By Wayne Gorrett
✔ Great to drive, brilliant to drive ‘spiritedly’.
✖ The price – at a driven £45,520 – pains beyond comprehension.
☀ ☀ ☀
Audi’s baby SUV, the Q3 is the first ‘Q’ to receive the RS (Rennsport) treatment with a 306bhp, turbo-charged 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine and is the new entry point to its high-performance RS model range.
While not exactly a rocket of the ‘pocket’ variety, the blistering on-road performance is not something one would normally find in an SUV. The Audi RS Q3 is an audacious mix of hot hatch, luxury SUV and compact saloon, with a sprinkling of madness, a dash of bonkers and a quart of concentrated adrenalin thrown in for very good measure.
Be assured for the moment at least, there’s nothing quite like the Audi RS Q3. With rumours of a hot Range Rover Evoque strengthening by the week, coupled with the imminent arrival of the entry-level Porsche Macan SUV, the RS Q3 has no current rival – yet.
While two or three manufacturers would disagree, there are no ‘perfect’ cars. Like wine-tasting, all opinions are subjective. With every car there is a ‘but’ of some description or degree – and the Audi RS Q3 is not exempt – as this baby SUV has a ‘but’ of Kardashian proportions. At an eye-watering £41,735 before options, the Rennsport makeover is not remotely inexpensive, let alone cheap.
Distinctly SUV-ish in appearance, the standard Q3 is sleek and compact – like popping it’s Q5 sibling in the photocopier and reducing everything by 26%. Fortunately, the Q3 is sleeker in appearance than its close DNA relative, the Volkswagen Tiguan.
The bonnet and tailgate are made of weight-reducing aluminium. It has a low roof line with a sweeping, coupé-like rear end and wraparound tailgate. Audi’s signature LED daytime running lights and tail lights are standard. Also standard are the attractive 20-inch twin-spoke V-design wheels (not as driven).
Visual tweaks to the Rennsport Q3 include matt aluminium accents appear on body trims and roof rails. A honeycomb front grille in high-gloss black, RS front bumper and a ‘quattro’ emblem mounted in the lower front air intake on the test car. Other visual highlights include a large rear spoiler, distinctive diffuser insert in rear bumper, large elliptical tailpipes and front and rear RS logos.
The Audi RS Q3 has considerable driver seat and steering wheel adjustment affording a commanding view of the road and surrounds. I usually prefer a commanding, high-seated driving position in most cars I drive and once I’d tweaked the RS Q3 settings as desired, it was perfect. However, that same degree of elevation did make me feel a tad apprehensive when enjoying the full performance on offer.
Rear space is good and two large adults will fit very comfortably, but three adequately so and for shorter journeys. Luggage capacity is a less impressive 356-litres. Up front there are heated leather seats, along with a flat-bottomed steering wheel and ‘RS’ decals around the dashboard and controls.
Overall and as we have come to expect of the marque, the interior oozes quality, comfort and meticulous Germanic attention to detail.
The mechanicals of the previous Audi RS A3 Sportback and this new RS Q3 are closely related – same engine and the same all-wheel drive system controlling torque levels delivered to the front and rear axles.
For those familiar with Audi models drenched in Rennsport DNA, the RS Q3 may perhaps seem almost lethargic. However, in comparison with the VERY many baby SUV’s now available, the RS Q3 is positively demonic. Being propelled down the road astride a fire-breathing dragon disguised as a 306bhp hot-hatch on elevated stilts is a uniquely engaging experience.
When you do (and you will) eventually chicken out and calm it all down, you will hear your heart beating, discover your eyes agog, jaw somewhat lowered, the steering wheel gripped with blinding white knuckles and the odd bead or two of sweat forming on the brow. It’s is altogether quite unexpected and is everything an SUV has no right to be. Even driven ‘normally’, acceleration through the seven-speed S tronic auto gearbox is very quick and 62mph arrives in a brisk 5.2 seconds and mid-range power is decidedly punchy.
Steering is pretty good although at most times you don’t get a sense of assuredness with the road as much of the ‘feel’ has been engineered out due to other technical priorities such as reduced body roll and forward/rear yaw, both of which are much less than you would normally expect of an SUV. However, there is plenty of grip to match the power output and the four-wheel drive system remains at all times firmly in charge of the important goings-on downstairs.
When making steady progress, engine noise is refined, as is wind noise. But on anything less than glass-like road surfaces, there is an intrusive din from the standard 20-inch wheels. Most impressive though is the overall quality of the RS Q3’s ride. While the car is visibly an inch lower than the standard Q3 due in part to the sports-oriented suspension setup, the car behaves well when traversing rough, broken surfaces, in spite of those over-sized wheels which, in all honesty, contribute little to the car’s overall enjoyment.
No variable trim levels are available on the Audi RS Q3. Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, park assist and a 10-speaker sound system.
Engines and transmissions
No engine and transmission choices are available on the Audi RS Q3. The only engine is the delightfully warbling 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine, delivering 306bhp (5,200 – 6,700rpm) with 310lb/ft (420Nm) of torque at 1,500 – 5,200rpm. Drive is provided via a seven-speed S tronic automatic.
Nothing out of the ordinary here:
* Car: Three-year / 60,000 mile new car warranty.
* Paint: Three years.
* Rust perforation: 12 years
The Audi RS Q3 is everything a baby SUV has no right to be. The handsome blend of SUV looks and genuine hot hatch performance is attractive but at over £40,000, it is not an appealing proposition. A niche within a niche, it seems.
There are more practical and better packaged alternatives at this price point – and the aforementioned hot Evoque and Macan will also be real threats. It has the technical ability to dabble in off-road pursuits, but the Audi RS Q3 will more likely be at home in well-heeled suburban streets.
It’s a car that lets you see what’s going on around you, gives you enough space to sit the heirs and spares in the back, while tearing down the motorway, secure in the knowledge that you will be one of only a few able to afford to do so.
Flawed it may be, but it is utterly brilliant to drive.
Price as tested: £45,520 (incl £4,520 of extras) * Economy (combined): 32.1mpg * Fuel tank: 64 litres * CO2: 206g/km * Engine: 2.5-litre, 5-cylinder turbo-petrol * Power: 306bhp @ 5,200rpm * Torque: 420Nm @ 1,500-5,200rpm * Gearbox: 7-sp S tronic auto.