On the road is where the car’s most meaningful dynamic gains needed to be made, though. Previous-generation RS3’s never struggled for outright pace, but they lacked the agile, game, involving handling of rivals. The new one isn’t any revelation, but it is notably improved: better balanced through long, faster, sweeping bends where the driveline has time to shuffle torque and influence the attitude of the car, and with much clearer and more tactile steering feel than some fast Audis provide when you flick into the car’s sportier driving modes.
Through tighter corners, you feel as though you have to overwork the front axle more in order to activate and enliven the rear, and you can spend a long time groping for the natural rotational personality of the car but never fully grasping it. That’s just the way these torque-vectored, four-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks are, though, and there is still clearly a keener, grippier front end here than RS3s have had before.
There is also plenty of drama and speed to be enjoyed – more, probably, than ever there was in an RS3 before. The burbling five-cylinder motor sounds genuine for the most part, and although it works through a blanket of turbo lag that softens mid-range throttle inputs, it’s bristling with vigour and intensity once on boost. Waiting a second for the car’s thrust to chime in somehow only makes the car feel quicker when it does take off.
This is a cracking, characterful performance engine, and a wonderful dominant presence. The RS3’s body control, meanwhile, is generally taut but not brittle or restless, and its four-wheel drive system is just ‘active’ enough most of the time to enrich the car’s handling without making it feel contrived or unnatural.
This would seem to be the best and most roundly impressive RS3 that Audi has ever built. With prices starting from £50,900, though, and rising quite a way further still for a car with all the options you might want, it’s a driver’s car with some proper opposition; and so the same barrier to making a case for ownership of a car like this remains in place, and grows a little higher.
Is the idea of an Audi A3 that’s capable of 180mph more or less absurd than one that might cost you as much as £65,000 after options? If you bother to think too hard about the latter, I suspect the former will cut little more ice than this car’s new and enlivened handling, as creditable as it may seem. You can only assume that RS3 owners don’t think about it and simply wouldn’t spend what seems like an awful lot of money anywhere else.