The first-generation Audi RS Q3 was a curious machine.
It had prodigious pace, a playfulness that isn’t always present in Audi Sport products and more character than most of its rivals thanks to that growling 2.5-litre turbocharged five-pot.
But there were drawbacks: it was small inside, the interior was dated and the model itself felt a bit like an afterthought.
Transplanting the RS3’s engine under the Q3’s bonnet was a product planning no brainer, but the resulting driving experience, especially once the 270kW/465Nm ‘Performance’ version arrived in 2016, suggested that perhaps the chassis wasn’t necessarily designed for that amount of grunt.
What is the Audi RS Q3?
Still, that’s the past, this is the present and there’s now a new Audi RS Q3 to discuss, which is also available as the more svelte Sportback tested here.
The question is whether this new RS Q3 addresses the shortcomings of its predecessor or simply offers more of the same?
Well, it’s a different shape for starters; the new model has grown by 96mm in length but only 10mm in width and shrunk by 23mm in height.
The net result is much more cohesive proportions, especially with 21-inch rims filling the guards.
That extra length has massively enhanced luggage space, the boot increasing from 356L to 530L (or 1261L to 1400L with the rear seats folded), while an extra 78mm in the wheelbase has liberated more interior room, the rear seats able to accommodate anyone under six feet in the old money with relative ease.
Prices and specs
The Sportback adds $3000 to the regular RS Q3’s $89,900 ask, robs a little boot space but does look pretty flash, especially in retina-searing Kyalami Green.
Expect comments and plenty of attention.
The interior has also jumped forward two generations with an impressive list of standard gear.
Sports seats with Nappa leather and honeycomb stitching, a full-size infotainment screen which is a breeze to navigate, Virtual Cockpit digital instruments, an Alcantara steering wheel and every active safety driver aid under the sun are included.
The latter gives the RS Q3 the ability to drive semi-autonomously on the highway, though the system requires regular wriggles of the steering wheel to remain active and ensure you’re awake, while the lane-keep assist is a bit over-zealous if you don’t drive precisely in the middle of the lane at all times.
READ Emissions laws won't kill Audi's five-cylinder engine
So as an SUV the new RS Q3 has taken impressive steps forward, but what about the ‘performance’ bit? Well, there’s further good news.
Despite the increased dimensions, kerb weight has dropped by 30kg with 26kg of those coming from the nose courtesy of Audi’s latest alloy-crankcase five-pot.
It churns out 294kW and 480Nm resulting in a 0-100km/h claim of 4.5sec, a claim that we suspect is deeply conservative given its heavier, less powerful predecessor claimed 4.4sec.
Tighter emissions regulations have robbed the five-cylinder of some of its sparkle but its off-beat sound remains a key point of difference. It’s a great engine; there’s a slight delay in throttle response – it’s hard to know if it’s turbo lag or electronic these days – but with maximum torque arriving from 1950rpm and peak power continuing all the way to 7000rpm you’re rarely short of grunt.
The chassis is now more than up to the task of harnessing the horsepower, with wider tracks front and rear, 255mm-wide rubber (up 20mm), standard adaptive dampers, progressive-ratio steering and plenty of stopping power with 375mm discs with six-piston calipers at the business end.
What's the Audi RS Q3 like to drive?
Loose surfaces show the RS Q3 has the ability to wag its tail under brakes or throttle but there’s too much grip to do so on tarmac; nevertheless, it’s an entertaining drive, with an impressive resistance to understeer and composure in hard driving that you might not expect.
Selecting Dynamic mode doesn’t turn it into a hard riding, syrupy mess, either, though it feels more natural to relax the steering and suspension and save the combination into the new RS Mode button.
Click back into Comfort and the RS Q3 is an accommodating highway cruiser, though the ride turns choppy on poor surfaces. That variable steering ratio, too, feels a bit unnatural in day-to-day duties and some more lock wouldn’t go astray for parking duties.
All in all, though, the RS Q3 Sportback is a real surprise packet. It’s as fashionable for enthusiasts to sneer at these performance SUVs as it is for the general public to buy them in droves, but as a fast family hauler, this Audi is an impressively cohesive package.
Likes: Grunty engine; entertaining chassis; much more practical
Dislikes: occasional ride issues; variable steering; rear visibility
Engine: 2480cc inline-5cyl, DOHC, 20v, turbocharger
Power: 294kW @ 5850-7000rpm
Torque: 480Nm @ 1950-5850rpm
0-100km/h: 4.5sec (claimed)