The new breed

The first of the new RS onslaught hit our shores.

Here at last – the second generation Audi RS Q3 and its all-new stablemate, the RS Q3 Sportback, arrive Down Under and light a bonfire under the compact, high-performance SUV ranks.

Mark Bramley

17 July, 2020


The arrival of the second-generation RS Q3 and the first-ever RS Q3 Sportback take the whole concept and performance to a completely new level

It’s the better part of seven years since Audi Sport first whisked the original Audi Q3 away and reinvented it as a high-performance, compact SUV. You could pretty successfully argue that it was the first of its type, but as with all good ideas, it was quickly joined by company, looking to get in on the idea of a compact lifestyle vehicle with serious performance potential.

Since then, a revised RS Q3 performance model has further pushed the envelope, but the arrival of the second-generation RS Q3 ($89,900*) and the first-ever RS Q3 Sportback ($92,900*) take the whole concept and performance to a completely new level.

The styling of the new generation Q3 received plenty of praise when it was unveiled last year, and the new RS variant takes that and makes it even more robust and muscular. The vehicle is physically larger than its predecessor and when you add the RS styling cues and the far more aggressive front end, the new model takes on a completely different persona. One that sill manages to remain subtle and doesn’t rely on garish body add-ons to achieve the result.

The major difference with the RS Q3 Sportback is of course the new styling featuring Audi’s trademark Sportback design. This coupe-like profile and sloping roofline changes the dynamic considerably, making it look longer and slightly lower than its ‘SUV’ sibling. In fact is slightly lower, but to all intents and purposes, the two vehicles are very similar in dimensions.

Interior space is almost identical, so the choice is down to personal preference. Again we’re talking elegant yet aggressive in the customary RS way, and while the Kyalami green seen here is certainly not subtle, the design of the RS Q3 Sportback is extremely restrained when you see what it’s capable of.

Of course both cars are wider than their Q contemporaries, but this is as much to accommodate the standard 21-inch alloy wheels as it is to make a statement. The subtle roof spoilers likewise serve a practical purpose, as do the massive air intakes on each side of the wide Singleframe grille with its honeycomb finish. 

The interior design too is impressive in the quality of its finish and the functional nature of the design. It is both extremely comfortable and beautifully considered, with everything positioned within easy reach of the driver with readouts visible at a glance. On test, one of the cars also featured the RS design package with is distinctive colour coded interiors. This features Alcantara inlays which add a completely different feel, but worked in beautifully with the very modern layout. Again, this is going to be a matter of personal taste and style how you choose to finish your vehicle, but it certainly adds a new dimension and lets you indulge your colourful side.

Of course the tech is absolutely state-of-the-art, from the touchscreens, to the Audi virtual cockpit which features customisable RS-specific screens information – think G force indicator, power and torque outputs – add in the functions you most want to monitor.

Then there’s the flat-bottom multi-function wheel that allows you to control all manner of functions without taking your hands off the wheel – including the gear changes if you decide to use the paddles. The wheel also features the RS mode button, which gives quick access to two customisable settings controlled and preset through the Audi drive select. 

This is invaluable and allows you to select with just the press of the button, pre-set suspension, drive and steering inputs to suit a specific situation – say, dynamic drive and steering with a more comfort oriented suspension setup to take full advantage of the RS Q3’s ride height over ordinary B-roads. Or maybe pure dynamic for when conditions are just right. 

Of course both cars are wider than their Q contemporaries, but this is as much to accommodate the standard 21-inch alloy wheels as it is to make a statement

Lighter than the previous 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, this superb powerplant produces 294kW and 480Nm of torque between 1950rpm and 5850rpm, which results in a 0 to100km/h time of 4.5 seconds

With these pre-set, the whole driving dynamics are changed with the press of a button on the wheel, so no searching around for the Drive Select or other car functions as you hit the road. One press and you’re off.

Which of course brings us to the soul of these RS Q3 models – the famous five-cylinder engine. The sound alone is worth the price of admission, a distinctive snarl that just never gets old, but the performance figures are just as impressive. Lighter than the previous 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, this superb powerplant produces 294kW and 480Nm of torque between 1950rpm and 5850rpm, which results in a 0 to100km/h time of 4.5 seconds – that seemingly endless torque always on hand to surge out of corners with nary a hint of lag.

Acceleration off the line fast becomes one of those great pleasures that can be experienced legally in any situation – as long as you remember to back off once you reach the legal limit. The sound of the five-cylinder under load is just one of the great pleasures driving these cars, and while any Australian speed limit arrives way too fast, that howl remains one of the great automotive accompaniments.

This amazing powerplant mates to a seven-speed S tronic transmission that can be controlled manually via the wheel-mounted paddles or through the gear select, where the ’S’ option delivers sharp, accurate shifts with absolutely lightening speed.

The standard steel brakes feel bullet proof, with 375mm discs up front with six-piston callipers and 310mm on the rear more than up to the performance of the RS Q3s and providing that invaluable measure of confidence when braking deep or late. The option exists to go with larger, ceramic brakes which are also lighter.

The RS sport suspension plus with dynamic chassis control, features adaptive dampers and delivers a brilliant ride that can again be tailored to the conditions and essentially the mood. Comfort is … well, comfortable, and with dynamic, you feel the difference in ride and responsiveness.

And let’s not forget that these are ‘Q’ models, SUVs in the mainstream parlance, and that means that they ride higher than a conventional car or wagon, yet this does not translate to body roll when the wick is turned up. The RS Q3 models stay beautifully composed regardless of the speed, hunkering down with a feeling more like a small sportscar than an SUV of any size.

Progressive steering and of course Audi’s famous quattro all-wheel drive make for a surefooted combination that never feels anything but planted and on top of the situation.

Effortless and exhilarating pretty much sums it up, and the RS Q3 can just keep doping it all day long if the roads are there. Of course, life is sadly not just one big big spirited drive after another, but even when the confines of reality hit – read, slower traffic or even bumper to bumper – the RS Q3 slips easily back into luxury ride mode. The ride is simply switched back to ‘comfort’ on the drive select, you can nestle back in to the Nappa-covered seats and switch on the seat heating if the weather outside is inclement. The soundtrack that is the five-cylinder powerplant won’t get to play as much in heavy city traffic, but the 680watt Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system is a pretty fair substitute.

They do it that easily these RS Q3 models. Super fast and sorted when required and super luxurious and accomplished as required. The Audi RS Q3 of all those years ago has really come of age, and it seems more comfortable than ever on Australian roads.

(*Manufacturer List Pricing [MLP] – excludes dealer delivery and government statutory charges)

Effortless and exhilarating pretty much sums it up, and the RS Q3 in either guise can just keep doping it all day long