- Superb turbocharged engine
- High quality (very red!) cabin
- Confidence-inspiring handling
- Engine is thirsty for a medium-sized SUV
- That red alcantara can be overbearing
- Slight identity crisis
Do you see red? I certainly do. And it’s all over this rather extroverted but nice-to-drive Audi RS Q3 Sportback. Depending on your sensitivities, the generous servings of red body paint, bright red brake calipers, red engine cover, soft red alcantara patches on the dashboard, seats and doors, and red stitching on the seats, gear shifter and steering wheel, as well as the red stripe on the seatbelts can be interpreted as either luxurious or a touch gaudy.
To be honest, I feel designers have pushed the envelope of what’s possible in terms of colored highlights on and in this car. Bluntly speaking, the amount of red is almost overwhelming. Choose blue body paint, and the car can be matched with blue alcantara and stitching in the cabin, while several other color variations are also available. Your engine cover and brake calipers will still be red though.
But it’s not only the full-on color assault that titillates the senses. To cater to the huge, ever-growing market for sporty performance SUVs, Audi created a two-pronged RS Q3 range — the standard RS Q3, and then added the racier, sleeker-looking RS Q3 Sportback to the lineup. In trying to find the right body shape for the Sportback, Audi experimented with a couple of silhouettes before arriving at this body profile. And yes, it certainly does look sportier than the stock RS Q3. Strangely, however, I can’t help but feel a little sympathy for this model, which doesn’t quite seem to know what it is.
A minor identity crisis?
First, Audi designers took an RS3 hot hatch, elevated its height to insert the car into the highly popular SUV genre, and then they thought, wait a minute, it doesn’t look sporty enough. So to justify the sportiness in its ‘sportback’ naming, stylists squashed the roof down to give it a sharp sloping coupe-like rear window. The result? In taking styling inspiration from the Lamborghini Urus, the RS Q3 SB appears to be suffering from a slight identity crisis. To get over this part-SUV, part-hot hatch, part-coupe styling dilemma, the RS Q3 might even have to reluctantly go see a therapist to confirm its real identity!
Jokes aside, the RS Q3s are an integral part of the Audi Sport lineup — the firm’s motorsport and customizing arm responsible for RS models such as the RS3, RS6, and R8 in addition to Audi’s Formula E, DTM, and GT3 racing programs — which plans to double the sales of its road cars by 2023. The RS Q3 just happens to be one of the fastest small SUVs you can buy thanks to its 400-hp engine and 174-mph top speed. Its rivals include the BMW X2 M35i, Porsche Macan Turbo, and the Mercedes-AMG GLB35 but the demand for such cars means that competition for the RS Q3 will only intensify over the next few years.
Yes, the Sportback does come across as a mini Urus. And it can’t help that fact given Lamborghini is owned by the Volkswagen Group through its subsidiary with Audi. The SUV boasts a no-nonsense sporty exterior with lots of sharp edges, aggressive bulges and surfaces, and large 21-inch wheels. Updated from the outgoing model, the new RS Q3 Sportback gets a slightly larger octagonal grille with a sportier piano black mesh design and a bolder four-ring Audi logo. Speaking of that mesh design, styling students may have noticed the three different styles of grille Audi has employed here. First impressions suggest that up to four different designers had a say in what happened at the front end of this car. Check it out.
As if penned by a confident, extroverted designer, firstly you have the bold open honeycomb mesh design inside the main grille. Then, look closely and you will see a significantly smaller, much more subtle grille design inside the Audi logo that appears to have been drawn by an introverted individual who isn’t quite sure of their talent. It’s almost a case of “Hey, mom I shrunk the grille.” Then, glance at either side of the main grille, and you will see a downsized version of the main mesh grille design that graces the larger brake ducts, which have grown in height and width to deliver more air to cool the brakes. And finally, you have the long narrow pseudo grille located between the hood and main grille that is actually a fake grille and is just there for show.
At the back, the sloping roof and heavily slanted rear window give the RS Q3 SB its signature sports SUV look. Below the rear bumper, you’ll find a fake diffuser that’s merely there for design nuance, while the twin sports exhaust pipes generate an acceptably sporty soundtrack. However, if you really want an exhaust to enhance the sound of that 5-cylinder engine and make the neighbors pay even more attention, then spend the extra $1,500 and upgrade to a high-performance sports exhaust system.
Inside, its kind of like Gucci meets Versace
As mentioned briefly above, the interior is a shock for the senses with its bright red alcantara highlights on the doors, seats, and dashboard. That combined with soft leather, aluminum accents, and carbon fiber-like surfaces give the car a luxurious ambiance, if not a touch eccentric. It’s kind of like Gucci met Versace and they had a baby. If you’ve ever been into one of their high-end stores, you’ll know what I mean. Whereas some Audi sports models use swathes of subtle dark grey or black Nappa leather in the cabin, there is very little subtlety in this red RS Q3 SB. If you don’t like red, downgrade your interior decorating before you buy the car because those sizable red patches will be present and in your face every time you board the car.
Interestingly, the only indication of the Sportback’s lower roofline is the more compact rear windscreen. If you’re looking for maximum headroom in the back—enough for six feet plus passengers then we’d recommend the standard RS Q3 which gets nearly two extra inches of headroom. But if you are smitten with a sportier, more stylish profile, then the Sportback is for you. Either way, the car has the same tech-heavy interior as the regular RS Q3, with an easy-to-operate 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display and a 12.2-inch digital cockpit instrument cluster.
