To spend time in, the interior is a triumph. The predominantly black cabin is an exercise in restraint, but there are enough touches to indicate that you are indeed sitting in an RS model. The traditional flat-bottomed steering wheel is present and correct, embossed RS logos on the cross-stitched leather seats add a touch of class, and in line with the rest of the facelifted A3 line-up, the interior of the RS3 can be enhanced with Audi’s virtual cockpit display.
However, small details aside, there’s only one feature in the cabin that truly matters - the bright red starter button. Thumb it and the five-cylinder motor barks into life with an intensity that betrays its compact size. Driving around town that iconic offbeat firing sequence sounds truly superb, although we were a touch surprised by a distinct lack of pops and crackles on the overrun – perhaps Audi has grown tired of artificial sonic enhancements?
Regardless, with 354lb ft from 1700rpm, the RS3 is seriously quick off the line. The 4.1sec to 62mph sprint feels entirely believable from behind the wheel, with the Quattro all-wheel drive system ensuring effectively no loss of traction. Combined with a quick shifting dual-clutch transmission (in manual mode), there are very few road cars that are capable of delivering the same levels of effortless performance.
And yet, once up and running, the RS3 never quite delivers the same kind of top end rush that’d you expect from a near 400bhp sports saloon. This is partly down to the engine’s flat torque curve, but it is also hampered by a gearbox that feels rather hesitant when left to its own devices. It’s a combination that is most noticeable on the exit of slower hairpin corners - when you expect to accelerate out on a wave of torque, you instead have to wait for the boost to build before you are able to drive cleanly off the corner.
To its credit, the new engine does benefit the RS3, albeit passively, when the roads get twisty. With a wider track, a revised ESP system and most importantly, less weight over the nose, the car turns in more sharply than the car it replaces. Where the old model would slip into understeer mid-corner, the new car digs in and drives through in a more accurate manner. And on the tight and twisting switchback roads that snake their way up and down the Dhofar Mountains, it was easy to play with the RS3’s newfound balance. Lifting off on entry now allows you to dictate your angle of attack, with the rear axle helping to point the car at the apex; it’s a joyous feeling when you get it right.
Of course, once you get on the power, the supposedly ‘playful’ Quattro all-wheel drive system pulls everything back into line, despite it being theoretically capable of dispensing 100 percent of its available power to the rear wheels. That said, there is no question that this is a genuinely talented car, and one that is surprisingly engaging on the right road.