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On the limit in sensational 360bhp Audi RS3

We ride along in Audi RS3 mega hatch at latest Nurburgring track test

Draped in a psychedelic vinyl body wrap, this Audi RS3 prototype is the reason we are at the Nurburgring in a rather soggy Germany. To test a car to its limits there is no other place like it, and we’ll be in the passenger seat for a few hot laps to see how this all-wheel-drive mega hatch is shaping up.

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So what does an all-new RS3 bring? Less weight, more power and a lot more drama. The MQB architecture is new to the RS3, and helps to cut 55kg from the weight. It has also allowed Audi to bolt on re-engineered springs and dampers, as well as new struts. Carbon ceramic front discs will also be offered as an option for the first time and the RS3 sits 25mm closer to the tarmac than the S3, with a wider track and optional wider front tyres available.

Audi has kept the ballistic 2.5-litre five-cylinder TFSI engine, but cranked up the volume. Quattro boss Stephan Reil tells me the 414bhp 2.0 TFSI fitted to the TT 420 Quattro Sport Concept was never under consideration because a five-cylinder has the uniqueness and heritage that belongs in an RS model. The current RS3 delivers 335bhp and we’ve been told to expect around 360bhp – enough to trump Mercedes’ A45 AMG.

We jump in and headed for the Nordschleife with Audi Development Driver, Frank Strippler, at the wheel. We have the tarmac to ourselves, so without warning, Strippler immediately plants the throttle, pinning me back in my bolstered seat and all without a hint of wheelspin or loss in traction.

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Instantly you can tell this car is quicker. Changes from the new and standard six-speed S tronic box are rapid, with each ratio slotting home with a bellowing blip from the sports exhaust. We can see several tenths being slashed from the current car’s 4.6-second 0-62mph time, and the new RS3 has been lapping up to 20 seconds faster around the ’Ring than before.

Strippler stitches together a set of sweeping left and right handers which the car dispatches with minimal fuss. The limits of grip are breached far sooner than they would be in the dry, but the quattro system bites into the tarmac and simply refuses to let go. It feels neutral and balanced, but the front does begin to push wide when we’re really on the limit. However, Strippler effortlessly modulates the throttle and teases the RS3 into a four-wheel drift.

So, it feels more focused on the track and Reil promises its refinement is better on the road. But, as ever, we’ll have to drive it to give our definitive verdict.

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