Audi S3

The Audi A3 is offered as a sedan, convertible, or 5-door Sportback. Power comes from a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder with 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The Audi A3 sends power to all four wheels via quattro all-wheel drive, though front-wheel-drive versions are available as well. A high-performance version of this same engine powers the Audi S3, where it makes 292 horsepower--enough to go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The RS3 comes only as an all-wheel drive sedan, and is powered by a 2.5L turbocharged 5-cylinder engine that makes an almost-unbelievable 400 horsepower.

Finally, the A3 Sportback e-tron hybrid utilizes an electric motor that makes 102 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque, plus a 1.4L turbocharged gasoline engine capable of 150 horsepower. When combined, the two powerplants make 204 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful hybrids available. The Sportback e-tron can drive on purely electric power for about 17 miles.

The Audi A3 is available in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. The Premium trim includes leather seating with heated front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, bi-xenon automatic headlights, power adjustable side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-way power adjustable driver's seat, rearview camera and parking sensors, "Alu-optic" interior trim, heated mirrors and washer nozzles, twin USB power/data ports, and a 10-speaker sound system with a 3-month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio.

A convenience package adds keyless start, stop and entry, as well as Audi's music interface and better smartphone integration. The sport package on the other hand, adds sportier front seat, a driving mode selector and a flat bottom steering wheel with shift paddles. A sport suspension is also available that reduces the ride height by 15 mm.

The Premium Plus trim adds 18-inch wheels, aluminum interior accents, Audi side assist, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, and keyless entry. The Prestige package, meanwhile, includes everything in Premium Plus, as well as an S-line exterior body kit, a navigation system, Audi connect and LED headlights.

Option packages on the Premium Plus include a technology package that features Audi Connect PRIME and PLUS, a navigation system, Audi's side assist system with rear traffic alert and what Audi calls their "virtual cockpit," which is a digital display in the instrument cluster featuring a view of the road ahead as well as plenty of relevant driving information.

The RS3 is, in its way, a separate beast. Besides the tremendous engine, the RS3 comes with a unique red-stitched Nappa leather interior as well as 19" 5-arm wheels, full LED headlamps, RS-specific fascias and diffuser and magnetic ride suspension.

Safety features on all the A3 models include anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system. Airbags include advanced driver and passenger front airbags, knee airbags, thorax side airbags as well as side curtain airbags. An anti-theft alarm system comes standard, while Active Lane Assist, Audi Pre-Sense automatic braking and adaptive cruise control are all optional on the A3 Prestige.

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Editors' First Take

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My drive partner and I have been flogging Audi's new RS3 all morning, taking turns on dromedary watch as the other hurtles us into the desert scenery, scarring the otherwise eerily quiet landscape with our sport sedan's distinct, five-cylinder bark. It's not a typical co-driver assignment on these vehicle launch trips, camelspotting. But we've quickly learned that keeping a wary eye out for split-hoove denizens is vital when wheeling through Oman's Dhofar mountains at speed.

For their part, the camels -- along with the cows, goats and the occasional donkey -- seem utterly unbothered by the presence of our Viper Green bolide. Otherworldly paint aside, you almost can't blame the free-range livestock for not noticing. Even with Audi's optional black optics package, this RS3 is somewhat demure looking, planted and subtly aggressive rather than adopting the sort of hot hatch winged street cred favored by my 22-year-old. Classy and not quite a Q-ship, the RS3 is nevertheless significantly more reserved-looking than rivals like the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 and BMW M2.

It's only later I learn that Oman's camels are extremely valuable, routinely costing up to 10,000 rial -- about $26,000. If you're so unfortunate as to hit one during the day, our local fixer says you must track down the farmer to whom it belongs and offer restitution. Fail to do so, and you risk jail time, speeding or no. (Fortunately, bargaining is acceptable, he notes). What happens if you inadvertently bag Joe Camel at night, I ask? If you happen to survive the impact, you're in luck: Since it's widely known that camels blithely sleep on roadways to take advantage of their stored solar warmth, the law is apparently more understanding of your predicament. Even with the RS3's bright LED headlights, it's for that reason that I'm relieved our drive takes place under the withering Middle Eastern sun.

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