Audi can rightly claim to have been there at the birth of what we now call the mega-hatch niche.

The original RS3 Sportback was one of the first go-faster five-doors to punch its way through the 300bhp barrier, back in 2011.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Fitting wider front tyres than it has on the back to make up for 4WD system’s shortcomings ought to have rung alarm bells at Audi Sport years ago

There have been plenty more like it through that hole in the wall since then, though – and compared with one or two of its more recent competitors, the new RS3’s drivetrain in particular is starting to look a little bit lightweight.

Where the Ford Focus RS gives you a clever clutch-based torque-vectoring rear power split device and the Mercedes-AMG A45 now allows you, as an option, a limited-slip front differential, the RS3 sticks with its established, Haldex-type four-wheel-drive system.

It juggles torque between the front and rear axles dependent on available grip, and although it will move that torque towards the rear wheels more quickly in some driving modes than others, it also falls back on conventional open differentials and brake-based electronic torque vectoring to marshal the driving force between the loaded and unloaded sides of each axle during cornering.

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The RS3’s new all-aluminium 2480cc five-cylinder turbocharged engine may be the perfect cover for that slight shortcoming.

Weighing 26kg less than the old iron-blocked five-pot and using both direct and indirect fuel injection, it produces 394bhp from 5850rpm to 7000rpm, as well as 354lb ft all the way from 1700rpm to 5850rpm. That power finds its way to the road via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

Whether it’s starting with an A3 Saloon or Sportback, Audi Sport’s suspension modifications for the RS3 are materially identical.

Both RS3s ride 25mm lower than their A3 counterparts and have axle tracks widened by 20mm up front and 14mm at the rear.

But the RS3 Saloon starts with a couple of key dynamic advantages over the five-door, having a roof line that’s 12mm lower for a slightly lower centre of gravity, and a rear track that’s 14mm wider. The saloon is also longer and marginally heavier than the hatchback, but latterly only by 5kg.

Both RS3 siblings come with 19in alloy wheels and have passive variable-ratio ‘progressive’ power steering (whose ratio simply quickens off-centre) as standard.

Mixed-width forged 19in rims with a wider tyre footprint up front are an option, as are RS sport suspension springs with adaptive dampers, carbon-ceramic front brake discs and an active RS sport exhaust.

Our test car had all of the above options save for the adaptive suspension and it weighed 13kg less than the four-cylinder Focus RS we tested last year: 1567kg, distributed 58/42 front to rear, which was also more favourable than the Ford’s.

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