Drivers should like the thick, flat-bottomed, leather-bound steering wheel that feels good to grip when cornering hard and feel suitable supported seated in the bespoke RS-specced sports seats with honeycomb stitching. What they may be disappointed with though are the paddle shifters that appear to be made out of aluminum back are actually covered on the back with cheap plastic. Come on Audi, it won’t break the bank to give this hot SUV some shiny solid aluminum paddles. Surely.
In the back, you’ll find the same issue normally associated with Audi’s rear seats in their small to medium-sized SUVs and hatches—the upright seat position. While the rear seats do offer some sliding and reclining functions, the seatback does not recline enough, meaning that rear headroom is restrictive for taller passengers while the upright nature of the seat can cause fatigue over long distances. The rear luggage space however is competitive, offering 530 liters of capacity, which incidentally mirrors the figure for the standard RS Q3.
Gutsy 2.5-liter 5-cylinder turbo packs a punch
Even though the sporty red exterior, outgoing red and black interior, and tech-laden infotainment system might temporarily distract a new Audi driver, the RS Q3 SB’s main selling point is undoubtedly its engine. Powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder unit that pumps out 400-hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, it’s mated to a quick-changing 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. This SUV will sprint from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, and if you speak to Audi nicely they will derestrict your car from its 155-mph speed governor to the maximum 174-mph spec. While the standard exhaust note delivers an acceptable turbo sound, you can also pay an extra $1500 to get a sports exhaust to give the 2.5-liter a throatier burble.
On the road, this turbo engine is as pleasingly potent as you’d expect of any model wearing an RS badge, with the five-cylinder engine responding at lower revs and effortlessly rising to a 7000 rpm redline. Keep the engine spinning above 3500 rpm and you will have instant turbo response with even the slightest extension of your right boot. Let those revs fall below 3500 however and you will notice some slight turbo lag. Thanks to the strong mid to upper ranges, even small gaps in traffic will offer passing potential, while the off-the-line acceleration is fierce thanks to the superb traction of the all-wheel-drive system. The exhaust sounds the part as well, and while the need to comply with new emissions rules has all but done away with the signature pops and bangs that characterized this powerplant, the distinctive roar is still more emotional than a four-cylinder.
On the whole, the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox in automatic mode shifts quickly when called upon but can also sometimes show sluggish tendencies at low revs. It works smoothly at inner-city speeds, but ask for more and it can take a little longer than expected to drop a gear and quicken the pace. Engage sport mode however and things get snappier in the throttle department, although to get the most out of your 400-hp engine, it’s best to take charge yourself using the wheel-mounted paddles for the sharpest response.
The Driving Experience
The Sportback delivers the kind of sporty handling we associate with the RS range, letting you make rapid point-to-point progress while remaining predictable at all times, albeit with a little understeer when pushed hard. Make no mistake though—this SUV can get round a twisty road very quickly and efficiently and you will have loads of fun doing it. The progressive steering rack, while entertaining, can be prompted to give a little more sense of what the front tires are doing in the corners if you switch to the ‘dynamic’ settings on the drive select mode.
The RS Q3 gets upgraded sport suspension over the standard Q3, stiffer springs and dampers, and a ride height that’s nearly 4 inches lower than the standard car for a lower center of gravity and improved cornering. Given its sporty theme, the RS Q3 does deliver a slightly harsher ride at low speeds, so we’d recommend cruising in ‘comfort’ mode for the best inner-city results.
The ‘Audi drive select’ system gives you two new configurable settings, namely ‘RS1’ and ‘RS2.’ You can set them up to your liking by adjusting the drive system for quicker shifts, the steering for more responsive cornering, the engine sound and the ‘Quattro’ 4WD setup between ‘comfortable ‘normal’ and ‘dynamic.’ And to make things even easier for drivers to locate those modes in the heat of sporty driving, designers have fitted a special ‘RS mode’ button on the steering wheel that merely requires one quick tap to engage the mode you need. Brakes are substantial too, as you’d expect. The 375 mm drilled rotors on the front and 6-piston calipers pull the car up quickly and safely. But if you feel you want even more stopping power, you can upgrade your brakes to carbon ceramic but that will set you back over $5,000.
Price and Options
While the RS Q3 Sportback may not be available in the U.S. at the moment, it is for sale in many global markets for prices ranging from £52,000 in the U.K. to $92,900 in Australia to 8.9 million yen in Japan. Depending on the market, you can spend an estimated £1,000 for the upgraded suspension, another £1,000 to get the upgraded sports exhaust system, and around £5,000 extra for the carbon-ceramic brake package.
When put back to back with rivals like the BMW X2 M35i, Porsche Macan Turbo, and the Mercedes-AMG GLB35, the RS Q3 SB holds its own in the performance and handling departments. In fact, it excels! But in terms of comfort, especially in the back, the seat design does let the Audi down, and headroom is limited when compared to competitors.
Should I buy one?
The RS Q3 Sportback certainly looks cool and is loads of fun to drive with its gutsy 400-hp engine and sports suspension. It’s just that we didn’t find it as much fun on the road as a normal hot hatch, nor did we find it as practical as a standard performance SUV with a higher roof, indeed like its RS Q3 brother. If you prioritize styling, performance, and handling over practicality, then this Sportback might be for you. Otherwise, we’d lean towards the standard RS Q3 or perhaps even the Porsche Macan Turbo for the best combination of practicality, performance, and handling, not to mention the all-important street cred factor. As for those flamboyant red accents, well you can turn the level up to 11, as you see with this car, or you can dial it down to a less flashy 3 boasting subtle red stitching combined with black and carbon fiber accents. I think I’d opt for the latter.