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Driven: Audi RS Q3 Sportback. Image by Audi UK.

Driven: Audi RS Q3 Sportback
Not everyone is going to like this thing, irrespective of its magnificent five-cylinder engine. But we think itís bloody great.

   



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Audi RS Q3 Sportback

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: the looks, the noise, the performance, the interior, the refinement, the handling

Not so good: can be expensive with options

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi RS Q3 Sportback
Price: Q3 Sportback range from £33,295; RS Q3 Sportback from £53,625, car as tested £59,700; or, RS Q3 Sportback from £673.96pcm across 48-month/10,000-mile per annum contract with 10 per cent deposit, optional final payment of £26,002.95 (5.9% APR representative example)
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol
Transmission: seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic, quattro permanent all-wheel drive with electronically controlled multi-plate clutch
Body style: five-door performance coupe-SUV
CO2 emissions: 230g/km (VED Band 226-255: £1,850 in year one, then £475 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 28mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Power: 400hp at 5,850-7,000rpm
Torque: 480Nm at 1,950-5,850rpm
Boot space: 530-1,525 litres

Our view:

This is the sort of car that's going to wildly split opinion; some will love it on sight, others will loathe it on principle. It's the Audi RS Q3, Sportback variation (you can have the same powerful motor and beefed up chassis in regular SUV form, if you'd prefer), and many folks are not fans of coupe-SUVs. Also, the original RS Q3 didn't particularly light everyone's fire, even though it felt special at the time because Audi didn't then make any other RS-badged SUV. Sure, you could have an SQ5 as an alternative and the monster SQ7 was just over the horizon, but only one pukka Audi Sport crossover was possible in the Audi pantheon back in the mid-2010s.

Maybe the new RS Q3 won't feel as delectable, then, given there are now a lot more high-performance SUV choices in the carmaker's portfolio and even far grander ones which sport the heralded RS logo too. So this mighty Sportback is no longer unique in the Audi range, or indeed the world - as there are plenty of rapid crossover options provided by other manufacturers. It's based on a broadly unloved breed of SUV, there's most likely a new RS 3 Sportback with the same engine imminent (which will be a lighter and lower car), and to cap it all the RS Q3 is expensive. A starting price nearing £54,000 can easily be swollen to nearly £60,000, as with our test car, through just a few choice options like the Comfort & Sound Pack (£995), RS Sport suspension plus (£995, it's the adaptive damping, basically), Matrix LED headlights (£850), 21-inch wheels (£125) and an RS Sport exhaust (£1,000), among more. Bolt all these on and you're suddenly at £59,700. Granted, there are two better-specified models of RS Q3 that load much of this stuff in for less than they'd cost as individual options on the 'regular' version, but at £59,370 and £62,920 respectively, the Audi Sport Edition and Vorsprung models aren't exactly affordable either.

However. We preferred the old RS Q3 to its RS 3 Sportback alternative (the RS 3 Saloon was, weirdly, another matter, though), and having had a week in this RS Q3 Sportback then we're inclined to think we won't be wanting the new RS 3 Sportback when it finally arrives. Because the RS Q3 is genuinely superb; not just as a fast SUV, but as a fast family vehicle of any shape or size. Enthralling, brazenly noisy (in the right way), comfortable when needed, great cabin - there's so much to love about this particular Audi.

Let's start with the engine. As Neil said when he drove this car's more upright-backed sibling and remarked upon how dominant a part of the proceedings it was, the 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged unit might well be a familiar old trick that Audi has pulled many a time before to try and deflect us from dynamic shortcomings elsewhere with a particular package, but that should not detract from what a sublime engine this continues to be. Now it has been ramped up to thunderous outputs of 400hp and 480Nm, it's better than ever and what's most appealing of all is that we can't think of another application of it in the past five or six years which sounds more ferocious than the RS Q3 Sportback. It's laugh-out-loud raucous, this facet perhaps vindicating dropping a fat thousand pounds on the RS Sport exhaust, and there isn't a model in Audi's catalogue which has a voice anything like as enduring as this, save for the lofty R8 performance.

Such an absorbing soundtrack overlays performance which is seriously, seriously quick. Be in no doubt that the RS Q3 Sportback, all 1,790kg of it, is every gram a 4.5-seconds-to-62mph machine. The rapid-acting S tronic transmission and the unimpeachable traction of the quattro system both ensure that not one iota of the five-cylinder powerplant's devastating thump is wasted in the slightest. You plant the throttle in the RS Q3 Sportback, you'd better have plenty of room for the ensuing fireworks. It feels almost every bit as rabid and demented as the C8 RS 6 Avant, and we're sure of this because the RS Q3 Sportback arrived for evaluation immediately after the ultimate A6 wagon. If you want a clue as to why it's such a strong motor, look at the calibration of it; peak torque hits from less than 2,000rpm and stays all the way until 5,850rpm, whereupon maximum power takes you all the way out to a marvellous 7,000rpm crescendo. It has flexibility, muscle and reach. It is a jewel of a unit, of a type that surely cannot continue for very much longer in the automotive world. We will miss this Audi five-cylinder terribly once it has gone, so much better to revel in it now, while we still can.

