Hyper-hatches are now most certainly a thing. Ryan Bubear climbs into the latest Audi RS 3 Sportback quattro...
R11 840. It'll buy you a travel package to Thailand (just for one, unfortunately). Or about ten Apple wireless keyboards. Or a rotting Mazda 323 that's been advertised on Gumtree for the past seven months.
It also happens to be the exact amount of money a certain German automaker will charge you to fit an optional RS Sports exhaust system to your brand new Audi RS 3 Sportback quattro.
Yes, this nifty little piece of kit permits the already throaty five-cylinder engine to breathe even more freely, resulting in a thunderous full-throttle soundtrack and the sort of overrun detonations that will have your neighbourhood's Chubb response officers ducking for cover while reaching nervously for their sidearms.
Yes, it sounds bloody fantastic. Even at start-up — which, a little incongruously, requires the turn of a key rather than the prod of a button — Ingolstadt's entry-level RS model announces its awakening with an automotive thunderclap, before settling into a hearty five-pot burble.
But it can also do subtle — well, sort of. Thanks to a pair of flaps built into the exhaust system, the RS 3 Sportback will make slightly less of a racket when the drive select mode is toggled to, say, "Comfort". Useful (if not entirely effective), for instance, when one doesn't want to wake one's sleeping toddler.
So, to the source of all that wonderful noise: a 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine that, in its latest iteration, produces an immense 270kW from 5550rpm to 6800rpm, along with a hefty 465Nm spread thickly across the lengthy band between 1625rpm and 5550rpm. This high-performance 2480cc unit is mated to the brand's superb seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission, which is — as one would expect — connected to a pair of wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Of course, the RS 3 Sportback is currently engaged in a ding-dong power battle with the Mercedes-AMG A 45 4Matic. And the latest updates from Affalterbach's high-performance division see the Three-Pointed Star hatchback edge its nose ever-so-slightly ahead. Still, you're unlikely to miss those 10kW and 10Nm out in the real world, where tractability and throttle response are more valuable than mere numbers printed on paper.
Speaking of quoted figures, Audi says its RS 3 Sportback will rocket from standstill to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds (one-tenth slower than the new A 45, stats junkies will note), before topping out at an electronically limited 250km/h. Naturally, slipping the nice folks at Audi an envelope containing exactly R20 890 in crisp notes will see this cap raised to 280km/h.
Claimed combined fuel consumption, meanwhile, comes in at 8.1 litres per 100km, a tragically optimistic number considering the tempting oomph always on offer. Indeed, our final return sat at 13.9 litres per 100km, much to the delight of the local petrol station owner (we sincerely hope he enjoys his new boat).
Still, that's to be expected from a hyper-hatch. Particularly one so adept at going around corners. Face-contortingly quickly. Yes, thanks to the brand's permanent quattro all-wheel drive system — which distributes torque between the front and rear axles as required — the RS 3 Sportback claws its way through bends with the agility of a particularly fleet-footed cat. A clever torque vectoring system, meanwhile, further improves turn-in.
The ride — thanks to the standard (stiffened and lowered) sports suspension — is by no means brutal, but is firm enough to have the driver dodging obvious road imperfections. And the steering gains a welcome weightiness in the most extreme of the driving modes.
The cabin, meanwhile, is rather restrained, with just a few clever details — such as the flat-bottomed RS steering wheel, the boost pressure indicator, and the stainless steel pedals — setting it apart from a garden-variety A3. Unfortunately, like the RS 6 Avant we recently tested, the RS 3 Sportback lags behind its new-generation siblings (the likes of the TT, Q7, and A4) on the technology front.
Still, it's an utterly classy affair inside, and our test model came fitted with an optional design package that lifted the mood by adding a splash of red detailing (in the air-vents and along the edges of the seatbelts, for instance).
Of course, since it also shares its general dimensions with the aforementioned A3, the five-door RS 3 Sportback is rather practical for a hyper-hatch. There's easily enough leg-room in the back for the kids (and seven airbags in total), while the luggage compartment measures a fair 340 litres (some 40 litres down on the standard A3 Sportback, despite the lack of a spare wheel of any kind).
Although the standard features list includes the likes of tasty 19-inch alloys, leather upholstery, automatic Xenon headlights, and front and rear parking sensors, there are a few things missing. There's no USB port as standard, for instance, while the hill-holder function also finds itself on the options list.
What won't cost you more, however, is the Nardo Grey paintjob that was applied to our test model (since it's not a metallic colour). It's an unusual hue, but one that drew numerous compliments over our week with the car. Whereas the signature Sepang Blue or even the new Catalunya Red seem to emphasise the vehicle's classiness, the grey lends it a somewhat meaner look.
And mean-yet-classy this potent hyper-hatch most certainly is. With the right box ticked, it makes a fantastic noise, too.
Of course, to define the Audi RS 3 Sportback on sound alone would be to do it a massive disservice. It's a blisteringly quick and highly capable vehicle thoroughly deserving of its billing as the entry-level RS model.
So, is the optional sports exhaust system really worth the extra cash? Every single rand.
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter.
See page two for specs and pricing.