Negative preconceptions were put to one side for a quick blast into town one Sunday morning in the new S3. The car had a manual gearbox and only the lightest smattering of options. The beauty of three-pedal cars is that much can be gleaned from their low speed behaviour - especially that all important relationship between clutch, throttle and shift.
You can just tell if something is inherently right at under 20mph, and within a few minutes it was clear that this new S3 had been developed by people who enjoy changing gear. And who find turbocharged engines that refuse to shed revs promptly after even the smallest throttle inputs plain bloody irritating.
I had taken the precaution of both reading nothing about the new S3, and not studying any of the numbers before driving it. I had no idea how much power was claimed by Audi, so was a little shocked when from 2,500rpm in third gear it decided to launch itself down the road like a, well, very fast car indeed. And it kept pulling. And it made a decent noise. And the throttle response was plain brilliant for what must be a very turbocharged four-pot.
In fact within ten minutes of sitting in the new S3 I was thinking that just about every aspect of the way it drove seemed to have been formed as a response to a direct challenge to produce a car that did exactly what an RS3 didn't. Car companies like to talk in terms of driving DNA - linking strands of feel and response from controls and components that can be traced through entire model ranges. Audi's faster products often feel like they were made by different companies, not just different teams of people. I suppose Quattro Gmbh, birth place of the RS3, is technically a different company.
I then found myself smiling at the S3 package. Here I was travelling at speed in a small, discreet Audi; I think the first 'S' model I can remember without the hey-look-at-me chrome mirrors, and I was actually enjoying myself. It was supple, fast, grippy, didn't understeer; didn't have a brake pedal with zero sneeze-factor.
The return journey was even better. I arrived home beaming and happy, discovered it has 300hp - and then used the car for every single journey for the next six days. It averaged 25mpg going very fast, 30-plus on a lighter load. No-one seemed to notice the four exhaust tips, or the car itself. I can't think of anything subtler and faster. Had this existed when we filmed the M135i, the outcome would have been much, much closer.
I haven't driven the new Golf R yet - everyone says it's a belter. But for now, if I was about to buy one car to use all year, I think it would be an Audi S3. Never thought I'd say that.