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Audi RS3: Keep running up that hill, with no problems

A Quattro hatch equally suited to school runs and hillclimbs

Vulture at the Wheel On the June 6 1936, Audi – or Auto Union, as it was known at the time – first visited the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb course with its 550hp Grand Prix car. Rain spoiled Hans Stuck’s runs on the day, but in practice he had equalled Raymond Mays’ course record of 39.6 seconds up the 1.5km hill in rural Gloucestershire. Just over 50 years later, on July 6 1986, the team returned, with Hannu Mikkola driving the legendary Sport Quattro. He managed to shave a fraction over 10 seconds off Stuck’s time, albeit on a much-improved road surface and in dry conditions.

And on June 8 2015, it was El Reg's turn to take to the hill, at the wheel of the new 367hp Audi RS3 Sportback – which shares some of its DNA with the mighty S2, at least in the sense of being powered by a 2.5 litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine driving all four wheels. In an attempt to discourage the assembled hacks from binning it on the way up the hill, no times were recorded on this occasion – at least, not officially.

One of the TV commercials for the RS3 shows it being "born" from the R8 supercar, and the launch event was big on heritage, with a full range of current RS models for comparison – RS Q3, RS4 Avant, RS5 Coupé, RS6 Avant and RS7 Coupé – and a selection of previous generations to admire.

In truth, the RS3, with its relatively small, five cylinder, turbocharged engine, has much more in common conceptually with Mikkola’s Quattro than it does with the R8. But away from the hill and on normal roads, the RS3 has a Jekyll and Hyde character that does make you feel like there’s a supercar lurking just under the body panels.

Utterly docile and well-mannered – if a little noisy – in Comfort mode, with the comfortable (and optional) Nappa leather seats on our test car providing good support and soaking up the last of the firm (but not overly harsh) ride, the RS3 feels like a slightly harder-edged hot hatch.

Switch it into Dynamic mode and the steering weights up, the – again, optional – Magnetic Ride Sports suspension firms up and the throttle becomes more responsive when pressed. But, impressively, the car remains as comfortable in normal driving as it was in Comfort mode.

We only had four hours in the car, excluding the runs up the hill, but neither the ride nor the noise became tiresome, as other supercars-in-shopping-trolley-clothing have in the past. This is despite its sonic signature never leaving you in any doubt about the car’s capabilities. That noise, though, isn’t exactly musical. It's not unpleasant, but it's very... mechanical.

And with the latest-generation, 7-speed, twin-clutch, semi-automatic gearbox and a Quattro system now capable of sending up to 100 per cent of the power to whichever end of the car needs it, the car is never intimidating, even when you start to press on. Grip isn’t limitless – it was fairly easy to get a four-wheel slide on through the last corner of the hill climb – but it is prodigious. But when you do press on, the exhaust note changes and the power comes in like a tidal wave, building all the time and never getting close to its limits on public roads.

Which raises a question about this class of car. It is, as Audi claims, supercar-quick – albeit ‘90s supercar quick. 0-60 comes up in 4.3 seconds and while the standard car is limited to 155mph, you can request that the limiter is removed, unlocking the potential to hit 174.

When the first generation of supercar hatches hit the roads in the early 2000s – the Volkswagen R32, Ford Focus RS and Alfa 147 GTV among them – people asked what was the point of 250bhp hatchbacks that were clearly never designed to have that much power and often struggled to put it on the road effectively. And the point was that they were a hoot. They shouldn't have ever been built, but they were and they worked surprisingly well, considering.

A dozen or so years later and nobody is surprised to see the Mercedes A45, the BMW M135i and the second-generation RS3, all with north of 350bhp and all handling all of it as though it was the most normal thing in the world. The RS3’s 367 horses are complemented by 343lb ft of torque – both up over 20% on the previous model.

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