good?