From £46,3508

Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

If you read our Best Affordable Driver’s Car contest, you may remember that, on another track and in slightly different test conditions, the new Audi RS3 Sportback has proved itself capable of 60mph from rest in less than four seconds.

Full of fuel, with two people on board and on a dead-level surface, the RS3 Saloon very narrowly missed out on recording a proper two-way 0-60mph road test benchmark beginning with a three, its best one-way clocking being 3.96sec.

There’s very little handling adjustability, but the DSC Sport function prevents you from pouring on too much power-on understeer out of slower bends

Although that’s a shame, it doesn’t really make this Audi’s accelerative pace any less incredible.

The RS3’s blend of awesome power, torque, response and operating rev range has an effect on your expectations of a compact, practical, relatively affordable performance car similar to that of a torpedo propeller on a bowl of sherry trifle.

This engine is magnificent – too good, probably, to be considered appropriate for a car like this by almost any other manufacturer. And, being teamed with an equally brilliant driveline and launch control system, it makes for the kind of performance that’d be more recognisable to an owner of a supercar of, say, 10 years of age or so, than it would be to most hot hatchback regulars.

Despite being at disadvantages of £15,000 on list price and more than 100bhp on peak output, the four-wheel-drive RS3 Saloon can out-sprint an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio to 60mph.

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Running side by side, it would still be gapping the Italian all the way to 80mph, with the Alfa Romeo needing a full standing quarter of a mile of flat-out running to finally overhaul it.

The RS3 needs an absolutely perfect start to realise that kind of showing and its launch control and four-wheel drive system guarantee one. Flat-chat upshifts are supremely timed and very rapidly delivered by the dual-clutch gearbox, which is equally good at selecting the right gear for an opportunistic overtake or a fast-entered, trail-braked corner when you select ‘S’ mode on the shift lever.

In manual mode, it can be a wee bit slow to respond to the paddles, but usually only at lowish crank speeds.

The RS3’s brake pedal tuning is a notable disappointment because of a laughably over-sensitive pedal whose initial bite is so vicious that you could probably still be getting used to it, coming to an overly abrupt halt in traffic queues more often than not, after months in the car.

But, wow, what an engine, which, by the way, also sounds every bit as brilliant as you’d hope it would. Rarely has a five-star section score been so well earned.