With a potent five-cylinder engine and quattro AWD underpinnings, the all-new 2020 Audi RS Q3 provides a real point of difference to the hi-po four-cylinder brigade. It’s a big step forward from the old RS Q3, too, which always seemed to be an afterthought rather than a pre-planning exercise.
In short, it’s grown up. The new RS Q3 is bigger, faster, better and more proficient than the model it replaces. If you’re in the market for a hot hatch masquerading as an SUV, you’ll only need to work out whether you want the conventional SUV body style or the Sportback.
Given everything that has gone on since, our international drive on frozen roads in Sweden (which was only back in February) seems like years ago. Our only reservation at the time was the way the firm suspension would cope with Australia's rubbish road network.
Thankfully, as part of a wider RS range drive, Audi had planned for a solid country drive out to the central west of NSW from Sydney, with plenty of coarse-chip B-roads on the menu.
Firstly, referencing the previous RS Q3 as an ‘afterthought’ might be a little unfair, but that vehicle always seemed like a case of Audi realising it needed a performance SUV in the small segment after the fact. This new Q3 was designed from the outset, though, with a hardcore RS version in mind, and it’s all the better for it.
The five-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine hammers out 294kW between 5850rpm and 7000rpm, and 480Nm between 1950rpm and 5850rpm. In concert with the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic and quattro AWD system, it propels the RS Q3 from 0–100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
Does it feel fast when you’re behind the wheel? Very. In fact, it feels fast under any circumstance.
The ADR fuel claim is 8.9L/100km on the combined cycle. We saw numbers higher than that at launch, so we’ll test more closely when we spend a week with the RS Q3. Fuel use tends to go up when you’re working the engine hard at the speed limit on a twisty road…
Pricing for the regular RS Q3 starts from $89,900 before on-road costs, while the Sportback steps up to $92,900 before on-road costs. Whether you want to 'pay more for less' will be a style-based decision.
MORE: RS Q3 PRICE AND SPECS
Both have their appeal, there's no doubt about that. Interestingly, the Sportback provides almost identical useable luggage space despite the more steeply raked roof line – both body styles list the same 530L capacity.
First up, then, the ride quality on NSW’s local road network. We spent the international launch on ice and snow with studded snow tyres, so it was always going to be a factor to consider when the chance came to sample the RS Q3 locally on Australian roads.
Keep in mind, too, that the three RS Q3 test vehicles we cycle through are all fitted with the RS sport suspension package and adaptive dampers, which is part of the standard specification in Australia.
Our launch test vehicles are also riding on 21-inch wheels with 255/35 tyres (a standard size, but available in a choice of three optional designs), so while they are undoubtedly liquorice strips on big-diameter wheels, the ride is competent. Yes, it’s firm, and it errs more on the side of performance than comfort, but it’s never harsh during our country drive.
Even when you do encounter a big rut or bump, the RS Q3 doesn’t crash through it, bottom out or lose composure. What the tyres do contribute to, though, is the incredible feeling of balance, grip and poise that the RS Q3 maintains at any time and at any speed.
Chasing an RS6 Avant, RS7 Sportback and R8 through twisty switchbacks, the RS Q3 is right there with its bigger-ticket siblings, pushing them hard, yapping at their heels, and doing so with consummate ease.
The RS Q3 is a rapid SUV that demands a racetrack to discover the outer edges of its performance envelope, but it never ceases to amaze how sharp and focused it can be on a demanding road.
If you want the best of both worlds – performance and practicality – the RS Q3 delivers in impressive fashion. Sure, the kids might not like a warp-speed blast through a twisty section in the second row, but knowing you can access that level of performance is a win in itself.
Firing back off the gully walls, the five-cylinder sounds nasty and potent – the RS sports exhaust makes a difference here, but so does the extra cylinder and unconventional firing order.
The five-pot feels like it’s making the power and torque effortlessly, too, spinning out to redline smoothly, popping and crackling on the downshift, and screaming away at redline.
It’s a genuinely engaging engine to push hard, and it doesn’t feel remotely highly strung despite the power and torque on offer.
On that same twisty road, the quattro system positions itself (as it has for some time now) as the most competent AWD system from any manufacturer. It’s safe, confidence-inspiring, and brilliant whether the road surface is wet or dry.
The level of technicality at play beneath the skin is overshadowed by the effortless competence of what’s going on around you.
The steering deserves mention here, too – it’s sharp, precise and direct – ensuring the RS Q3 goes exactly where you want it to go and sticks to the line you choose without deviation.
The front end is so sharp, you will need to remind yourself you’re behind the wheel of an SUV. Likewise, the brakes, which take whatever you can ask of them, and are resistant to fade – certainly on the road anyway.
The seven-speed S tronic automatic is beautifully matched to the five-cylinder engine, and makes a mockery of the ‘more is more’ claim from the eight-, nine- and 10-speed gearbox brigade. There is simply no occasion when you feel like more ratios are needed, and the shifts are smooth whether you’re pushing hard or in the mood for an easy cruise.
The other factor we couldn’t really work out at the international launch was road noise inside the cabin. Studded snow tyres are hardly a fair way to judge the amount of noise coming into the cabin when you’re driving on ice. On a country road, the cabin is quieter than expected, with some tyre noise, of course, but nowhere near as much as you might expect.
The flat-bottom steering wheel and sports seats leave no doubt as to the pretension of the vehicle you’re driving in any case, and the cabin is beautifully executed.
There’s no doubt the RS Q3 provides a point of difference thanks to its five-cylinder engine. Whether that’s something you value is a personal thing, but for us it’s noteworthy given the way automotive design can tend to homogenise.
The Sportback grows on you, too, the more you look at it, but for us the conventional body style is still the one to have.
The jury might still be out on whether the world really ‘needs’ performance SUVs, but one thing’s not up for debate – the RS Q3 is up there with the best of them.