Not long ago the concept of paying more than R500 000 for a luxury sedan or 4x4 would have raised an eyebrow or two. Today there’s barely a twitch when car fans in the know are told that will buy you a five-seat family hatchback – without the options.Of course there’s a catch. The “family hatchback” in question is the third-born of Audi’s current RS family, a pedigreed and aristocratic bunch whose other offspring are the V8 RS 5 and the TT RS – super-athletes in the automotive world.SERIOUS EXCLUSIVITYThe new “baby” is the RS 3 Sportback (hatchback too plebbish, one wonders?), top dog in the A3 range, whose intercooled turbocharged (to 1.2 bar) five-cylinder TFSI engine blasts out 250kW and 450Nm with the resultant waste exiting through exhausts even bigger than Mnr Malema’s mouth.Malema, however, doesn’t make 100.8kW per litre of hot gas.It costs R525 000 but comes with the exclusivity of there being only 54 on the South African market for the balance of 2011 and only another 50 for the whole of 2012. And sorry, but the 2011 allocation is already sold out. Better luck next year...Audi SA couldn’t do the usual media launch, there being so few examples available and all, so booked out Cape Town’s Killarney racing circuit for a few days, set up a Berber-style tent village to serve up food, liquid refreshment, cars to drive and to deliver the media presentation, and let us journos loose on the track.BODYWORK REDESIGNThe Cape outspan had a brace of RS 3 Sportbacks to show off along with, for comparison’s sake, two examples of the awesome RS 5 (R907 540 when launched 18 months ago) and one bright-red TT RS (R716 500). That was on Monday; by Tuesday evening there was only one Sportback owing to a miscalculation by an unnamed Cape Town journo who miscalculated the braking requirements of Turn 1 at the end of the pits straight and redesigned some of the car’s bodywork.Nobody was hurt. LEATHER AND POWER EVERYTHING: Audi's RS 3 Sportback might be of modest size but lacks nothing in terms of luxury appointments - not to mention awesome performance. And the next R-car in line could be the RS 6. Fingers crossed for SA, though the car is not yet in production and whether it will reach our shores is still under consideration.Meanwhile, back to the remaining star of the show – the Audi RS 3 Sportback, and why it costs so bloody much. Well, let’s start with a figure, a small one that reads 4.6 seconds. That’s what Audi claims for the car’s 0-100 time and adds that it’s “faster than any competitor in its class”.Then a much bigger number: top speed 250km/h, faster if you do things to the electronic limiter), and some moderate ones... 9.1 litres/100km fuel consumption (claimed) and 212g/km of CO2 emissions which, Audi also claims, “is clearly ahead of its main competitors and can be attributed to the combination of FSI direct fuel-injection and turbocharging, two core Audi competencies”.The RS 3 comes standard with a seven-speed S Tronic auto/manual sequential gearbox and paddle shifters on the steering column but whacking it round Killarney in full auto is not only faster, but more fun.SEAMLESS TRACTIONThe high-tech gearbox transmits power through three shafts: one drive and two output. Like all dual-clutch transmissions, Audi says, the seven-speed S Tronic in the RS 3 Sportback has two transmission structures and shifts happen in a few hundredths of a second as the clutches switch.Shifts are fluid and extremely smooth, with no perceptible interruption of traction. The ‘box sends power to all wheels, which adds greatly to directional stability and accelerative grip, and the safest place to demonstrate such characteristics is a racetrack, especially a bumpy one such as Killarney.One can, of course, unhitch all the high-speed driving aids should you elect to use your RS 3 for competition purposes by pressing the Sport and other buttons but you’d better be damn sure of your driving abilities before you try it, bro. WHERE THE COST COMES IN: The Audi RS 3 Sportback is powered by the same engine as the TT RS, a work of art called the five-cylinder TFSI capable of 250kW - in a family hatchback. Audi RS 3 Sportback v. BMW 1 Series M over 400m. See who wins! Stability is also aided by a four-link rear suspension set-up and a body 25mm closer to the tar than a standard A3, 19” alloy rims shod with Continental Sport Contact 5P rubber (235/35 rear, 225/35 front), high-performance, four-piston brake callipers on 370mm front and 310mm rear discs and “high precision” electric assistance for the steering – which, by the way, includes a flat-bottomed steering wheel studded with a number of infotainment controls.Certainly the car’s performance is explosive, especially with the AWD limiting launch wheelspin through the electronic control of pump-operated clutch plates with a reaction time measured in milliseconds as the distinctive sound of the five-cylinder engine revs to 6800.The five-cylinder engine goes right back to the first Audi RS back in 1994 and has been named International Engine of the Year. The current version is also used on the TT RS.Compared with the standard A3, the RS 3 Sportback’s front and rear aprons have been prominently modified and a large roof spoiler shades the rear window. The flared front fenders are made of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic.RS 3 Sportback is 4.30m long, 1.79m wide and 1.40m high. It weighs 1575kg and the boot volume is 302 litres – 1032 with the rear seats folded. If you’re in the buying bracket, it also makes a sensible small family car – traction is comfortable through the rev range and the can be used for the daily commute without problem.STANDARD GOODIESThe cabin will also be a good place to be for extended periods: full dual-zone auto aircon, great sound system and leather upholstery, steering-wheel and shifter. The instrument cluster has black dials, white numbers and red needles with RS styling and a comprehensive driver’s information system with a lap timer.The standard package includes xenon plus headlights with diode daytime running lights, Bluetooth phone connectivity, hill-start assistance, rear parking radar and a rear-window sunshield. Belt tensioners and force limiters protect the driver and front passenger and the front airbags deploy in two stages depending on impact severity. The outboard rear seats are also fitted with belt force limiters.Options on the RS 3 Sportback include an aluminium matt styling package and the Audi exclusive black styling package See Audi SA’s take on the new RS 3 Sportback.