The steel-sprung RS sits 10mm lower than a regular Q3 Sportback, with MacPherson struts at the front and four-link suspension at the rear. Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping is optional on Audi Sport Edition models but comes as standard on top-spec Vorsprung cars, along with 21in alloy wheels, 360-deg parking camera and a full suite of driver assistance systems including adaptive cruise.
It is as explosively potent as you’d expect of any car with an RS badge, the five-cylinder engine responding quickly at the lower end of the rev range and confidently on to a 7000rpm redline. Even small gaps become overtaking opportunities, and off-the-line acceleration is fierce thanks to the impressive tractive abilities of the all-wheel drive system, while power delivery is more nuanced than its single turbocharger would suggest.
It sounds the part, too, and while a petrol particulate filter and the need to comply with new emissions rules have silenced the pops and bangs we know the engine is capable of delivering, the distinctive snarl is still more evocative than a four-pot BMW X2 M35i.
That you can now switch between two customisable driving modes using a button on the steering wheel makes it far easier to swap between comfort-oriented city driving and maximum B-road attack, too.
The somewhat indecisive automatic gearbox doesn’t gel well with the amount of power available to your right foot, though. It’s perfectly smooth at city speeds, but ask for more and it can take a little too long to drop a cog and deliver all 395bhp. Engage sport mode and things tighten up, though it’s best to take charge yourself using the wheel-mounted paddles for the best response. And even then, upshifts can feel a little lethargic at times.
The Sportback delivers the kind of assured handling we associate with the RS range, letting you make rapid point-to-point progress while remaining predictable at all times, if lacking in true driver engagement. The progressive steering rack doesn’t give much sense of what the front tyres are doing through corners, and there’s little playfulness to be found from the rear end when pushed.
On the smoothest roads and the optional adaptive dampers set to their most comfortable, the Sportback is just about relaxed enough, but still jostles on rougher surfaces. Dynamic mode is a lot more brittle, picking up even the smallest of abrasions. Ride refinement is merely average for the class, though our test drive didn’t provide an opportunity to see what effect smaller 20in alloy wheels would have on comfort.
Inside, the only indication of the Sportback’s lower roofline is the more compact rear windscreen. Otherwise, it has the same tech-laden interior as the regular RS Q3, with a comprehensive 10.1in MMI infotainment display and 12.2in digital cockpit instrument cluster. The latter gains a bespoke RS screen that hides superfluous info in favour of simple performance metrics. You don’t have to look far to spot the use of cheaper plastics, though - something similarly priced rivals to a better job of hiding.
Six-footers can just about sit in the back seats without their head scraping the roof lining, and the Sportback has the same 530 litres of boot space as the standard RS Q3, only losing out when the rear seats are folded, with 1400 to the Q3’s 1525.
If looks and performance are your main deciders for choosing a fast compact SUV, the Sportback is sure to tick a few boxes. It makes more of a statement than the vanilla RS Q3, already something of a head-turner, and gives up very little in the process.