Audi RS Q3 2020 2.5 tfsi quattro

2020 Audi RSQ3 review

International first drive

The new Audi RSQ3 is still powered by a barnstorming 2.5-litre five-cylinder in a market dominated by four-cylinder engines. It's a potent point of difference too.
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I find it intriguing when anyone reviews a 'sports SUV' and attempts to justify its execution. Sure, no one needs an Audi RSQ3, but that’s not really the point, is it? Surely?

No one needs a Porsche 911, Lamborghini Huracan, or a 6.2-litre rear-wheel drive V8 either, but that doesn’t stop most of us lusting after any of the above.

Funnily, many of those sports SUV detractors seem to opine a Porsche Macan is the panacea. Funny that…

I’m on the record here at CarAdvice as saying the sports SUV craze confounds me. I prefer an SUV to feel like an SUV and I like sports cars that feel like sports cars – ideally separately.

However, I’m also on the record as saying that, in the words of the great entertainers, ‘ya gotta give the fans what they want’.

And guess what? The fans want sports SUVs.

Most of us started to wonder a few years ago whether Audi had started to lose some of its mojo. By ‘us’, I mean those of us lucky enough to test drive cars for a living, the delivery of which includes delving into a brand’s past, present and future.

In many ways, the original RSQ3 was a sports SUV that was almost there. It didn’t quite make the sense it should have, despite the obvious appeal. Well, that’s all changed now.

The RSQ3 has grown up, significantly, and thankfully it’s still powered by a ballistic five-cylinder engine matched to a proficient seven-speed transmission and quattro all-wheel drive system.

The temptation to downsize to four cylinders must have been strong, but it’s a good thing Audi has resisted.

One important factor needs to be noted here. We reserve some judgement until we drive the new RSQ3 on local roads – largely because our international launch drive was entirely on ice.

We spent the better part of a day on a racetrack atop a frozen lake, but even our 200km plus road drive was an icy affair. We didn’t see a traditional bitumen road surface at all, thanks to our location some 100km from the arctic circle.

That means proper studded snow tyres for the duration, and conditions completely foreign to Australia.

It also means there are element of the drive experience we won’t be able to assess with an Australian bias, until we test the RSQ3 on sealed roads locally. To find its limits however, you’re going to need a racetrack, it doesn’t take very long to find that out – even on ice.

You can read our pricing and specification story for the full details but the RSQ3 will be available in traditional and Sportback (45mm lower roofline) body styles, with pricing starting from $89,900 before on-road costs.

Audi Australia thinks the split will be 50/50 between body styles at the outset, but it will be interesting to see how that changes over the on-sale life of the RSQ3. Let us know which shape you prefer in the comments section below to kick the debate off.

The centrepiece of the RSQ3’s skillset is the ballistic 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, which generates a hefty 294kW and 480Nm, in what seems like completely effortless fashion.

It will thunder the RSQ3 from 0-100km/h in just 4.3 seconds. Following the addition of a petrol particulate filter, the five-cylinder is now cleaner, more efficient and it’s also lighter – 18kg thanks to the aluminium crank case alone.

Thanks to the RS sports exhaust and uncharacteristic firing order, the five-cylinder sounds fantastic, especially at the limit when you’re using the throttle to steer through slippery, frozen corners.

It’s a distinctive combination of a raspy engine note and screaming exhaust soundtrack for sure, unmatched by a four-cylinder no matter how highly-strung it is.

Audi probably doesn’t get the retrospective credit it deserves for its incredibly competent Quattro AWD system, which delivers unbelievable amounts of grip, even on ice.

Our hot laps in the passenger seat with an ex-WRC driver at the wheel illustrate just how much grip you can access at the limit and how fast you can be on a slippery surface, when you’re assisted by such a well-executed drive system.

Ice driving is insane fun and for mine, I’d much rather be working out my drift angles and trying to improve my car control on this kind of surface than looking for tenths on a racetrack. Or trying to hit an apex perfectly.

Ice driving is definitely a bigger laugh, that’s for sure. It’s difficult initially to compute just how balanced the RSQ3 is at the limit – it's the first thing that comes into play as you increase speed on the ice.

It’s been a while since I drove the old RSQ3, but every reaction now seems sharper and more balanced. The steering is precise and direct, the way the engine delivers its power and torque is linear and smooth, and the gearbox rifles through shifts no matter how hard you’re nudging redline.

On a sealed road, you’d have to try pretty hard to take the AWD system to a place where it isn’t comfortable, that’s for sure.

Unsurprisingly we found the carbon ceramic brakes fitted to our test cars to be more suited to the track component of the drive. They are effective on-road of course, but they respond better to repeated use and the generation of heat through the rotors.

We’ve seen international reports claiming the RSQ3 rides firmly on the road without adaptive dampers but our test cars all had them fitted, so we can’t make that judgement. It's a moot point anyway, given they're standard in Australia.

The way the RSQ3 piles on speed is something you don’t expect from an SUV, but it’s so well balanced and sure footed you feel more and more confident to push on, even on a low grip surface – it’s the benefit of the Quattro system.

Road noise is a tough one to isolate as well, given we’re driving on ice with relatively firm, studded rubber.

The sports seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel hint at the performance level as soon as you sit inside the new RSQ3, and the execution of the cabin is typical Audi – solid and neat.

The 10.1-inch centre screen is clear and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In front of the driver, there’s the now-expected Virtual Cockpit – something you wonder how you lived without, now we’re accustomed to it.

I really liked the clarity of the infotainment screen, and its response to commands is sharp.

The RSQ3 has a sliding second row that allows you to access more leg room, or move the seats forward to store longer items in the luggage space.

While plenty of people are going to love the Sportback, I prefer the ‘regular’ RSQ3, from both a design and practicality perspective.

For me, this segment is not without its faults – but I’m not convinced there’s a better offering than the Audi RSQ3, although local comparison testing will tell that story when we get our hands on it in Australia. This new RSQ3 is better than its predecessor, but our scoring puts it level with the previous model - for now. We'll revisit those scores when it lands locally.

What the Audi RSQ3 does do, is provide a point of difference thanks to the five-cylinder engine. For many buyers that will be enough to tip it over the edge. It’s fast, flexible, and reassuring. In other words, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.