Nevertheless, where the RS Q3 goes on to cement its position emphatically, building on the platform of loony pace and gorgeous tunes it has already laid down, is that it's no wallowing mess in the corners. The optional adjustable dampers do a fabulous job of keep the Audi's shell on an even keel, and better still the seating position in the RS Q3 Sportback is spot-on. It's high enough that you feel it's worthwhile having a crossover in the first place, rather than simply purchasing a hot hatchback instead, and yet it's not so vertiginous that you feel like you might topple over in the corners when you're ragging the 400hp SUV on your favourite road. Throw in some of the better Audi RS multimode steering we've tried, superb brakes, and an involving chassis that doesn't feel all leaden and nose-heavy, and we had a truly joyous time throwing the RS Q3 Sportback around. So much so that we completely forgot we were in an SUV at all. It really does convey the air of being a coupe; it just happens to be a slightly taller, chunkier, family-friendly coupe, that's all.

But the SUV strengths are preserved. Despite riding on optional 21-inch wheels (20s are the standard rim), which understandably give a firmer gait to the ride quality, the RS Q3 is nevertheless ridiculously comfortable to travel in. Its mighty drivetrain is beautifully calibrated for low-speed manoeuvring and everyday road speeds, while it gave back an astounding 34.4mpg on one steady A-road cruise. This is a 400hp, five-cylinder turbocharged, AWD SUV that clocks in at 1.8 tonnes, remember, and it does without any fuel-saving mild-hybrid tech either. To achieve mid-30s, and not even on a motorway run at that, is quite sensational. Admittedly, 23.3mpg across 206 miles of driving rather tells the tale of how juicy the five-pot can be when you're enjoying its particular set of charms, but even that's not an appalling return for a machine this potent and this blisteringly fast.

And yet the RS Q3 has a big boot; fully 535 litres, a massive 210 litres more than you'd get in the current S3 Sportback (and therefore, almost certainly, also 210 litres more than the new RS 3 Sportback will have). And adults can sit in the second row, with no real impediment to headroom brought about by that rakish roof. And the interior is exceptional, with some of Audi's latest gizmos, like a 10.1-inch MMI Touch infotainment screen and 12.3-inch Virtual Cluster of extraordinary clarity, mixed neatly with ergonomic brilliance like physical HVAC controls and smashing RS bucket seats.

The crowning glory of all of this is that we might very well be looking here at the first coupe-SUV that is easier on the eye than its source material. It helps that the regular Sportback is such a fine piece of styling anyway, and once you start throwing RS accoutrements like whopping oval exhaust pipes, big alloys, silver detailing and aggressive air intakes into the mix, you end up with a glorious end result. It's not that we're saying the standard Q3 is in any way ugly, but we'd definitely be going for the Sportback option with the RS Q3. Also, allow us to heap generous praise upon Audi for its bright paint palette right now. You're looking at a Turbo Blue car with the regular silver external flashes in the pics and very nice it is too; Audi really is on a roll with colours right now, as Turbo is excellent, as are Sonoma Green and Python Yellow. But we can highly recommend getting your RS Q3 Sportback in stunning Kyalami Green (£575) with the black exterior styling pack (£295). The resulting vehicle looks utterly terrific. Yep, we said it: terrific.

So there we are. While others are going to try and find fault with the Audi RS Q3 Sportback because of their own prejudices, we're happy to go on record as saying it's one of our favourite RS models, or even fast Audis as a whole, that we've sampled so far. The old RS Q3 was a hoot because it was such a wild ride, but Audi Sport has polished the rougher kinematic edges of that car and served up a thoroughly delightful beast here. Feeling way more special and talented than even something likeable such as the SQ2, it's a fast SUV you can thoroughly get behind. Sure, at £60,000 or thereabouts, it's not a long stretch to bag an RS 4 Avant, which is sorely tempting.

But we could sit here extemporising about what else you could spend £60,000 on instead of the RS Q3 Sportback and we'd be here all day. The fact of the matter is that Audi set out to deliver a truly rewarding fast SUV with stylish coupe looks, one that marries plenty of practicality with oodles of desirability and dynamic talent. Looking at that list of attributes, you can see it's an onerous task to even attempt to achieve such brilliance in disparate areas. But that's precisely what Audi Sport has served up here. This is easily one of the best performance SUVs you can possibly buy.

Alternatives:

Audi S3 Sportback: a cheeky one, but is an RS Q3 Sportback unnecessary overkill when there's a ten-grand-cheaper, 310hp S3 to go at? Er... the answer is 'no, the RS Q3 is not overkill', because only one of these two cars has bucketloads of charisma. And it ain't the hatchback...

BMW X4 M40i: this is from a class above the normal Q3 (the BMW X3/X4 go up against the Audi Q5), but Audi rightly considers the X4 M40i a rival as it 'only' has a 360hp engine, whereas the RS is 40hp further up the road. And Ingolstadt might have a point; we'd definitely plump for the Audi in a straight head-to-head decision.

Volkswagen T-Roc R: another 'stablemate' and Volkswagen would probably rightly suggest the incoming 320hp Tiguan R as the more natural alternative to the RS Q3. That said, the T-Roc R is weirdly beguiling and we'd perhaps opt for it instead of the Audi, if it weren't for some truly suspect interior finishing and an optioned-up price of nearly 50 grand for the last one we drove.


Matt Robinson - 14 Aug 2020



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2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.

2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi RS Q3 Sportback UK test. Image by Audi UK.








 

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