Of course, a good hot hatch has always been about more than raw performance, and Audi’s Quattro GMBH Skunkworks – which engineers all the company’s RS models - has attempted to tame the prodigious power output with an appropriately comprehensive underbody makeover.
The RS3 sits 25mm lower than the standard A3, has a wider track and is sprung on springs and dampers around 25 per cent firmer than those of the four-cylinder S3. Bodywork changes include a very aggressive bodykit and front wings made from carbonfibre reinforced polymer. Braking is handled by vast 370mm discs.
Dynamically the net result is a car that always delivers empirically, but only sometimes emotionally. Let’s start by saying that – out of the box – the RS3 is going to be one of the quickest cars you’ll fire at any chosen backroad.
Grip levels are enormous; it takes extreme provocation on low-speed corners to get the front tyres to admit that they even have a limit as they hold on until credibility-threatening speeds before progressively surrendering their grip. The ultra-firm suspension delivered rock-solid body control on the super-smooth tarmac of our French test route, although we’ll reserve full judgment until we see how well it copes with the considerably tougher challenge of a British B-road.
But yes, there’s a but – the steering still lacks much in the way of ultimate communication, faithfully conveying inputs, but under hard loadings offering a strangely synthesized feedback in return. On the plus side, it feels both lighter on its feet and more agile than its TT-RS cousin – and it’s also seven grand cheaper.
Audi will only be producing a five-door Sportback version of the RS3, with the official line being that the company reckons a three-door version would offer limited practicality gains over the (supposedly) dynamically sharper TT-RS.
Should I buy one?
Audi UK’s pre-launch sales success makes this question pretty much redundant – if your name’s not down already, you're not coming in. If you have got a deposit lodged then take heart from the fact that – like Audi’s other recent RS-badged models – this is a genuinely impressive piece of engineering.
It’s impossible to drive the RS3 hard without a serious amount of respect for the effortless way it combines speed with practicality. If it offered a bit more driver involvement, it would be perfect.
Audi RS3 Sportback
Price: £39,900; Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 4.6sec; Economy: 31.0mpg; CO2: 212g/km; Kerb weight: 1575kg; Engine: 5 cyls in line, 2480cc, turbo, petrol; Installation : Front, transverse, 4WD; Power: 335bhp at 5400-6500rpm; Torque: 332lb ft at 1600-5300rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd dual-clutch auto