Car reviews - Audi - Q3 - RS Q3
Characterful engine, focused dynamics, liveable ride, generous practicality, bright colours, equipment
Room for improvement
Hard lower dash and door plastics not up to old-Audi standards, engine deserves a bit more bark
Audi’s new RS Q3 lifts its game in sophistication, dynamic performance, model choice
16 Jul 2020
AUDI claims it invented the “Premium Compact High-Performance SUV” niche with its first-ever RS Q3, which launched in Australia back in early 2014. And there’s no doubting the success of this performance flagship, seeing around 500 of them found homes here over the next five years.
But the old RS Q3 was never quite all it could be. Riding on a circa-2003 platform (the PQ35, a la Golf Mk5/6) with an oddly undersized body and an undoubtedly oversized engine (Audi’s 2480cc iron-block five-cylinder), the original RS Q3’s balance of powers didn’t quite unite to form a strong party.
But second time around, the new-generation RS Q3 knows exactly what it needs to be – as practical as any SUV within earshot of its size and price, backed by not only bahn-storming performance but also cutting-edge dynamics and a standard equipment list with more highlights than a Schitt’s Creek show-reel.
All for a price that’s only marginally northwards of what a 2014 RS Q3 cost when new.
In fast SUV terms, it not only sounds promising, it is promising.
As detailed extensively by GoAuto back in February, the 2020 RS Q3 (priced from $89,900 plus on-road costs) and coupe-like RS Q3 Sportback (from $92,900) leave no stone unturned in their quest for performance bragging rights.
Aussie cars are like an Audi Sport burger with the lot – standard 21-inch alloys in anthracite black with diamond-turned finish and 255/35 tyres, RS sports suspension plus with adaptive damping, and an RS sports exhaust system (with dual black-edged oval tailpipes), along with a cracking 15-speaker Bang and Olufsen 3D sound system and every available assistance system in the Q3’s safety-tech cache.
Indeed, so fully equipped is the Oz-spec RS Q3 that it boasts just two options that aren’t appearance-related – an electric glass sunroof ($2700 on the Sportback or $2900 on the wagon with electric sunshade) and 380mm ceramic front brakes ($10,600).
Thanks to a big leap forward in engineering modernity, the new-gen RS Q3 is primed right from the showroom floor. While the wagon has gained 50kg in additional flab (now 1715kg – the Sportback is 1700kg), the greater space its larger body brings pays dividends every time you use it.
An extra 77mm in wheelbase and 100mm in overall length makes the second-gen Q3 so space efficient that it’s starting to encroach on Q5 territory. And while the RS Q3 Sportback’s 45mm-lower roofline means it concedes a small amount of headroom and rear-seat flexibility to its wagon sibling, both versions still offer an expansive 530 litres of boot space beneath their luggage covers.
Yet it’s the heart of the matter that underpins the RS Q3’s characterful appeal. Audi’s five-cylinder performance SUV finally gains the same engine tune as its RS3 Sportback and TT RS coupe relatives, along with a petrol particulate filter, and an aluminium cylinder block and crankcase for an overall weight saving of 26kg.
Power jumps to 294kW (up 24kW) from 5850-7000rpm, while torque hits 480Nm (up 15Nm) between 1950 and 5850rpm. As these on-paper numbers imply, the result is a wonderfully flexible and driveable engine, equally as happy gurgling along at low revs in a tall gear as it is redlining its boomerang-shaped digital tacho. And thanks to the engine’s 1-2-4-5-3 firing order, there’s an ever-present thrum that becomes magnified the harder you drive it.
All Aussie RS Q3s get a sports exhaust system that probably does more for the ear hairs of bystanders than the actual driver, though the rear pipes often emit a crackle when downshifting and a subtle blurt when upshifting.
The standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission amplifies those exhaust theatrics, and proves generally superb in almost all areas besides an occasional hiccup with the timing of Audi’s idle-stop system.
The local launch drive for the RS Q3 (and most other new 2020 RS models) was meant to be at one of Australia’s premier racetracks but coronavirus-related travel restrictions tossed that idea into a recycle bin. Instead, the new-gen RS Q3s were left to show their talents on some of country NSW’s twistiest, most challenging roads … and for family-oriented SUVs that also party, they delivered.
Some form of adaptive damping is crucial for almost any large-wheeled performance variant to bond with Australian surfaces, and that’s exactly what the 21-inch-wheeled RS Q3 does. It’s by no means A8-plush on bumpy roads but you can leave the RS Q3 with its suspension set to ‘Balanced’ (the middle of three settings) and enjoy an enviable blend of body control with ride absorbency, even wearing such massive wheels.
In tight cornering, the RS Q3 proves steadfastly on its game, with unexpectedly neutral balance even when driven right to its limit. Brake deep into a corner, point the variable-ratio steering where you want to go and boot it. The virtually foolproof RS Q3 simply claws the tarmac and blasts its way forward with the urgency you’d expect from a 0-100km/h claim of 4.5 seconds.
Even the standard brakes – 375mm front discs with six-piston callipers and 310mm rear discs – are capable of copping a caning (on the road, at least). You’ll smell them before you start to notice any pedal fade, though I’d imagine the optional ceramics would be a wise investment for punishing racetracks like Phillip Island. Not that you’d imagine such stopping force to be a hugely pressing issue for SUV buyers but the RS Q3 can if you want it to.
In fact, that’s arguably the most compelling thing about the RS Q3 siblings – their dual personalities. Comfy family hauler one day; intimidating twisty-road mauler the next.
You can configure the suspension’s drive-select set-up into two distinct arrangements (via the centre touchscreen), which can then be accessed by the ‘RS mode’ button on the steering wheel. And you then have two distinct RS Q3 driving experiences – lighter steering, cushier ride, less engine noise, or my preference, balanced suspension, dynamic steering, dynamic differential and ‘pronounced’ engine sound. It’s a combination that grows on you the more time you spend in the car.
Ultimately, you might wonder why Audi has even bothered with a Sportback variant when it looks so similar to the regular RS Q3 wagon. You really need to concentrate on that D-pillar angle and rear-side window size to know which one you’re looking at. But they complement each other handsomely.
The racier Sportback (identifiable from behind by the ‘blade’ line set into the rear bumper, above the diffuser) is already a highly capable and flexible four/five-seat SUV, yet on the flipside, the more upright wagon looks sporty enough to already possess an element of coupe-like appeal. If seats-down luggage volume is the decider, then Audi provides an intelligent alternative.
If you want to be noticed, Audi also provides an eight-strong array of lurid colours that includes Pulse Orange, Turbo Blue and a new, near-fluorescent colour called Kyalami Green, as well as a more traditional new hue called Nardo Grey. And it’s this refreshing level of choice, backed by a newfound ability as an all-rounder that gives the RS Q3 such strong appeal.
Hell, it even has value-for-money on its side. And more than ever, that means loads, on every level.
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