Audi’s second-generation small performance SUV gets angrier looks and more power - but can it deliver driver appeal too?

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The second generation RS Q3 arrives in a crowded market - a far cry from the original car, which effectively kick-started the trend for performance compact SUVs when it arrived in 2013.

It was the first time the then Audi Quattro GmbH had turned its attention to any kind of SUV, but now Audi Sport has a stable of the things. The Audi SQ2 now acts as a high-riding alternative to the current crop of hot hatchbacks, freeing up the RS Q3 and its RS Q3 Sportback sibling to take on the Porsche Macan, BMW X3 M40i and forthcoming Mercedes-AMG GLA45.

Meteoric point-to-point progress is the order of the day here, not driver engagement

It’s also a sign of the times that Audi expects the more traditional car to be the less popular model, with the RS Q3 Sportback predicted to make up 60% of UK sales.

Beyond the Sportback's lower roofline, which saps rear headroom and eats into boot space (but only when you fold the rear seats), the two cars are effectively identical, sitting 10mm lower than a standard Audi Q3 and riding on 20in alloy wheels (21s on Audi Sport Edition and Vorsprung models). Twin exhausts, now a staple of Audi’s full-blooded RS models, also make an appearance - the first generation RS Q3 made do with one.

Both Q3s share the same familiar five-pot turbo engine as the first-generation car, as well as the current TT RS, though the addition of a petrol particulate filter means it doesn’t pop and bang quite as vigorously as it once did. Liberal use of aluminium has reduced weight by 26kg, and power has been tuned to 394bhp. Despite a 15kg weight penalty, the Q3 matches the Sportback to the same 155mph restricted top speed - a limit that can be optionally removed for an Autobahn-blasting 174mph. Quattro permanent all-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic gearbox deliver 0-62mph in a hyper hatch-baiting 4.5 seconds.

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The RS Q3 feels unsurprisingly similar to the Q3 Sportback on the road, albeit with a slightly better view through the rear windscreen. Its taller roofline and extra weight don’t make a significant difference to body roll or lean through the corners, at least at the speeds possible on our test route, and the confidence-inspiring grip levels we expect from Audi’s RS models is present and correct.

Meteoric point-to-point progress is the order of the day here, not driver engagement. There’s a slight disconnect between what the front tyres are doing and your inputs through the progressive steering rack, which speeds up the further it turns, and while the Quattro system can send as much as 85% of the available torque to the rear axle, it's primarily a front-driven system, and always remains composed when hustled out of corners.

The five-pot’s solitary turbocharger doesn’t deliver a singular punch of thrust, managing instead to meter out shove throughout the rev band and onto a 7000rpm redline. It can be violently fast off the line, the all-wheel drive system helping all 395bhp to find traction at a rate on par with the pricier Porsche Macan Turbo

Access to all that power isn’t always instant, though; the automatic gearbox takes its time to drop cogs unless set to Sport mode. This can be troubling when attempting overtakes, so it’s better to use the wheel-mounted paddle shifters for a more direct response. 

Happily the addition of two customisable RS driving modes (and a button on the steering wheel to swap between them) makes it easier to switch from regular driving to maximum performance, though the adaptive dampers are best left in their most comfortable setting. In Dynamic they become extra stiff and cause all but the smoothest of road surfaces to feel rutted and coarse. It’s more refined at city speeds, and fares much better than some harshly sprung rivals, but the focus is very much on assured handling over comfort.

Inside, front sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel set the RS apart from the recently facelifted Q3. It gets the same 10.1in infotainment screen and 12.3in virtual cockpit instrument cluster, with an additional RS-specific screen that puts rev count, speed and other performance metrics right in your eyeline. The technology is easily on par with other class-leaders, though rivals perhaps do a better job when it comes to materials; the standard Q3's scratchier plastics are easily found here, which is a little unbecoming of a car costing upwards of £60,000.

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That depends on how much you value an inch or two of extra headroom for your rear passengers, or a hundred extra litres of boot space with the rear seats folded. 

When the (in this tester’s opinion) better looking Q3 Sportback is available for an amount unlikely to make a big difference to your monthly PCP payment, it’s the only real case for buying this instead.

As it is, the Q3 is a pricey compact SUV in a class filled with rivals that best it for interior finish, if not outright pace.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Audi RS Q3