Here we have the first spy pictures of an Audi RS3 test mule undergoing testing at the Nurburgring. The new 2.5-litre turbo engine from the TT RS will power the RS3 as well.

Where others are trying to climb up the premium ladder, Audi is moving downscale and presenting potential customers with performance options at the foot of the hill. Globally more and more people are buying down as a reaction to the recession. Therefore smaller cars with good performance are now quite desirable. A case in point will be this Audi RS3 mule which has been spied testing at the Nurburgring for the first time. The quick Sportback has different air intakes and a new engine.

First unveiled in the upcoming TT-RS, the RS3's 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine utilises a turbo to force out 250kW (340hp) and 450Nm of torque through the quattro AWD system. Anticipating that the RS3's weight will be almost the same as the TT-RS, we think it's safe to use the TT-RS's performance specs as the standard of comparisson here. The 0 - 100km/h dash should be achieved in about 4.6 seconds and an optional unlimited top speed will be 280 km/h (173.98 mph). This kind of performance is approaching RS4 territory but at a considerably lower price.

Though the all-new A3 is only scheduled to appear in October 2010, an RS3 should follow at least 24 months later - just as the TT-S and TT-RS followed the TT debut. This would give the RS3 a launch date of at least 2012.