Being given a winter tyre-shod car to test on snow is rather like being asked to trial a new biro by writing exclusively on banana skin. The surface, in other words, has a habit of making everything seem unreal and richly dramatic. But the reasoning for Audi is perfectly obvious: there is nowhere better, perhaps on earth, to show that your car has improved rear-end bias than a 20-metre-wide circle of ice.
The RS3, happily, rises to the challenge in fine style. Held in third gear, and heavily prodded with the traction switched out, it canters into broad, catchable, rooster-tail slides, the back axle evidently keen to accept - and retain - much more of the torque split than it might have done previously.
Eventually, inevitably, the asymmetric four-wheel drive system will seek to conclude your fun by imposing its will back on the front axle - making indulgent, 360deg drifts improbable even on snow - but simultaneously reducing the potential for an inelegant spin, too.
With nothing to hit on a very slippery surface, it’s hard not to admire this reactive and forgiving set-up very much indeed. Put things in your way though - on a more sensibly proportioned handling stage, in this case - and there are reminders enough that you are not, in fact, Ari Vatanen, and the RS3 is not a WRC car.
The darty steering, switched into Comfort mode even by Audi’s underlings, is still unlikely to be a feature keen drivers will value much, and it isn’t as though understeer - its predecessor’s default response - has been abolished from proceedings either. There were also times we would have appreciated the manual handbrake fitted to quattro’s modified passenger ride car.
Nevertheless, the good omens outweigh the bad. Even away from the full-throttle, lock-stop heroism of the skid pan, the RS3 still shows a penchant for having its mid-bend line adjusted with the accelerator pedal. And if that attitude makes it onto the asphalt as a newly biddable, neutral-steer finesse, the model will have taken a giant step forwards in likeability. Especially as the engine, although only massaged here like a snowmobile motor, retains all its angry, bit-chomping charm, while the car itself, both inside and out, is studiously handsome.