The ascent of the humble hot hatch continues. In 1975, the original Volkswagen Golf GTI developed 108bhp, hit 60mph in about nine seconds and weighed just 810kg.
Four decades later, the latest Audi RS3 packs 362bhp, wallops to the national limit in half the time and weighs very nearly twice as much. It is, for those who set store by such things, the most powerful production hatchback, edging out the almost equally bonkers 18-month-old Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, for about three months. The reason being, Mercedes-AMG weren't going to take such red-faced cheek lying down and promptly gave the A45 an additional 21bhp taking its total output to 376bhp.
Even still this battle between Inglostadt and Stuttgart is no doubt likely to rumble on as Audi announced at the Paris Motorshow that the next generation RS3, set to be available as a only a saloon initially, will gazzump the AMG with 395bhp at its disposal. How the bods at AMG will respond remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, this second generation RS3 is no powder puff. The extra power extracted from the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine makes even the likes of the last generation Porsche Cayman GTS inferior to the RS3 purely on under-bonnet potency. A current Golf GTI is 145bhp less powerful, while the outgoing Boxster Spyder only makes an additional 8bhp and the Cayman GT4 only 18bhp more than this versatile hatch.
This kind of reputation, of course, is temporary. Rest assured, as certain as death and taxes, Audi’s German premium-brand competitors won’t rest until the RS3 is no longer sitting pretty on top of the hot hatch horsepower pyramid. And a more permanent sort of reputation – such as the one that makes the 41-year-old Golf GTI revered today – needs the car in between the numbers to be brilliant.
On this point, Audi’s past record is not so hot. The first RS3, powered by a slightly less powerful version of the same engine, was fast, certainly, but it was also as unyielding as a trolley jack and about as much fun to drive.
Although it prefers not to concede weaknesses, Quattro GmbH – the maker of all RS-badged Audis – has been quick this time around to emphasise that the latest RS3 not only comes with a new headline power output but also some fettling to the all-wheel drive system to make its handling a little more balanced and interesting. And it needs to be as it is no longer just the AMG A45 to be wary of, but also the reivigorated BMW M140i and the Ford Focus RS - not to mention the BMW M2 has all the hallmarks of putting the RS3's nose out of place too.