THERE was a time when we got our kicks in cars that were noisy, smelly, and
THERE was a time when we got our kicks in cars that were noisy, smelly, and in some cases a positive affront to health and safety.
But that was then and this is now. Today we live in a world where glamping has upstaged good old-fashioned camping, where green is good beyond reproach and the red-leaded petrol we used to pump into our old bangers is now viewed as a danger to life as we know it.
Driving a car has changed almost beyond recognition. Sure, you get into a vehicle in much the same way and in most cases what drives you along is a power source that has been around since the 1860s: the internal combustion engine.
But for all that, what’s stepped to the fore is, in a word, sophistication. Driving today can be fast and furious but in cars such as this week’s drive — the remarkable Audi RS 3 Sportback 2.5 TFSI quattro — the performance is subtle, sleek and very fast and if you are not careful also a touch scary.
For this new, latest generation Audi RS 3 is the hottest hatch around — the fastest production hatchback on the road in Britain today.
And boy does it go. It lifts off with remarkable ease, achieving 0 to 62mph in 4.3 seconds — 0.3 seconds faster than the previous model. It has a “governed” top speed of 155mph, which can be raised to 174mph on request (for example for track use or on roads with no speed limit).
That’s the “touch scary” part I mentioned before. This car — like the fastest kind of roadgoing motorcycles around — has to be handled with respect. Because it is not only capable of very high speeds in a straight line, it also loves cornering very quickly indeed.
Now you might ask what is the point of such a car on our congested roads? It’s a good question, but what I unfailingly find when I get an opportunity to get behind the wheel of cars such as the Audi RS 3 is that their sheer unadulterated performance allows you to drive in a safer and more controlled way.
That is not a contradiction in terms: there is safety in overtaking because you can do it quickly and efficiently when safe to do so; there is also great control of the car on bends and corners. And when necessary this car is happy to jog along in heavy traffic through smooth use of its seven-speed automatic gearbox and stop and start facility.
Above all, though, you need to apply self-discipline with the RS 3. This is no boy racer’s car — though I am sure a few would love to get their hands on one. In the wrong hands it could prove a real handful. But for the driver that loves and respects fast cars the sheer performance and connection with the RS 3 is a joy to behold.
The new five-door, five-seat Sportback starts at £39,950 and is based on the World Car of the Year. It features the latest generation of quattro all-wheel-drive and an award-winning 2.5-litre five-cylinder TFSI engine. Audi has trimmed an additional 55kg off this model compared with the previous RS 3 Sportback.
Audi says the RS 3 is “capable of returning up to 34.8mpg” and indeed depending on how you drive it I’m sure this is achievable.
That’s another part of the “sophistication” of such new cars available today: once upon a time to get this sort of performance the car was invariably big and loud and wicked on fuel consumption.
The RS 3 is also a handsome car with its high-gloss black, honeycomb-look grille and pronounced air intakes set off by standard LED headlamps and daytime running lights. The look is subtle but striking and customers can choose from eight paint finishes including the two new shades Nardo grey and Catalunya red metallic, the latter available exclusively for the RS 3 Sportback.
I especially liked its wheels — five-arm Rotor design in anthracite black high-gloss finish. At the rear there is a remodelled bumper and each corner is dominated by a large, oval RS tailpipe.
The sound emanating from these two is an indication of what is to come â??— blistering performance and a car to relish.
Audi RS 3 Sportback 2.5 TFSI quattro 367 PS S tronic
Price of test car (on the road): £51,185 (including options)
Exterior colour: Sepang blue, pearl effect
Interior: Black fine Nappa leather with rock grey stitching
S Super sport seats
Comfort and sound package
Dynamic package plus technology package featuring Audi connect
High gloss black styling pack
Audi Phone Box
Auto-dimming, electrically adjustable, folding and heated door mirrors