Smallest, angriest Audi Sport coupe-SUV earns its RS badge with rapid pace and confidence-inspiring handling - but is that enough to best more luxurious rivals?

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This latest addition to Audi Sport’s growing stable of RS models is also one part of a dual-pronged attack on the small performance SUV market. While the Audi RS Q3 should appease those wanting a little extra headroom for rear passengers, the Sportback earns extra style points with its sloping rear end. 

These kinds of SUV-cum-coupés might not be your thing, but they clearly have appeal: Audi expects more than 60% of UK RS Q3 sales to be of the Sportback variant, which has a 45mm lower roofline to carve out a more purposeful stance. It also gains a bespoke rear bumper, diffuser and wing to help set it apart from the already aggressively styled RS Q3. Huge twin exhausts help on that front, too.

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

Looks aside, the two cars are mechanically identical, with the same firecracker turbo five-pot as the first-generation Audi RS Q3 (2012-2016) and the current Audi TT RS. A weight loss regime sees the engine tip the scales at some 26kg less than its predecessor, thanks to the use of an aluminium crankcase and hollow bored crankshaft. The whole car weighs in at 1700kg, besting both the Porsche Macan Turbo and BMW X4 M40i.

Power and torque have been boosted to a healthy 395bhp and 354lb ft, or enough to hit 62mph from a standing start in 4.5 seconds, and top speed is restricted to 155mph - though ask nicely and Audi will up that figure to 174mph. Up to 85% of the available torque can be channeled to the rear axle through a seven-speed automatic gearbox and Audi’s Quattro permanent all wheel drive system. Should the standard brakes not be up to the task, an upgrade to ceramics is available - though the number of RS Q3s that will ever see any track work is surely very low.

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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.

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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.

Performance is easily on par with more expensive rivals, but ride comfort has taken a back seat, and while in-cabin technology is up there with the best in the class, materials quality is less impressive. 

Ultimately, those seeking an entertaining steer as well as rapid pace may be better served elsewhere.