Audi RS6 Avant. Picture: QUICKPIC
Audi RS6 Avant. Picture: QUICKPIC
RS3 Sportback. Picture: QUICKPIC
RS3 Sportback. Picture: QUICKPIC
Audi TTS sports car. Picture: QUICKPIC
Audi TTS sports car. Picture: QUICKPIC

Nardo, according to the online Urban Dictionary, is the state of being “really trashed” while high on drugs or alcohol. Does high on exhilaration also count?

I’ve just test-driven an Audi RS3 which happened to be nardo-grey and I was genuinely sorry to hand the keys back to the manufacturer. It takes longer to say the car’s name — Audi RS3 Sportback 2.5T Quattro S Tronic — than it does to accelerate from 0-100km/h. But it’s not just the speed and agility that make this car such fun. It’s the fact that these qualities are contained in such a neat, under-stated package.

The RS3 was one of three high-performance Audis I drove one after the other in the space of nine days. All three have been on the market for a few months but it’s rare to have an opportunity to drive them in succession to compare their very different attributes.

First was the TTS 2.0 TFSi quattro S Tronic. The TT marque, after shaking up the market when it was first launched nearly 20 years ago, seems to have morphed into something of a midlife-crisis car. The fact that two acquaintances said the car and I suited one another, spoke volumes.

There are many features to commend the S Tronic. The low-slung design and seating position make it feel like a sports car. The handling feels good and the power and acceleration are what you’d expect from a 2l engine with a six-speed gearbox, 210kW of power and 380Nm of torque.

But there was nothing out of the ordinary. The car’s good but not remarkably so. It didn’t help that its low-profile tyres exaggerated every under-maintained bump on the route between my home and the office. The S Tronic’s marketing guff claims that design modifications “mean that driving dynamics are enhanced further, especially on surfaces with low-friction coefficients”. Jo’burg’s deteriorating roads don’t have coefficients.

The S Tronic suffered further because I stepped straight from it into the RS3 Sportback. I like surprises. Despite the Sportback’s performance reputation, there’s little in the exterior design to suggest fireworks. But get inside, press down on the accelerator, and the car is outstanding. Its seven-speed gearbox and 2l engine take you from 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds. Top speed is 250km/h.

As numbers, these are pretty close to those of the TTS but in terms of the experience, they are worlds apart. One is a sportscar doing what you’d expect, the other a hatchback taking a break from everyday duties. Of course the RS3 is known for its power, but it still looks like an everyday car.

Because of its compactness and Quattro all-wheel-drive system, handling is exemplary. Personally, I’ve always preferred power in small packages (I’m talking strictly cars). The Sportback is the embodiment of that.

Naturally, Audi performance doesn’t come cheap.

The TTS starts at R700,500 and the RS3 at R710,000.

But these numbers pale into insignificance alongside the last of my trio of performance cars. The Audi RS6 Avant comes in at a basic R1.55m. With a few extras, the car I drove was R1.7m.

For that you get an eight-speed, 4l station wagon that will outsprint both the TT and RS3; 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds. Top speed is 305km/h, with a speed-limiter in SA reducing this to a still more-than-adequate 250km/h.

The RS6 is a head-turner: low, long and powerful-looking. Passenger space and comfort are excellent. Safety aids, including a head-up display that projects driver information on to the windscreen, are plentiful.

It’s a disconcerting beast to drive. Potter through traffic and it feels like a typical family wagon. But spot a gap in the traffic or a stretch of open highway, and another creature emerges. In theory, it’s a family wagon but one that I would think twice about putting my family inside if I wanted to drive it anywhere close to its outrageous capability.

Of the three, there’s no question I’d take the RS3 Sportback. Nippy in traffic, naughty on the open road, and small enough so that I wouldn’t feel guilty or conspicuous about driving on my own. Now I just have to find R700,000.

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