Audi’s bonkers RS Q3 performance compact SUV driven and reviewed
19 October 2016
A ‘just because’ philosophy has resulted over the years in some crazy gadgets pandering to the lazy or overly privileged in society, from heated butter knives and banana-slicers to motorised ice cream cones and pet-petting machines. It’s fair to say that plenty of people perceive cars like the Audi RS Q3 to be pretty needless, answering a question hardly anyone asked, resulting in a compact crossover SUV that outruns many supercars. There’s clearly a market, though, as the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG and Porsche Macan S are now in on the act, leading the instigator, Audi, to introduce this even hotter ‘performance’ edition of the RS Q3. We spent a week with one to see if it’s nonsensical or comically good.
Many of the lads and lasses in our leasing office love walking in the outdoors, but still adore performance 4x4s, which typically attract venom from outdoorsy types, so it was interesting to observe the RS Q3 performance being met with genuine enthralment in the Peak District. Perhaps Ascari Blue, a stunning colour unique to this scotch bonnet variant, was behind it. The car discretely oozes sophistication, even down to its equally unique 20-inch alloys with a matt titanium finish, Quattro lettering on the front air inlet duct, and red RS-branded brake callipers.
Inside, the RS Q3 performance is a typically understated and impeccably constructed Audi, although a higher proportion of harder-feeling plastics are on display compared to in a RS4 or R8’s cabin, for example. The infotainment screen that pops up out of the dashboard has to be folded down manually, the climate control switches feel unusually budget and there are no clever Virtual Cockpit screens to provide a wow factor, but the car is admittedly built not on the MQB platform like the new RS3 and others, but on the older PQ35 chassis. The Alcantara and leather sports seats with blue honeycomb stitching, flat-bottomed steering wheel, carbon twill trim inlays and RS badges give the cabin a special vibe nonetheless, and the BOSE Surround sound system is fantastic.
Audi’s silly-fast small SUV is superbly comfortable, whether powering round gravel-strewn rural bends or bobbing up and down seemingly mountainous speed-bumps on the school run. It’s impressively quiet thanks to Audi’s sound-proofing efforts and the raised driving position provides an excellent view of surrounding traffic, or indeed over hedgerows, which allows drivers of all abilities to eke that bit more out of each bend exit they conquer. With a lipped 356-litre boot and a sloping roofline at the rear, it lacks the practicality of the GLA 45 AMG. The back seats are fine for kids but might give large adults a few grumbles on long journeys, although space in the front is very generous.
The star of the show is Audi’s revered 2.5-litre, 5-cylinder TFSI engine, which, the cooling capacity having been increased and the fuel pump modified, now produces peaks of 367PS and 465Nm torque in the performance model, helping anyone whose school run incorporates suitably long stretches to reach 62mph in 4.4 seconds, shaving 0.4 of a second off the ‘normal’ RS Q3’s time. It’s doubtful that more than a few will ever experience this crossover’s top speed of 167mph but there’s no question over its sheer pace, the raised driving position heightening the novel sensation nicely.
Switching the otherwise remarkably refined engine from Comfort or Auto to Dynamic, shifting the gear selector to ‘S’ and booting the accelerator pedal unleashes the ferocious 2.5-litre animal, the horizon reached swiftly enough to satisfy most speed-seekers’ tastes, with a few crackles and burps from the single oval exhaust along the way. It’s just a shame that Audi’s exhausts aren’t as loud and intoxicating in everyday use as Jaguar’s switchable active exhaust, for example. Playing with the flappy paddles and flogging the car aggressively for sustained periods does get the RS Q3 performance singing a few more naughty notes but this may prove tiring for some drivers. Nevertheless, the engine and gearbox really are excellently matched, the 7-speed S tronic transmission shifting snappily and smoothly.
Hunkered 20mm nearer to the road than the ‘normal’ Q3, the performance model’s RS sport suspension, despite not having active damping, does a pretty good job in tight bends, although the car’s SUV proportions mean that it inevitably leans more than other body styles. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as the relatively increased roll makes it more fun and engaging, a slow-in, fast-out cornering style suiting this mad crossover perfectly, comforting levels of grip provided by permanent Quattro four-wheel drive. As per other current RS Audis, the RS Q3 performance’s steering ultimately lacks feel and feedback, and even the additional weighting in Dynamic mode feels artificial, so where this car excels is at cross-country point-and-shoot antics, complete with kids and dogs on board, and a great view over hedgerows and dry stone walls.
With Audi RS Q3 Performance leasing prices starting at £496.99+VAT per month for business users, it’s priced around the same as the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG Premium and has a OTR price as tested of £52,375. With fuel economy averaging in the mid-20s on the whole, CO2 emissions of 203g/km and road tax currently weighing in at £300 per annum, it’s not a cheap car to run, but buyers or leasers will be well aware of that.
Some equally hot estates are priced similarly, but the Audi, with its impressive straight line performance, reassuring levels of grip, sophisticated if slightly aged interior and moderate practicality is a hidden gem for anyone who simply must have a feisty, supercar-embarrassing compact SUV ‘just because’.