Those who've been paying attention over the last decade may recall that the Q3 was in fact the very first Audi SUV to receive the RS treatment. With its 2.5-litre engine pumping out 310hp and the same again in torque, it set a new benchmark in its fledgling segment, hitting 62mph in just 5.5 seconds and continuing on to a limited 155mph top speed. "Utterly pointless", "brand dilution" and "just what the world does not need" was how the PH forums reacted to it.
Since then, of course, virtually every car manufacturer has launched at least one fast 4x4, often a whole fleet of them. Nevertheless, while that effectively quashes any lingering doubts over the RS Q3's right to exist, it also means that it no longer represents such a unique proposition to buyers. This new one had better be pretty good, then.
On paper it certainly appears to be. The RS Q3 still makes use of a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-pot (which, over time, Audi has liberated an additional 90hp and 44lb ft of torque from) a welcome sight on the spec sheet given the prevalence of boosted 2.0-litre units among its VW Group stablemates. Its 400hp output make this iteration of the inline five the most powerful in Audi history; while features like an aluminium crankcase also make it one of the lightest, its maker claiming to have subtracted as much as 26kg from over the Q3's nose.
When paired with Audi's seven-speed S tronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive system, it is enough to launch the new model from 0-62mph in just 4.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 174mph, should you pay to have the limiter removed. Figures which place it on a par with Porsche's far pricier Macan Turbo, and ahead of BMW's xDrive-equipped X4 M40i.
It's a level of performance which readily translates from the spec sheet to tarmac. As is the case with many RS products these days, power is delivered in an utterly competent if somewhat binary way; inputs to both the pedals and paddles often met with a moment's contemplation, before a gear - or several - is dropped and all manner of hell breaks loose.
On both road and track the RS Q3 feels ballistically quick. Not quite fast enough to justify the optional ceramic brakes, mind you (unless you fancy being the most bizarre participant at a track day) but it qualifies as unrepentantly rapid nonetheless. The sensation of speed is aided by the raucous soundtrack - which doesn't seem to have been too badly affected by the addition of a petrol particulate filter - and the car's highly determined cornering ability.
The adaptive dampers and 10mm-lower-than-standard RS Sport suspension results in an unacceptably compromised ride in the most aggressive setting, but Comfort is sufficient to keep the car plenty hunkered down around bends. Certainly the Mk4 MX-5 which we hunted down on the winding Oxfordshire B-roads looked to be leaning far more heavily through the turns than the RS Q3 before we shot past it on a straight - although there's little doubt as to which driver was having more fun...
A lack of engagement ought not to come as a surprise by now though, and nor is it likely to act as a deterrent to buyers in this segment. In fact, it's probably one of the reasons why RS-badged SUVs have often seemed less blasphemous than those with M or AMG printed on their rear. Traction, accuracy and all-weather point-to-point performance has always been the RS calling card; the Q3 continues to offer all three - and now adds a choice of packaging to the list.
The introduction of a Sportback model from launch - which Audi expects to account for 60 per cent of sales - broadens the RS Q3's appeal without significantly detracting from its practicality. In fact, both versions of the SUV offer an identical 530 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place, the Sportback's 125-litre deficit - 1,525-litres vs 1,400 - only emerging when maximum carrying capacity is required.
Other than that the two are virtually identical, aside from the £1,150 premium charged for the racier roof line, that is. They both get the same 20-inch alloys, LED lights, RS-specific body kits and uprated RS exhausts outside, and any attempt to separate the two from the driver's seat would be more down to luck than judgement.
The similarities are no bad thing, for the most part; both variants benefitting from the latest versions of Audi's Virtual Cockpit Plus - including a crisp, 12.3-inch display - digital MMI Navigation Plus dash and 10-speaker sound system. There's a flat-bottomed steering wheel - optionally wrapped in Alcantara - and Nappa leather RS Sport seats, too, high quality features which are unfortunately joined by some rather cheap plastics in other areas. Audi's decision to leave the cup holders and storage bin without covers is also a curious one, leading to a rather cluttered looking centre console.
At the UK launch of the car, Audi was at pains to emphasize the important position which, even with electrification on the horizon, the RS division still holds within the brand. The manufacturer plans to double sales of its highest performing cars between now and 2023, partly by reducing the interval between a standard model's launch and that of its RS variant from an average of 18 months to just six. That's all well and good, of course, but the best way to increase sales is simply to produce more of what the market wants. With its combination of kerb appeal, practicality and easily accessible performance, that's a nail the new RS Q3 continues to hit squarely on the head.
SPECIFICATION - AUDI RS Q3
Engine: 2,480cc, turbocharged 5-cyl
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@5,850-7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 354@1,950-5,850rpm
0-62mph: 4.5 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,715kg (Sportback 1,700kg)
MPG: 28.8 (28.5)
Price: from £52,450 (Sportback £53,600)