Many cars that perform well on the road let us down when pushed to the limit under controlled conditions on race tracks. So when our invitation to the launch of the all-new Audi RS3 at the Vallelunga circuit - an hour's drive from Rome - we knew they were confident, or had made a mistake.
There was no mistake. Audi RS3 stormed around Vallelunga without putting a wheel out of place when we took it to the ragged edge of grip. Steering by the wheel and throttle was impeccable and RS3 seemed to revel in the conditions.
Even better was the sound produced through the optional sports exhaust system fitted to the RS3's we tested. Flip the right buttons to bypass some of the exhaust system and back off the electronic aids and this high-performance Audi sounds like a proper race car. It roars, spits and crackles, and is guaranteed to put a huge smile on the face of any rev head.
The RS3 looks to be an excellent blend of performance and affordability
Audi is getting very serious about its high-performance S and RS ranges, designing them virtually alongside the standard variants. The RS3 looks to be an excellent blend of performance and affordability. It's not due in Australia till later in the year, possibly in October according to a little bird, and the price is anticipated to be under $80,000.
Power comes from a straight-five engine, an unusual layout these days, but one that's steeped in Audi history. Sitting transversely across the car the turbo-petrol unit displaces 2.5 litres and produces 270kW and 465Nm. The latter is on tap for a huge spread of revs, reaching its max at just 1625 rpm and continuing there till 5550 revs.
Even on a track you're likely to be running at maximum grunt virtually all time. Mercedes-AMG's A45 comes close to the RS3 in power at 265kW, despite its 2.0-litre capacity, but the bigger volume of the Audi's powerplant gives it a significant edge in torque spread. The latter reflects in the Audi's zero to 100 time being 0.3 seconds ahead of the AMG's.
The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch unit, called S tronic in Audi terms. It has been tuned for even sharper adaptation to changing needs as befits a high-performance sports machine.
Power is taken to all four wheels by way of Audi's quattro system.
A Sportback that really cries out for attention
Styling is bolder than normal for a high-performance German car. Previously our German friends have gone for a comparatively subdued look, but have thrown away their reservations to give us a Sportback that really cries out for attention.
The front builds nicely on the clean, sharp shape of the latest Audi A3 range. The lower side grilles are larger and all grilles use a honeycomb pattern. The lower-centre one has 'quattro' writ large on it.
Rear spoiler design is big and complex reflecting the fact that the Audi is aimed at providing downforce at serious speeds. Though we didn't get to drive the RS3 on unrestricted German autobahns, it seems the Italians don't pay a lot of attention to the 130 signs on their autostrada so we saw 160km/h (100mph) on more than one occasion.
Track top speeds approached 200km/h, but only for a few seconds as there are serious bends at Vallelunga.
Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h, but you can have the restriction remove and lift the RS3 to 280km/h.
The guards have been widened to cope with suspension upgrades that include a wider track and the use of 19-inch wheels as standard.
Interestingly, there's the option of 255/30 tyres on the front wheels, with 235/35 at the rear, just the thing for serious weekend track days as it helps to reduce the imbalance of the front-heavy car. Normal fitment is 235/35 tyres on all wheels. Standard wheel width is 8.0 inches, increased to 8.5 when the wider tyres are specified.
The standard-spec damping with variable settings is semi-race in its specifications, and our on-road driving on a circuitous route from Rome to and from Vallelunga showed it to be very firm. Harsh is perhaps too strong a word to use, but anyone looking to buy an RS3 purely for its looks are advised to do their private pre-purchase road testing on bumpy surfaces to see what they think. Optional magnetic ride control adaptive suspension will be available later on.
For some reason the company is being coy about whether or not it will develop a sedan
Brakes are normally steel discs on all four wheels, but ceramic discs for reduced weight and even better cooling can be specified.
At this stage the RS3 is produced only in Sportback format, that's Audi speak for a five-door hatch, but a sedan may come later. For some reason the company is being coy about whether or not it will develop a sedan. To us it seems like a foregone conclusion, but time will tell.