Audi launched its first-ever RS 3 in 2010 which allowed customers a new opportunity to jump aboard the ultra-desirable RS club. It was - in fact, still is - the baby of the RS lineup, but with a powerful five-cylinder heart and 'unusual' front wheels that are wider than the rear, it happily punches above its weight.
Now there's a third generation and it may be the last ever fossil-fuelled model, so Audi NZ gave me the keys to have a play.
This is the second time I've been behind the wheel of this all-new generation, the first time being in Mt Smart Stadium's car park getting better acquainted with its new torque-splitter (ahem, Drift Mode) - but more on that in a moment.
With respect to the design, Audi say that this is their most expressive RS 3 yet, and it's easy to see why. First glance offers up a bold and athletic stance with a shape that when viewed from above, is that of a top heavy hourglass thanks to a wider front track and tapered torso.
Its nose sports a wide RS bumper and redesigned Singleframe grille with large air intakes below to gulp down oxygen when on the move and just look awesome when not.
Standard on the RS 3 are its flat, wedge-shaped matrix LED headlights and DRLs with three-by-five LED segments that flash 'RS 3' and a chequered flag sequence - how cool is that!
Its enhanced look continues down the profile with the new RS 3 sitting 25mm lower than the A3, plus additional air outlets that sit behind the flared front wheel arches - and the rocker panels have been re-designed to match. While on the subject of the RS 3's front, the axle track has been widened by 33mm compared to the previous model and the rear axle track has increased by 10mm, offering impeccable confidence when heading into corners.
The rear hasn't gone untouched either. Its motorsport-inspired finishing includes a redesigned RS-specific rear bumper with an integrated diffuser and the RS exhaust system, complete with two large oval tailpipes and LED taillights for those behind to enjoy - as that's what most other drivers will see thanks to its ferocious engine.
The 2.5 TFSI, five-cylinder, high-performance engine with a very unique 1‑2‑4‑5-3 ignition sequence is a one-of-a-kind in the segment. Sure, it's won the 'International Engine of the Year' award nine times in a row, but more importantly, it's now more powerful than ever with 294kW (400PS) and 500 Nm of torque, making it race from 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds and onto a top speed that has needed to be limited (probably to save you from yourself). What's more, all that torque is available between 2250 and 5600rpm and max power joins in the fun from 5600 rpm.
The interior is very Audi but with additional sporty flair. There's a 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit that displays the rpms in the form of a bar graph and shows power and torque as percentages. Optionally, the rpm display is available in the new 'RS Runway' design where the values are shown in a way that visually resembles an aeroplane runway - the highest speed in the foreground and the lowest speed in the background.
Also available for the first time for the Audi RS 3 is a head-up display that projects relevant information onto the windshield in the driver's direct line of sight, in addition to the shift light indicator.
RS-embossed sport seats and steering wheel add to the racing feel, but it's the new RS driving modes in the infotainment screen that are gonna really rock your boat. Efficiency, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic sit to the left of the drive-select screen, however on the right is RS Individual, RS Performance and RS Torque Rear - needless to say, the right side is where the feels and squeals lie.
My time with the RS was limited but as luck would have it, I had a meeting to attend in the Clevedon area, which - if you take the long way - includes some joyful roads to test a vehicle like the RS 3 on.
Now I should say that many of the RS modes come with 'track or closed roads use' warnings and for good reason - they turn this sporty sportback into the devil. In fairness, you do actually have to be really pushing the laws of physics to make this car step out - somewhere I stayed well clear of.
In Dynamic, the RS 3 gives you plenty of freedom to play, all while staying ready to take the reins when your talent runs out. With the RS's sports suspension, newly developed shocks, larger wheel camber, modified pivot bearings, stiffer bearings in the lower wishbones, and RS 3's new addition the modular vehicle dynamics controller (mVDC), it is way outside of my comfort zone.
The RS modes tighten things up in terms of steering, throttle and gear shifting, while extending the boundaries for when the correction systems cut in. It's a bit like having a longer leash for your pitbull. Then there's 'RS Torque Rear' which is essentially like cutting the leash entirely and allowing your RS over 1700 Nm of torque to one paw and having a rear end that can wag with more vigour than a weimaraner that hasn't seen its owner for a week.
Switching to RS mode opens the baffles in the RS 3's sports exhaust and really brings out the off-kilter sound of its five pots, and of course, allows all of its power to run amok. The result is a vibrant, happy, joyful drive that has you feeling each and every sharp corner and being thrilled by the powerful car's immediate responsiveness when kicked.
Audi may be rushing headlong into the EV world and their RS GT proves they can be fun too, but if this is the last hoorah for the petrol-fuelled RS 3 (there may be one more facelift left), Audi has thrown everything at it.
In my opinionm it's their best RS 3 yet - and the torque-splitter tech just adds fuel to the hot RS fire. It's got power and presence you can feel and a special drift mode that can make its tyres squeal. What a combo and what a car.
Why you should: This could very well be the last RS 3 with a petrol engine and it's a doozy. Audi has thrown more or less everything at it including a very playful rear.
Why you shouldn't: It's a firm ride even in 'Comfort' but then again, this is an RS.
What else to consider: Compact performance vehicles may be a semi-niche market but there are options. Take a look at the Mercedes-AMG A45S, BMW M2, VW Golf R and Hyundai i30N for starters.